||Tuesday, January 1
Wistrom may be Huskers' secret weapon
By Wayne Drehs
PASADENA, Calif. -- The shadow was a big one. And if you ask Nebraska coach Frank Solich, Tracey Wistrom appeared more likely to get lost in it rather than play his way out of it.
But now, some five years since Tracey Wistrom showed up as the scrawny younger brother of Grant Wistrom, one of the most feared players in Husker history, kid brother has built a legacy of his own.
He's not a two-time All-American or a Lombardi award winner, but still, no Nebraska tight end has racked up more receiving yards. And only one, Jerry List, has caught more passes. His development as not only a pass receiver, but a run and pass blocker, has given Solich yet another weapon in Nebraska's complex offense.
"When he arrived here, a lot of people looked at him and just shook their head and figured maybe he'd play as a senior," Solich said. "We knew he had a great head and had great skills, but he wasn't very big. As it turned out, he was a whole lot stronger than his frame showed. He became a go-to guy."
And against Miami in Thursday's Rose Bowl presented by AT&T, he will be called upon like no other time in his career. With the Hurricanes committed to stopping Nebraska's ground game, some have suggested that Wistrom may be wide open with the play-action pass.
"That's my biggest fear," said Miami defensive coordinator Randy Shannon. "If you're over-aggressive in trying to stop the option, you're going to get burned. And they have the tight end to do that."
And noting would be sweeter for Wistrom than burning the Hurricanes when it matters most. Especially considering the challenges he's faced during this, his senior season.
A third-team All-American last year, Wistrom was barely third-team All Big 12 in 2001. His struggles were largely attributed to a knee injury he suffered in practice in October. Though he missed only one game, the nagging injury bugged Wistrom for much of the year.
"It really bugged him the last half of the season, but he really never wanted to come off the field," Solich said. "Even in practice, he wouldn't want to come off. That's the kind of competitor he is."
Said Wistrom: "At times it was disappointing. It's been tough. Any time something like that happens, it takes away from your season."
Wistrom is now 100 percent, his injury having healed in the time off since the end of the regular season. And his teammates say he looks like the old Tracey in practice.
"He had a rough season. It wasn't a lot of fun," said Nebraska running back Dahrran Diedrick said. "I think people forgot about him a little bit. But now that he's healthy, the defense really has to watch out."
Diedrick, who is often the beneficiary of the holes that Wistrom helps open on the offensive line, believes the tight end is underrated in almost all facets of the game.
"He's a great run blocker. Better than people imagine," Diedrick said. "And in the passing game, he may have the best hands on the team. He doesn't even watch the ball in, and it just sort of lands in his hand and sticks like glue."
A Nebraska victory in the Rose Bowl would give Wistrom his first national championship ring. Though he was a redshirt freshman on Nebraska's 1997 national championship team, he didn't get a ring.
Big brother Grant, the ferocious All-American defender, won two rings. And you can believe that people will make the comparisons.
"It has been difficult to get out of his shadow," Tracey Wistrom said. "But I don't think there's anybody's shadow I'd rather be in. With all he accomplished, that's certainly someone you want to be compared to."
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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