The Nebraska Cornhuskers football team competes as part of the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, representing the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in the West Division of the Big Ten. Nebraska plays its home games at Memorial Stadium, where it has sold out every game since 1962. The team is currently coached by Scott Frost.
Nebraska is among the most storied programs in college football history. The Cornhuskers trail only Michigan, Ohio State, and Texas in all-time victories among FBS teams, and have won more games against Power Five opponents than any other program. Nebraska claims 46 conference championships and five national championships (1970, 1971, 1994, 1995, and 1997), and has won nine other national championships that the school does not claim. NU’s 1971 and 1995 title-winning teams are considered by many to be among the best in college football history. Famous Cornhuskers include Heisman Trophy winners Johnny Rodgers, Mike Rozier, and Eric Crouch. Rodgers, named Nebraska’s “Player of the Century” in 1999, and Rozier, who graduated as the NCAA’s all-time yards per carry leader, join 22 other Cornhuskers in the College Football Hall of Fame. Notable among these are players Bob Brown, Guy Chamberlin, Tommie Frazier, Rich Glover, Dave Rimington, and Will Shields, and coaches Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne.
The program’s first extended period of success came just after the turn of the century. Between 1900 and 1916, Nebraska had five undefeated seasons and completed a stretch of 34 consecutive games without a loss, still a program record.Despite a span of 21 conference championships in 33 seasons, the Cornhuskers didn’t experience major national success until Bob Devaney was hired in 1962. In eleven seasons as head coach, Devaney won two national championships, eight conference titles, and coached 22 All-Americans, but perhaps his most lasting achievement was the hiring of Tom Osborne as offensive coordinator in 1969.Osborne was named Devaney’s successor in 1973, and over the next 25 years established himself as one of the best coaches in college football history with his trademark I-form offense and revolutionary strength, conditioning, and nutrition programs.Following Osborne’s retirement in 1997, Nebraska cycled through four head coaches before hiring state native Scott Frost in 2017.
Nebraskans Recognize Farmer’s Heroic Actions
When Rachel Wilke learned her late husband, James Wilke, would be honored as Nebraska’s citizen hero for the annual Hy-Vee Heroes Game between Nebraska and Iowa, she was, quite frankly, shocked.
“I knew from Facebook and a few other places that people had nominated him,” Rachel said, “but I guess I just assumed across the state there would be tons of people, and we wouldn’t be the recipient.”
But here’s what really impressed Rachel about the honor. Not only did close friends and other people who knew James and his heroic act deem him worthy for this special recognition, the American Red Cross, which chooses the recipient, told the family that some 40 people they didn’t know also nominated him.
“That,” Rachel said, “was a nice surprise.”
Rachel and her three children – Julianne, Colton and Addie – will accept the award on behalf of James during halftime of Friday’s game at Memorial Stadium. Since Nebraska joined the Big Ten Conference in 2011 and began playing border rival Iowa every season, the teams play for the Heroes Trophy, and the American Red Cross, through nominations from residents of both states, chooses two people – one from Nebraska, one from Iowa – to honor who performed extraordinary acts of heroism and service in their communities over the previous year.
James Wilke, who farmed north of Columbus, gave his life while attempting to save the life of a stranger during last spring’s historic floods that created dangerous conditions, damaged homes and businesses, washed out roads and bridges and claimed lives.
As floodwaters rose, local authorities asked James to help a stranded motorist. True to his character, he did not hesitate to climb into his tractor like he had done before many times. As James crossed a flooded bridge in his tractor, the bridge gave out. James and his tractor were swept away by the floodwaters.
“I mean, we’re so proud of the action my dad took that day,” said Addie, a college student who is the youngest of the Wilke children. “To have everyone realize that he’s a hero – because obviously we believe he’s a hero – but to see that he’s a hero from the state of Nebraska, especially for the Nebraska-Iowa football game, we’re just proud of him and excited to experience all the activities on Friday.
“It means a lot to our family that we received this honor.”
Katie Gudenkauf, a nurse who saved the life of a soccer player whose heart stopped during a game, is the citizen hero from Iowa.
What if James could know he is being recognized for his heroic actions?
“He would not want this,” Rachel said. “He did not see himself as a hero. This is something that he would not have been afraid of doing. It was in James’ nature to help people, let people borrow things if they needed to. He would not have wanted all of this attention.”
Nebraska coach Scott Frost said he’d heard the story about James Wilke before, and he watched a video of his family on Tuesday night.
“That’s kind of what Nebraskans are all about – helping one another, being there for one another,” Frost said. “Obviously, a sad story that he lost his life while trying to do that. But he kind of represents what it means to be a Nebraskan and what it means to be selfless.”
James, a devoted Nebraska football fan, played football at Columbus Lakeview High School and, along with Rachel, graduated from Lakeview in 1987. Today, they have two nephews who also play football at Lakeview. Their oldest daughter, Julianne, 25, played rugby at Wayne State.
Colton, 24, has admirably stepped in his father’s shoes to help run the family farm.
“Colton is doing a great job on the farm taking over,” Rachel said. “Heck, he knows more than we kind of thought. That means James was such a good teacher, because Colton knows exactly what he’s doing.
“We have a very good family friend who checks in with Colton every morning. Checks in a couple of times with me, sees how I am doing. Then James has a couple of cousins who farm, so that’s been good to have family.”
Support from their community has been wonderful, Rachel said, although friends and family haven’t been the only ones to reach out.
“This happened, and I cannot believe the outpouring of support from people across the state of Nebraska,” Rachel said. “It’s just been overwhelming.”