OMAHA — Mick Stoltenberg tried to make it through spring ball but couldn’t.
He tried to make it through the season but couldn’t without a major interruption.
The big defensive tackle from Gretna finally decided enough was enough.
Stoltenberg, a 2018 Nebraska captain who battled knee injuries throughout his career, told reporters at the Outland Trophy banquet here that he will not pursue a career in the professional ranks after he wrapped up his college playing days in November.
“After sitting down with trainers and doctors and stuff like that, I decided to kind of hang it up,” he said. “That was the best decision for me going forward.”
Stoltenberg, at the event as NU’s recipient of the Cletus Fischer Native Son award from the Husker coaching staff, said he had six surgeries on his left knee over the course of his career, including two in 2018. He was hurt after about one week of spring ball and had a procedure, knocking him out until summer conditioning. Then he made it through fall camp but aggravated the injury early in the season.
At first, he decided to try to tough it out without further surgery.
“I guess that Michigan game was kind of the tipping point,” said Stoltenberg, who missed four games before returning Oct. 27 against Bethune-Cookman and playing part-time at defensive end down the stretch. “The game became a lot tougher to play after rehabbing and coming back from that. My goal was to finish out those last few games and get myself on the field and help out anyway I could. I guess to a degree that was accomplished. I was happy to be part of that, especially with the way things finished and we were trending up there at the end of the season.”
Stoltenberg finished his career with 30 games played, 69 tackles (9½ for loss) and 3½ sacks. His lone career interception came in November at Memorial Stadium against Illinois.
Now he will turn his attention to trying to build a career in coaching. Stoltenberg, a 2017 UNL graduate who is just nine credits from earning a graduate degree in education administration, said the “ideal” would be to hook on with the Huskers in some capacity, but that he’s willing to make connections and leave the area to find coaching work.
Hanging up the cleats, though, is never easy.
“It was a tough decision with all the guys going on and training and doing all sorts of great things,” Stoltenberg said. “I’m excited for them, but I decided it’s best for me to hang it up.”
One of those teammates, wide receiver Stanley Morgan, was also on hand Wednesday evening as the Huskers’ recipient of the Guy Chamberlain award, a team award voted on by local media.
Morgan spent a couple weeks in Lincoln after the season ended before heading to Calabasas, California, to train at the Sports Academy.
There, the record-setting receiver works with fellow NFL hopefuls like LSU cornerback Greedy Williams, North Carolina State wide receiver Kelvin Harmon Jr. and others.
“It’s way different,” Morgan said of training for the NFL Draft Combine rather than working through a collegiate winter conditioning program. “You basically training on your own, trying to get more into your own self, figure out your own body, figure out your own movements. It’s way different rather than coming into a season with your team that you’ve already jelled with.
“It’s back to the bottom of the barrel and you have to work your way up.”
Morgan said he’s heard preliminarily from a few NFL teams including the Seattle Seahawks and his hometown New Orleans Saints, but that interest will certainly ramp up between now and the combine in March. The 6-1, 200-pound receiver is not at this point playing in a postseason all-star game.
Morgan, of course, became Nebraska’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards as a senior while also becoming the first 1,000-yard single-season receiver in school history.
His final numbers: 189 catches for 2,747 yards and 22 touchdowns, including 1,990 and 17 in his final two seasons on campus.
Despite that production, the combine and his testing numbers will be critical for his NFL Draft stock. Morgan is projected by most scouting services as having mid-round potential in May’s draft.
The 40-yard dash, in particular, is always a heavily scrutinized time.
“It’s very big,” Morgan said. “I never ran my 40 on time, never practiced for it, so it’s just learning how to run it. Learning my body, stretching well and just getting in tune with my body.”