Give Bo Pelini credit: He won't bend his rules for talented players. That was the message sent more emphatically than ever with the dismissal of Quentin Castille, a talented if somewhat oft-troubled running back who was going to be option 1b at the tailback position this year behind Roy Helu.
Castille, who showed his true potential in spectacular fashion in last year's Gator Bowl victory over Clemson, sat out his last three practices in street clothes before Pelini made it official on Saturday.
When I found out, I was camping with some friends, but the announcement put a cloud of disappointment over the rest of the day for my brother and me. We, like many Husker fans, were excited to see what Castille could do this year in a season where the running game was seemingly going to become the featured part of the offense.
Reactions from most of the fans, and the media community, have been pretty supportive of Pelini's decision. In an era when many teams would simply handle a non-legal issue internally, Pelini made a stand and showed that every player, no matter how talented, must abide by his rules, or he'll be shown the door.
Said Pelini on Jim Rome's radio show yesterday:
“When you’re setting up a program and you’re forming a culture, in my world it’s pretty black and white. There’s not a lot of gray. You’re going do what’s asked of you. There’s going to be repercussions when you screw up.
"Unfortunately for ‘Q,’ he made some mistakes and he made one too many…one thing our kids understand here is it’s not about any one person, it’s about the 'N' on the side of your helmet…our players understand why the decision was made.”
When I talked to my dad (the man most responsible for my Husker brainwashing), he seemed pretty disappointed with the move.
The way he saw it, if Johnny Rogers was allowed to stay on the team after robbing a gas station back in '72, or Lawrence Phillips after that whole situation in '95, then why should Quentin be booted?
While I understand that argument, I think he fails to see the difference between Osborne and Pelini.
Osborne believed that by keeping them in the program, he could continue to help them change their ways and give them a chance to rehabilitate themselves, whereas if they were let go, they could continue a downward spiral. Osborne, in his 1996 book On Solid Ground:
"Permanently dismissing Lawrence from the football team wouldn't have helped any of my family members or anyone else's family. If anything, it might have made things worse. By not getting the needed treatment, something similar may have happened in the future.
"At least if he were on the team, I could make sure he would get the help he needed...I hope people understand that we tried to do what was best for Lawrence as a human being and not simply to win football games."
Pelini, on the other hand, has his own opinions on player discipline. Since he's taken over the program, over a dozen players have left the program, and while not all of them are for player discipline, you have to wonder how many of them knew they would not be able to tolerate the elevated expectations that came with Pelini's hiring.
At first, I was torn on the decision. I have personal experience with this issue, as I was booted from my football team in college for drinking (it was a Baptist school that didn't allow drinking, or for that matter, pretty much anything else). Now, I didn't disagree with my dismissal. I broke the rules, and understandably had to suffer the consequence.
However, half the starters on the defense were the guys I was out drinking with, and they were allowed to stay on the team. I was a second-stringer, and by no means a game breaker. That I had a problem with.
With Pelini, you don't see that. It doesn't matter how integral a player is to the team's success, if he doesn't toe the line, he'll be gone, and kudos to Pelini for sticking to his guns.
That said, what now with the running back position? We all know that Rex Burkhead, the schoolboy legend from Texas, has been elevated to No. 2. While I am as excited as anyone to see what the kid can do, he is by no means a proven commodity like Castille was. In addition to that, at 200 pounds he can hardly be expected to be the goal line battering ram that Castille was.
Despite my reservations, though, having watched all his high school highlight videos, I am interested in seeing if he can make an instant impact, particularly in the passing game, as it seems he's a pretty adept receiver.
Another question is, if Burkhead is the backup at running back, then who's the No. 3? Lester Ward has been getting some good reviews out of camp, but he has yet to have a collegiate carry.
What about Marcus Mendoza, who was moved back to the position after practicing with the receivers all fall? It will be interesting to see what Watson and RB coach Tim Beck do with so many unproven players at their disposal.
Thunder Collins Convicted
I'm not going to get into the dirty details of Thunder's conviction. It's yet another sad chapter in an ongoing downward spiral, and it's one I don't particularly like to talk about.
Collins was a guy who never lived up to the hype that he arrived with after being a JUCO All-American. In his best season for the Huskers, he had 647 yards rushing and 189 yards receiving, and he left the team halfway through the 2002 schedule.
Here's what is really chapping my ass about this whole situation though: Why on earth is this getting major play on sports news sites and TV? I could understand if it was a game-breaker who contributed some great seasons and made it to the NFL, but this is a guy who was a blip on the radar for a couple of years and then disappeared.
Somehow, this is making it in the "top stories" sections on SI.com and ESPN. My personal belief is that ever since Lawrence Phillips, any time the national media can point out another troubled former Nebraska player, they'll do it.
Maybe it's because we're in a part of the year that is lacking sports news (preseason football, the only other thing they have to talk about is baseball), but either way, it still pisses me off that this gives opponents and critics another reason to talk bad about the program.