From the Memorial Stadium sidelines, Luke McNitt had a front-row seat to the Andy Janovich show.

He got to watch the former Nebraska walk-on develop into one of the nation’s premiere fullbacks. But Janovich was far more than a lead blocker. He picked up first downs on third-and-short, he caught passes out of the backfield and he even had two touchdowns of 50-plus yards. At a position often pigeon-holed into one role, Janovich was every bit versatile as he was valuable in his final season in Lincoln.

Nebraska players — not just fullbacks — joked about following in Janovich’s footsteps to stardom. One of those people was McNitt, who was only half serious when he talked with graduate assistant coach Tavita Thompson about switching positions. By the time the spring practices rolled around, McNitt wasn’t joking at all.

“It just became more and more of a reality,” he said.

Fullback is McNitt’s new reality. He’s no longer buried on the tight end depth chart. Now, he’s the favorite to replace Janovich and continue to reinvent the fullback position at Nebraska.

It’s a transition, but not a major one for McNitt. He’s well versed in the process of changing positions. After all, he’s already played quarterback, H-back, running back, slot receiver and tight end since he began his college career at the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) in 2013.

And yes, the 6-2, 240-pound junior was basically the same size when he played quarterback.

“A lot of guys still don’t believe it,” McNitt said. “Every time I tell them that, no one seems to believe me at all.”

Believe it or not, that did happen. And if he has it his way, he’ll turn heads at his new position just like he did at his old one.


“Did that guy just call you Tebow?”

McNitt’s Kearney High (NE) teammates asked that question in the postgame handshake line on multiple occasions. Players on the opposing team made the connection. McNitt was a bulldozing, dual-threat quarterback — he was an All-Nebraska linebacker, too — who happened to wear No. 15 just like the former Heisman Trophy winner.

Eventually, opposing players weren’t the only ones calling him “Tebow.” The nickname stuck, which McNitt didn’t mind. That was around the time that Tebow was the talk of the NFL when he led the Denver Broncos to the playoffs after a 1-4 start. It wasn’t until later that his career fizzled out.

But there was a major difference between McNitt and Tebow. Tebow’s career ended because when playing quarterback was no longer an option, he refused to change positions. McNitt’s career took off because of his willingness to play everywhere.

After finishing his high school career as the program’s all-time touchdowns leader, McNitt elected not to walk on at Nebraska. Instead, he went to the university located down the street from his high school.


At UNK, McNitt was set on winning the quarterback job as a true freshman. He didn’t care that he had to compete with Nebraska transfer Bronson Marsh.

Even though Marsh was named the starter, McNitt got his chance in the middle of the season. Replacing the injured Marsh, McNitt accounted for four touchdowns in his first career start at quarterback. He racked up a team-high 11 touchdowns in his freshman season. More impressive was how he reached that total. Seven touchdowns were via rush, three were passes and he even added a touchdown catch for good measure. He spent time at five different positions and quickly became the team’s most versatile player.

Despite all the playing time he got, McNitt didn’t see a future for himself at UNK. After what he called a “wild” first year, he wanted to see if he could play at the Division I-level, even if that meant not playing quarterback.

“I knew that I couldn’t be a 6-foot-2, 240-pound quarterback forever,” he said.

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His Kearney High coach, Brandon Cool, helped him go through the recruitment process again. Iowa State, Kansas State, Nebraska, South Dakota, South Dakota State and Wyoming were all potential walk-on destinations. Some schools actually wanted him to play linebacker. Whatever was going to help him get to the next level, McNitt was willing to do.

That made him a pretty easy sell.

“That process was a piece of cake for me,” Cool said. “Those are easy phone calls to make for a guy like Luke McNitt.”

The phone call to Nebraska might’ve been the easiest of all. They offered McNitt a walk-on spot a year earlier, and the same option was on the table. He grew up watching walk-ons turn into offensive stars in Lincoln.

And he knew that the more positions he could play there, the better his chances were of following that path.

“Your value on the field can be exponentially greater the more versatile and the more positions you know to grow your knowledge of the game,” McNitt said. “Seeing all of those different perspectives definitely helped me become the player I am today.”


Every offseason of McNitt’s college career has been filled with change. Perhaps the biggest of them came when Bo Pelini was fired after the 2014 season. For some walk-ons, a new coach means that a year’s worth of work is down the drain. A new sheriff in town is a clean slate, and it’s often a setback for any player without a proven track record on the field.

McNitt met with Mike Riley’s new staff and came away excited. He was optimistic about the way they wanted to develop walk-ons. Leaving for another school didn’t make much sense after he sat out the 2014 season because of NCAA transfer rules. Instead, McNitt did what a lot of walk-ons do. Practices were spent on scout team and special teams. Perhaps more importantly, he increased his training time.

McNitt has always been a rare physical breed. How many high school quarterbacks win state titles in shot put and discus?

At 6-2, 240 pounds, McNitt’s combination of size and athleticism stood out. It paid off for him in a big way this offseason.

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Nebraska assistant athletic director of strength and conditioning Boyd Epley has a well-known performance index. It’s meant to gauge the overall athleticism and explosiveness of a given player. The metric adjusts for height and weight, with the purpose of finding the best athlete on the team, regardless of position. Nebraska coaches once used it to help determine starters and see who could become a future pro.

Players compete in the 10-yard dash, the vertical jump and the pro agility run. A good score for a walk-on to start at is around 900 and a player who scores in the 1,800s is already considered pro-caliber. The five players with the highest scores in those three events then compete in one final test — the parallel squat.

McNitt earned a spot among the five finalists with a score of 1,702. After he squatted 564 pounds, he finished in second place.

No, McNitt didn’t win the honor of Husker Power Football Athlete of the Year. That went to the versatile Khalil Davis. But McNitt showed that he wasn’t just an athletic converted quarterback.

Part of McNitt’s performance could’ve been attributed to Janovich, who was a workout warrior himself. McNitt trained with him all year, and they even got a few sessions in before Janovich left Nebraska to join the Broncos.

McNitt had nothing but praise for his mentor.

“He’ll go down as one of the best, and definitely since after the fullback faded away for a few years,” McNitt said of Janovich. “To see it come back and to for it to come back the way it did with him was definitely great to see.”

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Janovich was the first Nebraska fullback drafted since Joel Makovicka in 1999. Like Janovich and McNitt, Makovicka was a small-town Nebraska kid who walked on. Legendary Husker fullbacks Tom Rathman and Corey Schlesinger were once small-town Nebraska kids before they earned long careers in the NFL.

Who’s to say McNitt can’t do the same?

“If my time comes,” McNitt said. “I’ll gladly carry that torch.”


Before McNitt can think about following in the footsteps of Husker greats, he’ll focus on winning the starting job. Two other walk-ons could stand in his way. Graham Nabity is a converted I-back and Harrison Jordan was No. 2 on the depth chart behind Janovich last year.

All three will battle throughout fall camp, each with something to prove.

“He’s not out of the woods yet. He still has a lot to learn at that position,” Cool said. “His focus is still to be the best football player he possibly can be for the Huskers. If things happen in the future, I think he’s ready to take care of the red and white for the next couple years.”

McNitt said he still has to work on keeping his pad level low and improve in pass protection. He’s making the transition from an undersized tight end to an oversized fullback. The blocking is different, but that’s not much of a problem for McNitt, who can kick out a defensive end in zone packages and hold his own against a linebacker.

One of the questions Nebraska coaches asked was whether or not McNitt — who had 13 rushing touchdowns and nearly 1,000 yards on the ground as a high school senior — could run the ball.

“I just giggled when I heard that,” Cool said.

There’s no guarantee that McNitt will warrant the touches that Janovich did. Not every fullback runs for six yards per carry or takes a simple catch in the flat for 53 yards. Not every team uses the fullback like Nebraska does. Janovich’s successor will still have as heavy and diverse a workload as any fullback in the country. The Huskers want somebody who can do it all.

Fortunately, they already have a guy who fits that bill.