Mark walked on at Nebraska to play football from a small high school in Ohio, not far from the Pennsylvania border. He was very smart but very small. He wanted to play on the offensive line for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The head coach, Bo Pelini, looked at his film. While doubting that the kid would ever play, Coach Pelini told Mark to come on out and we’ll see what happens. Of course, Mark would have to pay his own way.

Mark stands six-foot tall, according to the program. That’s probably a lie. The program says he is up to 290 pounds, but that is probably a lie too. But, Mark tried, and tried hard. That he knew the playbook, and the proper line calls, as well as the offensive line coach helped him. His smarts showed as he became an Academic All-Big Ten award winner on multiple occasions. That he started at center on the 2014 Nebraska football team was nothing short of a miracle. He was likely that smallest man to play that position in the Big Ten.

So it was on Saturday, November 22, 2014, that Mark played his last game at memorial stadium in Lincoln. It was Senior Day. Mark had reason to be proud as they announced his name. The chances that he would be the starting center for the ranked Huskers were vanishingly small when Mark first walked on at Nebraska.

It was a wonderful day for Mark. That is, until the first offensive play of the game. Mark snapped the ball, engaged the man across from him and the play ended. As it did, an opposing player rolled up Mark’s extended legs from behind. Mark fell with more than 300 pounds of opponent pinning one of Mark’s leg. His stout leg couldn’t bear the force and it twisted and wrenched back and forth. Mark writhed in pain.

Photo credit: MATT RYERSON/Lincoln Journal Star Nebraska offensive lineman Mark Pelini (56) grimaces as he his helped off the field in the first quarter at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014.

Photo credit: MATT RYERSON/Lincoln Journal Star
Mark (56) grimaces as he his helped off the field in the first quarter at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014.

As Mark lay on the ground, head coach Bo Pelini jogged on the field of play to comfort his center. One play on Senior Day was all that Mark would have as a memory. All that work. All that study. One play. The best day of Mark’s young life turned into the worst. They carted him off on a golf cart, and he returned to the sidelines barely able to walk with crutches.

Bo Pelini the head coach at Nebraska talks to his young men a lot about dealing with adversity and thereby learning important life lessons. I hope that will be enough for Mark Pelini, Bo’s nephew, and the bright and hard-working young man who epitomizes the best of big time college football. If nothing else, Uncle Bo ought to be damn proud.


11 responses

  1. Judge:
    Let’s hope that the young man overcomes this challenge (as I suspect that he will) in order to meet the greater challenges of the future. The old cliche is true: you cannot keep a good man down.

  2. I have always found that those who have never faced adversity find it easy to be philosophical about it.

  3. I can find no reason to cry for young Mark. He got to live his dream. He was the starting center for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. He had no business even trying, but he did it anyway. What a foundation upon which to build a life!

    As my coach told me, you are always one play from hanging ’em up. Mark could have had that happen to him in garbage time, or even on the practice field. He might never have played even a down. But he did. Lots of them. He was one of the lucky ones.

    I raise a toast to young Mark. It wasn’t a fairy-tale ending, but it was a damn good ride. Don’t call it adversity.

  4. I think of the Lions’ Mike Utley and the Raiders’ Darrell Stingley. I remember the hits that left them paralyzed. To me, that is adversity. And the tale of Bart Ross. He was living a fate worse than death.

    Life is full of little disappointments. Without them, the victories would not taste as sweet. But no one can take Mark’s accomplishments away from him.

  5. I sympathize with the young man’s drive and willingness to pay any price to play a game he loves. And if he’s able to play more–a single knee injury needn’t lock him out of the pros, although his size may force him to a different position–he certainly ought to go for it.

    But maybe he caught a break with that broken knee. Have you ever seen Joe Namath try to walk?

    Eric Hines

  6. Judge: I was disappointed to see this morning that Nebraska sacked Bo Pellini. Although I am a Michigan State Spartan fan, I have a place in my heart for Nebraska. Two of their distinguished players made a marked improvement to the defense of my other favorite team, the Detroit Lions. I refer to Kyle Vandenbosch and Ndomokung Suh. But don’t worry, the Nebraska football program always comes back better and stronger. And if they get even half as good as your blog, they will be Division I champs for the next decade!

    John P. Mack
    Michigan Bar No. P28407

  7. John,

    I was shocked!

    I may post about it, but for now: Bo did two things that I think are truly uncommon: (1) he recruited boys with character and insisted that they grow to be men of character; and (2) he loved, in the true sense of that word, all of his players. I also know this, the kids that played for Bo will be materially better for the experience.

    All the best.


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