Carlos Polk: When Blackshirts Were Blackshirts

Big Red NetworkSenior Writer IJuly 9, 2008

There are plenty of theories as to why the Callahan coaching staff fizzled out and one of them was that his staff had a "bigger is always better" attitude when it came to players.

A player like Barry Turner got bigger as a Husker, but also seemed to get slower. But former middle linebacker Carlos Polk would likely have thrived even under Callahan, as he was plenty big and had speed to burn.

Polk arrived as part of the class of 1996 and was listed at 6’2” and just 210 pounds. He redshirted and added 35 pounds to get to 245 in just one year. He was still fast enough to start on the kick coverage team for the 1997 national championship team, and also saw a fair amount of mop-up duty.

1998 was another year spent on special teams and reserve duty behind senior Jay Foreman. But Polk saw more meaningful action that year (including a sack of Kansas State’s Michael Bishop where he forced and recovered a fumble).

As a junior, Polk earned the starting job and became a force both as a pass-rusher and run-stuffer. He managed 6.5 sacks from the middle linebacker spot and 21 quarterback hurries. He was second only to safety Mike Brown in tackles.

The dominant 1999 unit that he anchored delivered the Huskers a Big 12 title, a Fiesta Bowl victory, and a No. 2 ranking. Polk was named first-team all-conference for his effort.

As a senior, Polk led the team in tackles and was named a first-team All-American. His interception return for a touchdown opened the scoring for Nebraska against Colorado in his final home game and proved vital in the back-and-forth shootout that followed.

He had a huge day in the Huskers' narrow loss at Kansas State that year, which ultimately cost the Huskers a chance to play in the Big 12 title game and perhaps get back into a national championship game. He instead had to be content with dismantling co-Big 10 champion Northwestern in the Alamo Bowl.

That season, defensive coordinator Craig Bohl used Polk (and his then 250-pound frame) at times as a fifth defensive lineman to give a run-stuffing 5-2 look.

Carlos would be especially missed against the Buffaloes a year later as first year starter Jamie Burrow could match his size but not his skills (though he did manage to place second-team all-conference) as CU ran wild on Nebraska.

In fact, Polk probably earns the distinction of being the last standout blackshirt to play for an NU team that looked capable of winning a national championship. The team that snuck into the Rose Bowl a year later couldn’t really say that, or any team since.