I’m thankful for Randy Gregory coming off the edge. And Ameer Abdullah cutting back and forth like a mogul skier. I’m thankful for Quincy Enunwa’s stiff arm. And Kenny Bell’s afro.
But most of all, I’m thankful for Ron Kellogg.
Monday afternoon, after another press conference in which he cracked up reporters, I asked Kellogg if he knew what he represented. When you’re in the thick of a football life — with meetings and practices and classes — it’s easy to miss.
“I haven’t thought about it,” Kellogg told me. “I’ve just been trying to be in a situation that I can positively affect our football team.”
Kellogg, the son of a former Kansas basketball star, came out of Omaha Westside in the spring of 2009 and nobody wanted him very badly.
“I didn’t really have any options.”
He held partial-scholarship offers to South Dakota State and Northwest Missouri State. But he wanted to go to Nebraska, whether he played football or not. So he joined the team the same year as Taylor Martinez and Cody Green.
How much newspaper chatter or message-board hype did he receive? This is how his career bio looks on Huskers.com:
2009 (Redshirt): Kellogg provided depth at quarterback. He did not play in a game, but did make the travel roster for Nebraska’s final two road games.
2010 (Redshirt Freshman): Kellogg provided depth at quarterback. He did not play in a game, but did make the travel roster for Nebraska’s final two road games.
2011 (Sophomore): Kellogg did not play in a game as NU’s third quarterback, but was a regular member of the travel roster.
A regular member of the travel roster? That’s code for “Go in and hand the ball to Rex Burkhead in case the other quarterbacks break their legs in warmups….ahh, nevermind. We’ll just put Rex at Wildcat.”
Kellogg never asked where he stood on the depth chart. He never really cared, he said. His most important role on the team was Martinez’s personal consigliere.
“I got in trouble many times,” Kellogg said, in mock-exasperation. “I didn’t tell Taylor the right things, or I didn’t cheer him up enough. It’s a tough role. I’m like his psychologist, his friend and his mentor.”
Kellogg’s dry sense of humor helped Martinez through tough times.
“He’s a really serious person,” Kellogg said. “When you’re serious all the time, it makes it even more stressful. So if you can crack a joke and make someone laugh, it usually helps.”
Is it harder to make Taylor laugh?
“No. If you just put forth the time and effort, you can make anyone laugh, even Coach Bo laughs. And that’s rare.”
Finally in September 2012, Kellogg took his first college snap against Idaho State. He threw an interception on his first possession.
“To go out there and actually perform was something that I’ve been dreaming about since I could walk,” Kellogg said. I wrote this column about him that day, assuming it would be his career highlight.
I imagine everybody thought the same. Kellogg could crack a joke. He could give reporters a good quote about his buddy Martinez. But nobody outside the program took his game seriously. Nobody asked about his chances to be the starting quarterback.
He was like Joe Ganz in 2005 and ’06. Good teammate. Funny guy. Not the man.
And then, like Ganz, he proved us wrong. First in September with some sharp passing against South Dakota State. Then on the final drive against Northwestern. Then, most impressively, at Penn State.
Now he’s likely to start on Senior Day. Read that sentence again. It blows my mind. He didn’t take a single college snap for three years and three games! And now Nebraska is his team.
“It’s something I’ll always remember and cherish for a lifetime,” he said of his senior year. “I’ll brag about it to my kids and shove it in their face.”
Kellogg is a testament to the depth you need to win in today’s college football. He’s a testament to the value of a good walk-on program. He’s a testament to the importance of humble teammates.
But what he represents is persistence. Perseverance. Pride in the program. How many guys like Ron Kellogg would’ve given up after the third season without a snap? How many Ron Kelloggs are playing intramurals this fall at campuses around the country?
“I’m not a quitter,” he told me.
A lot of guys do, I said.
“I’m not a lot of guys, though. If I’m gonna start something, I’m gonna finish it.”
Thousands of players have gone through the Husker football program. Every year, a few dozen walk out on Senior Day and the next fall a few dozen take their place. The stories and the lives all run together.
But occasionally, a kid trots out on the field — someone you’d never expect — and grabs a piece of you. He doesn’t just absorb the cheers, he reflects them back on the crowd, making everyone feel just a little bit better about fall Saturdays.
After the Northwestern Hail Mary, Kellogg spent 2 1/2 hours on campus, interviewing students for a HuskerVision feature. The idea was simple: Go undercover. Ask students about Saturday’s game and the fifth-year quarterback who threw the pass, hoping they wouldn’t recognize him. Cue the laughs.
“I’d usually start off the conversation asking where Memorial Stadium was.”
Kellogg already showed us the way.