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FORUMS | CHAT | PRINT THIS STORY

Player, assistant are football hybrids

By John Adams, News-Sentinel sports editor
December 29, 1999

TEMPE, Ariz. - Ryan Held and Stephen Manning could switch sidelines Sunday night and still feel at home in the Fiesta Bowl.

Held, whose aunt was a Nebraska cheerleader, grew up in a Huskers household in Overland Park, Kan. He grew into a Nebraska walk-on.

He's now a graduate assistant football coach at Tennessee.

About the time Held left Lincoln, Neb., for Knoxville, Manning headed in the opposite direction in the summer of 1998.

Manning, who played high school football at Bearden, was attracted to big-time college football. But big-time college football didn't reciprocate.

Undeterred, Manning decided to walk on at the biggest big-time college football program of them all. He has overcome a serious knee injury and hasn't played a down, but he's happy to be a Husker, though somewhat taken aback by the media attention he has attracted at the Fiesta Bowl.

"I thought the media relations guy was joking," Manning said in reference to the interview requests.

He met those requests in red-and-black Nebraska sandals, shorts, and a Nashville Predators T-shirt. Don't let the T-shirt fool you. He's all Husker now.

"It has been good for me," said Manning, a redshirt freshman defensive tackle and nose guard. "Belonging to a team is one thing I've always enjoyed. ... We're a close-knit group; that's for sure."

Held can relate to that. He walked on at Nebraska in 1993. Following a shoulder injury in 1996, he went from player to graduate assistant coach.

One of his fondest Nebraska memories came in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl. He got to cut the Gators while they were down.

Unbeaten Nebraska was well on its way to defeating Florida 62-24 for the national championship when Held checked in at wide receiver, with still enough time to participate in a scoring drive.

"I cut (blocked) my guy, and he ended up making the tackle 50 yards down field at the 1-yard line," Held said. "They didn't want us out there cut-blocking them. They wanted that game to be over with."

Two years later, Held was a graduate assistant coach on another Nebraska national championship team, which capped its undefeated season with a 42-17 victory over the Vols in the Orange Bowl.

He didn't have to wait long to celebrate another national championship. He did have to leave the Huskers.

"I wanted to get associated with two great football programs," said Held, who hoped to further his career as a college coach. "After 1997, I looked at the programs where I could go that were great, and Tennessee was first on my list."

Before the 1999 Fiesta Bowl, Curt Roper left his position as UT's graduate assistant coach to join David Cutcliffe's new staff at Ole Miss. That created a spot for Held on UT's staff.

When UT began practicing for Nebraska, Held became a Cornhusker again. In addition to his coaching duties, he subbed as a Nebraska quarterback on UT's scout team, which runs plays against the Vols' No. 1 defense.

He has been impressed with how the defense has responded to the option offense.

"I haven't been associated with a team with this much speed before," Held said. "These guys just fly around and get places fast. There might be a little hole at the beginning, but it closes quick."

Held will be in the UT corner of the press box, assisting with the defense Sunday night. His parents, Fred and Theresa Held, will be in the stands.

They will be wearing orange.

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