Three former Beatrice High School football players are among those being displaced by the announcement that the University of Nebraska-Omaha is cutting its collegiate football program.
Justin Coleman, who will be a junior in the fall, along with Zach Ruiz, who will be a sophomore, and Phil McClure, who will be a freshman, are all currently in the UNO program.
Beatrice head football coach Bob Sexton said he first heard about the UNO changes Sunday morning a little before 7 a.m.
“One of our players’ dads texted me,” Sexton said. “I got a paper and found out what was going on then some of the parents of the kids up there started calling me asking, ‘What do we do?’”
Sexton said he was “surprised, without a doubt” by the UNO announcement.
“They have a history,” Sexton said. “They’ve played football for 100 years or something like that.”
Sexton believed UNO had a strong program and has seen a number of Orangemen become Mavericks over the years.
“Our kids who have gone up there enjoyed it,” Sexton said. “They were having a great experience up there.”
UNO had just announced the hiring of a new secondary coach last Monday, they’d finalized their recruiting for next year and were ready for spring football, Sexton said.
“I don’t think there was a football coach on staff that saw this coming,” Sexton said, “at least none I’ve talked to.”
While Sexton was shocked by the news, his first concern was for the three Beatrice players currently at UNO.
“I was most concerned about what it (the announcement) has done to our kids,” Sexton said.
Knowing athletes were to meet with the school’s administration Sunday evening, Sexton said he waited to contact his former players.
“I told them I’d get on the phone and start e-mailing and try and get them in the best situation possible,” Sexton said.
Coleman told Sexton the football players walked out of the Sunday meeting when the chancellor started to speak.
“It’s know of like having your boss walk in and tell you you don’t have a job,” Sexton said. “They’re frustrated, shocked and angry.”
Sexton said he spent most of Sunday responding to text messages and calls for colleges.
“North Dakota State called me at 10 p.m.,” Sexton said. “It was an all-day deal.”
Monday, Sexton said he was on the phone with North Dakota State, Northwest Missouri State University and the University of Nebraska-Kearney. He also sent e-mails to schools like Kansas, Kansas State and Ohio.
Sexton said Coleman and Ruiz have been expressed interest in transferring to another school where they can play football. He said he hasn’t been in contact with McClure.
As a sophomore last fall, Coleman started all 11 games for the Mavericks. He had 26 catches for 313 yards and one touchdown. He carried the ball nine times for 100 yards and a touchdown.
Coleman’s 26 catches ranked him second on the team.
In 2009, as a freshman, Coleman saw action in 12 games for UNO. He had 22 catches for 257 yards.
Ruiz was in his first year of eligibility at UNO last fall after having transferred into the program for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
McClure, a true freshman, redshirted during the 2010 season.
“By the end of the night (Sunday), Justin (Coleman) was in good spirits,” Sexton said. “He’s looking to make the most of this. He said, ‘I’ve proved myself here. I may try and play up a level and prove myself again.’”
Sexton said Ruiz is “a little bit the same way” about having a fresh start somewhere else.
While most schools, especially those instate, are aware of the situation, Sexton said the “unfortunate part” is most scholarship money is already allocated for next year.
“For the most part, the kids will be walking on if they go somewhere else,” Sexton said.
Some schools also have to limit their roster numbers due to conference or division regulations, Sexton said. That, he said, could put them in a bind when adding players to their current rosters.
Cutting the UNO football program doesn’t just affect current players, either, Sexton said.
“We have a couple junior who were thinking about going up there,” Sexton said. “We had one senior this year, who almost turned down a nice scholarship offer to walk-on at UNO.”
Sexton said other small colleges in Nebraska will benefit in the long run.
“This is a great opportunity for other state colleges in Nebraska,” Sexton aid. “Without UNO recruiting, a lot of Division II kids may consider the smaller colleges in the future.”