Tributes to Foltz highlight emotional night

By Brian Rosenthal /

The punt team trotted onto the field, and the crowd came to a hush.

More than 90,000 fans at Memorial Stadium quickly grasped the events unfolding. Many of them had anticipated the honorable gesture about to take place to remember and honor senior punter Sam Foltz. Those who hadn’t quickly understood.

Nebraska, faced with fourth down on its opening possession, lined up with 10 players, minus a punter. The play clock ran.

Slowly, the crowd began cheering. Then roaring. They stood, and players applauded and raised their hands to encourage more cheering.

Fresno State players, too.

“It was definitely a neat gesture by those guys,” Nebraska kicker Drew Brown said. “It gives me a lot of respect for them.”

The play clock struck zero, the crowd reached a crescendo, and Nebraska took a delay of game penalty. Fresno State respectfully declined.

“No hesitation,” Fresno State coach Tim DeRutyer said. “It is tragic. I was talking with our coaches, and I can’t imagine losing a son. And if we can’t teach our guys to do something classy like that, then what is college for? I said we were going to decline the penalty. We were going to do that.”

The Nebraska student section unvealed a large sign with the initals SF, along with three other signs that read "DREAM BIG, WORK HARD and STAY HUMBLE."

Brown raced onto the field, waving and raising his arms to the crowd. He smiled.

He remembers none of it.

“I couldn’t tell you what I did,” Brown said. “I didn’t want to plan anything out. I just wanted to let it flow, and whatever happened, happened.”

Meanwhile, on the sideline, near the Nebraska bench, Tyson Broekemeier pushed down his sunglasses to cover his eyes, filled with tears. It’s the only reason he’d brought the sunglasses on a rainy, gloomy evening.

Just last season, Broekemeier was a backup punter to Foltz. Now, the Aurora native lives in Colorado and works for an ag company.

Broekemeier fought back tears and stopped to collect his thoughts several times. He’d known Foltz since the two played against each other in high school summer camps. He’d hosted Foltz on his official recruiting visit to Lincoln.

“You knew the kid was going to be a stud from the get-go, and he was going to be a good dude,” Broekemeier said. “That whole walk-on class, you talk to any guy in that class, you can hardly talk about the kid without tearing up.

“He rubbed off on every single kid on this team. It’s tough to swallow. Obviously, the kid touched everybody.”

That’s what made Saturday night, which Nebraska punctuated with a 43-10 season-opening victory over Fresno State, so emotional, so special.

Everywhere you looked, and even some places where you didn’t, constant reminders emerged of Foltz, the popular former walk-on from Greeley who died in a July car accident in Wisconsin.

Just a few steps behind Broekemeier, in the first row of Section 2, a fan had hung a No. 27 jersey alongside a sign with a Bible verse from Revelations.

“Blessed are those who die in the LORD… they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow.”

Brown, who’d made 13 career starts his freshman season, and 13 more last season, had done the math and realized the connection about 30 minutes before kickoff.

This was career start No. 27.

“It just blew my mind,” Brown said. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it.”

And how about the guy who turned the momentum for good in the third quarter? Kieron Williams collected a third-quarter interception, the first of his career, on a third-down throw with Fresno State in Nebraska territory and the Huskers leading 21-10.

Williams, who finished with a career-high 10 tackles, had always worn No. 27, along with Foltz, but respectfully switched to No. 26 this season.

“It’s crazy how things work out like that,” Brown said. “The night that Sam passed away it was raining. His funeral it was raining and before the game it was raining. It’s just stuff like that, that you know he’s watching. It’s crazy.”

Foltz’s locker, which will be reserved throughout the season, had been prepared Friday night, his pads, jersey and helmet laid out just as it was for every player. Brown and kicker Spencer Lindsay carried Foltz’s jersey to the sideline during pregame warmups and laid it over the bench, as they’ll do every game.

Before the game, Brown played on the sideline with Lane and Max Foltz, ages 8 and 4, and nephews of Sam. Max punted the ball, and Brown played returner. The trio, along with Lindsay, led the Tunnel Walk entrance.

Senior Sam Hahn, making his first career start, was among Foltz’s closest friends and served as an honorary Foltz captain on Saturday. In a tribute to Foltz, he introduced himself on the HuskerVision pregame lineups as from “Small town USA,” as Foltz had always done in his introduction. (Hahn simply substituted DeWitt, his hometown, for Greeley).

Nebraska capped its scoring with a trick two-point conversion out of a swinging gate formation. Holder Zack Darlington took the snap and dashed up the middle, barely crossing the plane of the goal line.

It’s a play special teams coach Bruce Read said coaches had put in during the spring – for Foltz, who’d also served as holder.

“We developed it for Sam,” Read said, “and wanted to hang onto it and see how it looked.”

It looked pretty darned good, just like everything else did on a special Saturday night.

“Just tonight in general was perfect, from the game to the ceremony to everyone wearing the 27 stuff,” Brown said. “It couldn’t have been any better.”