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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (April 11, 2000)
Johnson conies off bench for spark
By Matthew Hansen
Nebraska First Baseman Dan
Johnson has the size of feet you’d
expect a 6-foot-2, 215-pound guy to
His shoe size, though, seems to be
increasing with every home run he hits.
One of four players assigned the
daunting task of filling the giant cleats
of 1999 National Player of the Year
Ken Harvey, Johnson has emerged as
the Husker to fill the power-hitting
And after tearing through the Big
12 Conference schedule with a slug
ging percentage near the astronomical
1.000 mark, the question must be
Is Johnson going to have people
asking, “Kenny who?”
No, according to Johnson, Coach
Dave Van Horn and catcher Justin
Cowan. But they all agreed Johnson’s
performance this season was special in
its own right.
“There is no replacing Ken
Harvey,” Johnson said, sitting in the
visitor’s dugout after Sunday’s Kansas
game. “What he did here is unmatch
able, so I’m not trying in any way to
His play suggests he is trying,
though. One out of every six times
Johnson has gone to the plate, the ball
has cleared the fence. These are num
bers that anyone this side of Mark
McGwire would be envious of.
Cowan said Johnson’s power was
“He just has so much strength up
there,” Cowan said. “He has got just as
much power as Harvey. Dan can hit it
out any time, to any part of the park.
Not very many people can do that.”
Of course, Harvey also hit nearly
.500 last year. Johnson is sitting at .333.
There is another difference.
Harvey seemingly never came out of
the Husker lineup last season. In fact,
he started 55 of the Husker’s 60 games.
And the left-handed Johnson, despite
leading the team in home runs, slug
ging percentage and on-base percent
age, plays only against right-handed
As Johnson sits in the dugout, talk
ing to a reporter, children periodically
come up to him for an autograph, evi
dence of his growing stardom.
But that status is offset, maybe pur
posely, by the item in Johnson’s hands.
It is a broom, and it is Johnson’s
task to sweep the assorted sunflower
seeds out of die visitor’s dugout.
It is a task Johnson doesn’t seem to
mind, just like he doesn’t mind being a
cog in the Husker baseball wheel.
“It’s whatever is best for the team
right now,” he said, broom in hand. “I
have been getting a lot of chances late
ly, and we’re playing good right now, so
that’s all I’m concerned about.
Whatever (Van Horn) puts up as the
lineup, we go with.”
Cowan said the other first base
men, including Dan Wright, Jim
Bailey and Matt Hopper, who is prima
rily a designated hitter, were all good
But he also said he loved to see
Johnson’s name penciled in on the line
“The way he’s swinging right now,
it is awfully tough to keep him out of
the lineup,” he said. “Any time you
have a guy like Dan that can step to the
plate and the next thing you know hit a
two-run homer, it is a great threat.
“I’ll say one thing. I sure enjoy hav
ing him in the lineup behind me.”
Van Horn’s philosophy, which
emphasizes speed and bat control,
would seem to be a bad fit for Johnson,
who describes himself as primarily a
But instead, the slugger has fit right
in to the Husker system, according to
A prime example occurred during
last Sunday’s game against Kansas.
In the eighth inning, Johnson
stepped to the plate. The crowd buzzed
in anticipation. Kid Rock blared from
You could just imagine Johnson
ripping the Jayhawk hurler’s offering
over the right field fence.
But it didn’t happen. Much the
opposite. Instead, Johnson bunted,
moving the NU runner to second.
It hasn’t always been this way.
While playing junior college baseball
Please see JOHNSON on 14
to regain old
By John Gaskins
Nebraska and Oklahoma football fans starv
ing for the revival of what was once the fiercest
rivalry in college football may get their wish on
Oct. 28 when the teams meet in Norman.
In the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, the series often
upheld virtually every standard needed for the per
fect arch rivalry: two top-ranked football power
houses, the last game of the regular season, on
Thanksgiving weekend, for the conference title,
with national title implications on the line.
But in the three few years before the formation
of the Big 12 Conference put the series on hiatus in
1998 and ’99, Oklahoma failed to uphold its end
of the rivalry bargain. The Huskers beat the
Sooners 37-0, 73-21 and 69-7 to turn the rivalry
into a joke.
OU fell gradually from grace after Biarry
Switzer resigned amidst an NCAA violation
investigation, which led to the program’s probation
in 1989. The Sooners went through three coaches
in nine years and became worse with each one.
But since that embarrassing 62-point setback
to NU in 1997, the program got the shot in the arm
it needed with the 1999 hiring of former Steve
Spurrier Assistant Bob Stoops.
In one season, the 42-year-old Stoops turned
OU into a team to be reckoned with again, leading
it to a 7-5 record and its first winning season and
bowl appearance in six years. Now the question is,
do the Sooners have what it takes to make
Nebraskans cringe as they did in Switzer’s days?
“I don’t know if we’re there yet,” first-year
Offensive Coordinator Mark Mangino said.
“Certainly, we’d love that kind of rivalry with
Nebraska again. But to have a rivalry, both teams
must win. We’re trying to take it one game at a time
Stoops has drawn OU closer to top dog by
hauling in a big-name and proven coaching staff.
He hired former OU quarterback Cale Gundy,
who was the leader on some of OU’s last winning
teams in the early ’90s. Former Heisman runner
up Chuck Long, who was at Iowa the same time
Stoops was an assistant coach there, is the
Sooners’ quarterback coach.
Spurrier’s son, Steve Jr., is the co-defensive
coordinator. Mangino joined the staff in January
after Offensive Coordinator Mike Leach left to
become coach at Texas Tech. Mangino came ftesh
off coaching Kansas State’s offense to national
prominence for eight years under another pro
gram-healer, Bill Snyder.
However, it was Leach’s pass-happy system
and the budding of an unlikely gunslinger in junior
college transfer quarterback Josh Heupel that were
Please see OKLAHOMA on 14
> DN File Photo
Though he isn’t seeing much time this spring, Dan Alexander will battle Correll Buckhalter for the No. 1 l-back spot next fall. Several NU play
ers are battling for the backup spots during these workouts.
NU I-backs contain depth of past years
By John Gaskins
With probably plenty of thoughts occupy
ing him after Friday’s spring football prac
tice, Nebraska Coach Frank Solich could
have been forgiven if the answer to one
measly historical question slipped his mind.
But for the life of him, Solich could not
remember the exact year that the Huskers last
had as much depth at the I-back spot as he
believes they will in 2000.
He remembered that a few years ago,
when he was NU’s running backs coach, there
were five 1-backs playing regularly -
Lawrence Phillips, Ahman Green, Damon
Benning, Clinton Childs and Jay Sims.
When asked if 1995 was the year he was
referring to, Solich nodded in agreement and
“Yeah, that was a good year, you could
say,” Solich said.
That year, Nebraska won a second-con
secutive national title and led the nation in
rushing with more than 400 yards per game,
its second best output in school history. The
team’s I-backs featured three of the top-25
players on NU’s all-time rushing list - Green
(second), Phillips (sixth) and Benning (24th).
Not too shabby a comparison for the 2000
running backs to hold themselves to.
The top three I-backs - senior Dan
Please see I-BACKS on 14
U At Nebraska,
something we ve always
done is wear down
teams. This year, were
going to have even more
depth and potential to
wear people down.”
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