SAN DIEGO - Tuesday was an emotional day of sorts for Nebraska linebackers coach Mike Ekeler.
The fiery assistant walked off the field at the University of California San Diego for his final practice as a Husker coach. After Thursday's Holiday Bowl, Ekeler will move onto to Indiana to take the co-defensive coordinator position under Kevin Wilson.
NU head coach Bo Pelini said Ekeler will no doubt be missed at Nebraska, but he's also happy to see him get the opportunity to become a coordinator.
"You want your guys to get better opportunities and to move on, and that's the case," Pelini said. "We're all for it. He's been with me now for seven years, and he's been a valuable part of this staff, but it's time for him to move on, and we're happy for him."
Ekeler is the first assistant coach on Pelini's staff to leave in the last three seasons. Going into this season Nebraska was just one of nine coaching staffs in the country that hadn't experienced any staff changes over the previous two seasons.
Pelini has worked with Ekeler since 2004 when he was a graduate assistant under him on Bob Stoops' coaching staff at Oklahoma.
At one time Ekeler thought about getting out of coaching while at OU, but it was Pelini that convinced him to stay on Stoops' staff and give it one more shot.
"He's come a long way," Pelini said. "When I first met him he was a GA, and he was actually considering getting out of (coaching) at that point. We talked him into sticking it out, and for me it's just rewarding to see guys who work hard, to see them achieve and to see him reach his goals. This is the next step for him, and I think he'll do a good job."
From a players perspective, sophomore linebacker Will Comtpon said earlier this week he's both happy and sad that Ekeler will be moving on.
"I'm happy for him, but on a personal level, it's tough," Compton said. "He was like a father. We've been around each other for three years, and he's been awesome. He's awesome. I can't say enough about him. It's awesome that he's moving up, and I know he's excited. We're excited for him. I know it's tough on him. He was pretty emotional telling us about it, and so were we, but I'm happy for him."
When asked about the time frame on when a new linebackers coach will be named at NU, Pelini said it's not something he's in a big rush to get taken care of.
"I have a list in mind of guys that I have a lot of confidence in and guys that I know," Pelini said. "That's easy. But I haven't done anything with that yet. It will be a while before I do."
- Sean Callahan
Gomes injury not serious
The biggest news coming out of Tuesday's final full practice session was the sight of senior defensive back DeJon Gomes wearing a protective boot on his right foot.
Gomes, who fully practiced Monday, did not participate in any drills on Tuesday, but Pelini said the Hayward, Calif., native's status for Thursday's game would not be affected by the undisclosed injury.
"He's okay," Pelini said. "He's fine. There are no issues there."
That was definitely good news for the Huskers, as Gomes has played a vital role on NU's defense over the course of past two seasons. Coming into the Holiday Bowl, Gomes ranks third on the team with three interceptions, including one for a touchdown, and leads with three forced fumbles and 93 total tackles.
With just one more game left in his collegiate career, Pelini was asked about Gomes' potential future of playing at the next level.
"(Teams) are looking at him as a safety, and a guy who can kind of do a lot of things," Pelini said. "There are a lot of people who think he's going to be really valuable, and I agree. It all depends on the team, the type of system we're dealing with. A lot of teams like him more than others.
"He's played up closer to the line (at Nebraska), but I think he'll be more of a safety at the next level."
- Robin Washut
Martinez refreshed, refocused
The second half of Nebraska's loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship was arguably the lowest point of redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez's young collegiate career.
With nearly a month to heal his multiple injuries and sit back and reflect on what has been a rollercoaster season, Pelini said Martinez is getting back to his old self heading into Thursday's Holiday Bowl.
"He's done well," Pelini said. "I think he's getting better. I think he's feeling better. It's that next step. He's been through a lot. I think it kind of gets lost in the shuffle a little bit that this guy's a freshman and a first-year starter.
"He's been through a lot and he's learned a lot, and all those experiences are going to make you better and stronger hopefully over time. I think that's the case for Taylor."
Pelini said Nebraska would likely still use some of the Wildcat formation to help take the load off of Martinez in the running game, but confirmed that the Corona, Calif., native would be the Huskers' starter on Thursday.
Overall, Pelini said the past week of bowl practices has been a great experience not only for Martinez, but also fellow quarterbacks Cody Green and Zac Lee to get away and just focus on playing football.
"You get into a long season, and you go through a lot," Pelini said. "Really, all these quarterbacks go through a lot. Cody Green has been through a lot. It gives you a chance to step back and evaluate and hopefully you think about all the experiences you had and that will make you better over time."
- Robin Washut
***After practice, Nebraska went off to tour the USS Ronald Reagan at the Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado, Calif., and also attend the Holiday Bowl Navy and Marine Corps Luncheon on Tuesday afternoon.
The trip was made a little more special for the Huskers because of senior defensive end Tyrone Fahie, whose six years of active military duty before coming to NU have been well documented. Pelini talked about what Fahie has meant to the program since he joined the team as a walk-on in 2007.
"He's been great to have around. He's a leader, a true team guy, and he really epitomizes the guys we're going to be running into over there on the ship. Obviously we have a tremendous amount of respect for him, and really for anybody who serves our country."
***Pelini said Nebraska had a solid week of practice in San Diego and his team is ready to get back on the field for one last game.
"We've had a couple good days of practice, and I think the kids are looking forward to the game," he said. "They're ready to play."
***While not newsworthy in any sense, one of the most classic Bo vs. reporter exchanges in recent memory took place on Tuesday when an out-of-town reporter asked Pelini a question regarding Nebraska's Holiday opponent.
The only problem was he asked about Arizona.
Reporter: "Bo, Arizona's got two quarterbacks that have played a lot this year and have both started with different types of styles. What kind of challenges does that present?"
Bo: "For who?"
Reporter: "For them."
Bo: "For Arizona?"
(Long, awkward pause)
Bo: "I guess I'm not following the question."
NU Media Relations Director Keith Mann: "We're playing Washington."
Reporter: "Exactly. My bad. That was last year."
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