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Game against Missouri has special meaning for Huskers' Wistrom

(c) 1995 Copyright The News and Observer Publishing Co.
(c) 1995 Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. (Oct 11, 1995 - 19:24 EDT) -- Days after Larry Smith was hired as the head coach at Missouri, the telephone rang at the home of Ron and Kathy Wistrom in Webb City, Mo.

Was their son, Grant, up for a talk? Would he like a visit? Would he like to play football for the Tigers?

"When I got the job, he was the first guy I called," Smith said. "I had a visit set up that January, in 1994. Then he called me and said he wasn't going to go to Missouri. He said I could come down and visit, but he wanted to let me know. He's a kid with a lot of class."

Wistrom chose Nebraska over Michigan, Stanford, Miami, Oklahoma and his home-state Tigers. A year later, the true freshman had 36 tackles and 4.5 sacks in the Cornhuskers' national championship season -- including three stops in the Orange Bowl victory over Miami.

Last year's Big Eight Conference defensive newcomer-of-the-year, Wistrom will start Saturday at rush end against the Tigers (2-2, 0-1 Big Eight).

"It is special," said Wistrom, who has 15 tackles and a sack in five games this season. "I played against a couple of guys on the Missouri team in high school. It's important for me to play well against them because sometimes I catch a little flak for leaving the state."

Wistrom said the choice was right for him. Smith isn't bitter, but he said the Tigers need players of Wistrom's ability to halt a skid of 11 straight losing seasons.

"These are the kind of guys we need to keep at home," Smith said. "It will happen, but it takes a long time."

Smith was 3-8-1 last year in his first season at Missouri. The 0-6 mark at home included a 42-7 loss to Nebraska.

"The turnaround isn't coming as fast as I would like," Smith said. "We've got to recruit athletes who can compete with the top teams. We've got some here ... but we're looking at another two or three years to get there."

Wistrom, a 6-4, 230-pound sophomore, said Missouri is overlooked by standout prep athletes because of its poor records over the past 10 years.

"Right now, they don't have a whole lot of tradition," he said. "Nebraska has been good for a number of years. I think if Missouri starts winning ball games I think that will change. I think kids will want to go through and play there."

The Huskers (5-0, 1-0 Big Eight) have won the last 16 games against Missouri, dating back to a 35-31 upset of then-No. 2 Nebraska by the Tigers in 1978. Wistrom, who had his best game of the season Sept. 30 with four tackles and a sack against Washington State, was disappointed at having a week off last week.

"I wanted to see where I could go from there, use it as a stepping stone," he said. "I think I've got my intensity back that maybe was lacking a little bit in the beginning of the season."

Coach Tom Osborne has noticed. He praised Wistrom and the Huskers' other starting rush end, junior Jared Tomich (13 tackles, team-high four sacks).

"They're both playing well," he said. "We just don't have the depth at rush end that we once had. A year ago, we could put in four players and didn't drop off much.

"We don't have the luxury that we did last year. When you face a team that throws the ball 40 or 50 times, it takes a lot of energy to rush the passer," Osborne said. "You need four rush ends and you need four interior linemen so you can rotate. Right now, we're struggling a little bit with that situation."