Editor’s note: This story is part of a series that chronicles and explores the mysteries of college sports.
Lincoln, Neb. – Nebraska football won four straight games to open 2005 under second-year coach Bill Callahan. But after reaching the midpoint of the season, a three-game losing streak sapped confidence in the program. Before last year, the Cornhuskers had appeared in 35 bowl games in 35 seasons.
Nebraska needed a boost as it prepared to travel to Colorado in November. The Buffs won the North again in 2005 – but only after Nebraska beat them 30-3 and the words “Restore the Order” were displayed on the back of the Hackers’ jerseys.
This phrase disappeared when Nebraska defeated Michigan in the Alamo Bowl. The following season, Callahan looked for a new rallying cry.
In the year In 2005, the Huskers finished 8-4 but only rushed for 96 yards per game. The coach signed offensive lineman Carl Nix out of junior college and rebuilt the running game around young backs Brandon Jackson and Marlon Lockey.
And Callahan unveiled a new slogan: Pound the Rock. Before the 2006 season, he had a 3-by-4-foot boulder outside the doors leading to the tunnel and Nebraska’s new locker room at the Osborne Athletic Complex.
A rock weighing more than one ton has been sitting under the seat of the northern end zone for 12 years, with the inscription “The Rock” written on it.
Miami has “The Rock”. Nebraska has rock.
This is the story of that rock, which today stands just meters away from Memorial Stadium. Callahan Rock is a forgotten symbol of an underachieving era, a vague connection to a time when Nebraska floated without an established identity — not unlike the past 15 seasons.
In the bushes, there it is. Outside the southwest entrance to the Hawks Championship Center, the Rock overlooks the parking lot used by coaches and most of the Huskers. A reserved area for Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts is about 50 feet west of the rock.
The stone adapts to the terrain. None of the players he passed on the way to the locker room — another new opening this year — knew the story.
Bill Callahan’s Rock is ready for another year of #Huskers football. pic.twitter.com/fPkdPDwBfL
— Michael Bruntz (@michaelbruntz) September 15, 2023
Husker247’s Michael Bruntz reports the Rock’s passing routes. The Rock survived Callahan’s firing in 2007 and the coaching tenures of Bo Pelini and Mike Riley without interruption.
But shortly after Scott Frost took over as coach in December 2017, the regime ordered Stone to be taken into exile. Bruntz found it in April 2018 with an outside lane south of the Hawks center. Soon after, the “Pound the Rock” sign was removed.
Jared Cook remembers the moment the rock started to mean something. Cook worked for Brager Construction in 2006. He remembers before the football season that he was instructed to take one of the large stones from Waterford Estates to the new development on the east side of Lincoln and move it to Memorial Stadium.
Cooke said Bragger Construction and Development Co. acquired the allotment of the rocks excavated in Minnesota. He and his boss picked a beautiful stone and moved it on a trailer pulled by a dump truck.
Cook, a 1994 Lincoln Southeast graduate, said they parked on the northwest side of the stadium and waited for the better part of an hour until someone from the university lifted the rock with a forklift.
Almost anyone associated with the Rock or that era was surprised to learn that Cooke wasn’t eventually fired, as he was contacted for this story.
It may not be worth the energy to move the stone long distances again.
How the rock got from the 2018 position to the terrain near the stop is a mystery. The space that will house the new locker room and serve as the future space for Nebraska’s weight room, training tables and football headquarters was relocated three years ago when construction began on a major $165 million project, eliminating the outdoor walkway.
Rock served a purpose for Callahan in 2006. Nebraska won nine games and rushed for 170.5 yards.
“There’s a sense of urgency to hit the rock. That’s our motto here,” Nick told the Omaha World Herald in August 2006.
He was a fifth-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft and a first-team All-Pro selection in 2011 with the Saints.
“Our motto is the motto for the entire offense,” said returning O-line starter Greg Austin before the 2006 season. “We’ll take this seriously.”
Adam Carricker, the 2006 captain, remembers hearing the mantra.
“Defensively, I took it as ‘being more physical,'” Carricker said.
According to Dane Todd, who started at fullback on Callahan’s third team, Nebraska coaches want players to touch (or kick) the rock when they leave the locker room — the same name for the most famous horseshoe that has hung in the same area for decades.
So did the Huskers take him seriously?
“It’s not unequivocal,” says Todd, now an orthopedic surgeon in Lincoln.
The rock itself had nothing to do with Hackers’ improved ground game, Todd said.
“We didn’t need that external motivation,” Todd said. “We don’t need frauds and scams. We all thought it was the dumbest thing ever. We just arrived and went to work. There was no commotion.”
The increased rushing production happened because Callahan “went and got better players,” Todd said.
“When it comes to Callahan, I’m not sure how many players buy into what he’s saying,” Carricker said.
Carrick led that team with defensive end Brandon Rigoni and quarterback Zach Taylor, now the coach of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Nebraska won the Big 12 North in 2006 but lost to Auburn in the Cotton Bowl, a defensive struggle. In the year In 2007, Kalan’s operation collapsed. After a 4-1 start, the Hackers have lost five straight. They could not restore the order this time. Tom Osborne, serving as interim AD, fired Callahan on Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Callahan has worked in the NFL for the past 15 seasons. At 67, he coaches the offensive line of the Cleveland Browns. No doubt he will still try to hit the rock.
Meanwhile at Nebraska, four coaching staffs later, Matt Rhule is no longer on the rock, even though the team leads the Big Ten in seven games. The first-year coach uses his own mantras. His Huskers hear the acronyms – OOU (One of Us) and RDV (Relentless, Disciplined, Aggressive).
Phrases become ingrained in players’ minds.
“Teams buy,” said Carrick, a 2007 first-round pick who played seven seasons in the NFL. “Otherwise, coaches would have stopped doing this a century ago. I coached my son’s middle school team. If I talk about something for a long time, I hear the children talking about it. “
If Carriker – or Rhule for that matter – needs a rock to help deliver a message, there’s a proven past in Lincoln.
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(Credit: John Bradford / The Athletic; Photo: Brian Bahr / Getty Images)