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Published Friday, November 24, 2000

Husker seniors expecting emotional day


Last modified at 5:51 a.m. on Friday, November 24, 2000
  

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Mike Babcock is a freelance writer in Lincoln who covers the Huskers.

Even though Jason Schwab has been through it before, he'll succumb to the emotion.

Schwab is among the 27 seniors who will be introduced Friday morning at Memorial Stadium, prior to the Nebraska football team's final regular-season game against Colorado.

And "I'm sure I'll cry like a baby," he said.

Schwab, an offensive tackle, and Dan Hadenfeldt, the punter, went through Senior Day introductions before the Kansas State game a year ago. But the NCAA subsequently granted both of them sixth seasons of eligibility. So they'll be saying good-bye for a second time on Friday.

"Last year was tough," said Schwab, who, like Hadenfeldt, walked on.

"But I kind of had the feeling in the back of my mind that I would be here this year. You know, it's very hard. It will be the last time I'll ever be a Husker in Memorial Stadium. I love this place."

Most, if not all, of his senior teammates will feel the same way when they make the "Tunnel Walk" for the final time, get a hug from or shake hands with Coach Frank Solich and then run onto Tom Osborne Field to the cheers of Memorial Stadium's 239th consecutive sellout crowd.

But no other Cornhusker is likely to feel the bittersweet emotions more than Schwab.

"You learn to love this place as your home," he said. "I'll leave and I'll come back with my kid someday and look at it and be like, 'Everything looks so different, so small.'

"But this is by far the best time I've had in my life. And I'm sure it'll always stay that way."

Unlike most of the 31 other Cornhusker walk-ons in 1995, Schwab is from out of state. His home is in the Minneapolis-St. Paul suburb of Eagan, Minn. -- or it used to be, anyway.

"Nebraska is where my heart is right now," he said. "This is what I consider home."

Schwab's affection for Nebraska is based on at least one significant life experience unrelated to football. He met his wife Summer during his freshman year.

He was playing pool with friends at a sports bar that Summer's parents owned in Crete, and it was love at first sight. "I saw her and thought, 'That's the one for me,' " he said.

They became friends and began dating two years later. They were married in July.

Schwab quickly became attached to the program in a similar way, although for the first month or so of his freshman year, "I was kind of like, 'What the hell am I doing here?'" he said.

"I missed home. And I missed my friends back home."

He and T. J. DeBates, a freshman scholarship recruit from Minnesota, became friends, however, and "pretty soon I'm hanging out with all the freshmen," said Schwab. "I've got like 40 friends.

"That's when things started to get fun."

His circle of friends soon expanded beyond the freshman class and he became "Schwabbie" to teammates and coaches. Even when he was getting knocked around for two seasons on the scout team, "I always felt that my teammates cared about me, even the guys on defense," he said.

"They didn't show me a lot of love during practice, but I could tell they respected me."

In addition to having two national championship rings, the first from a 1995 team regarded as one of the best in college football history, Schwab has been a part of an historic change in the program. Tom Osborne was the coach when he arrived, and Frank Solich is the coach as he leaves.

Schwab feels blessed. "I think God sent me here for one reason, to experience all that stuff," he said. "I couldn't ask for anything more. I've been very lucky. That's just something you look back on and say, 'Hey, I was a part of that. I was right there. I was in the mix when that was going down.'

"That's something I'll carry with me forever."

He also will carry those thoughts with him when he comes through the tunnel and onto the field for the final time late Friday morning, when he'll have to fight back a tear or two.

"It's like living and dying," he said. "You know it's going to happen sooner or later. So you've just got to live it up while you're here."

And "Schwabbie" has.



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