Thursday, January 03, 2002

Nebraska 'little' brothers going for rings of their own

AP Sports Writer

        PASADENA, Calif. — The “little brother” label on four Nebraska starters can probably be dropped now.

        Tight end Tracey Wistrom, defensive end Chris Kelsay, defensive back Dion Booker and linebacker Mark Vedral have gone from watching their older brothers win national titles with the Cornhuskers to taking Nebraska to its latest championship bid.

        “The genes must be pretty good,” Kelsay said.

        Apparently so. They are a big reason Nebraska (11-1) is playing Miami (11-0) in the Rose Bowl on Thursday for the Bowl Championship Series national title.

        “All of them have been able to work themselves into starting positions and that's not always the case,” coach Frank Solich said. “Just because the older brother was a great football player doesn't mean that the younger brother is going to be.”

        In these four cases, the pedigree theory seems to be holding true.

        Vedral and Booker are tied for second on the team in tackles with 62 each. Kelsay, the only junior among the bunch, is sixth with 52 and second in sacks with five.

        Wistrom is second on the team with 21 catches despite being hobbled in the final five games by a knee injury.

        Solich said the success of Nebraska's band of younger brothers isn't altogether surprising, considering what their older siblings accomplished as Nebraska won national titles in 1994, '95 and '97.

        Grant Wistrom was a two-time All-America defensive end who won the Lombardi Award in 1997 as the nation's top lineman. He now plays for the St. Louis Rams.

        Michael Booker was a cornerback who was the defensive MVP in Nebraska's 62-24 rout of Florida in the Fiesta Bowl to clinch the Huskers' '95 title. He plays for the Tennessee Titans.

        Chad Kelsay was a defensive end for the Huskers from 1995-98. Mike Vedral was a tight end at Nebraska from in the early 1990s and Jon Vedral played wingback from 1994-96.

        Nebraska has had successful brother combinations in the past. Fullbacks Jeff and Joel Makovicka and defensive linemen Christian and Jason Peter were part of the '90s title run. Running backs Curtis and Roger Craig played for the Huskers in the '70s.

        Wistrom said the first person to remind him he wasn't going get any favors as a Husker legacy was Grant. As a freshman on the scout team, Tracey said he often lined up across from his brother and just about as often was picking himself up in the backfield after getting run over.

        “I took my beatings every day. Trust me, he didn't take it easy on me,” Wistrom said.

        “It was difficult at times. Everybody was trying to compare me to Grant the whole time,” he said. “I think slowly but surely I've stepped out of that shadow a little bit and kind of made a name for myself.”

        Playing a different position and being a two-time All-Big 12 selection helped the comparisons go away. Wistrom has been a starter for three years and Booker has started most of the last two.

        “Now that I've settled into my own I don't feel like I need to go out there and do the same things my brother did,” Booker said. “I think every brother on the team has that same mentality — just do the best you can. You can't live up to someone else.”

        Wistrom, Booker and Vedral were redshirted in 1997 when the Huskers shared the national title with Michigan. All three were in the stands as Nebraska made a last-minute campaign by beating Tennessee 42-17 in the Orange Bowl and overtaking the Wolverines in the final USAToday/ESPN coaches' poll.

        They each have title rings from that season, but don't feel comfortable claiming that crown as their own.

        “When you're a redshirt you don't get that whole sense of being part of the team — being on the field and getting to experience an actual kickoff,” Vedral said. “I'm really looking forward to the opportunity.”

        And if they do walk away with a ring after the Rose Bowl, Tracey Wistrom said he won't hesitate to flaunt it in front of Grant, even though the elder Wistrom has three college title rings and a Super Bowl championship.

        “He's a little bit jealous,” Tracey said. “He never got to play in the Rose Bowl. Everybody calls this the granddaddy of all the bowl games.”


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