2023 Preview: ILB

Scholarship Lost: Chris Kolarevic (retired), Eteva Mauga-Clements (retired), Seth Malcom (retired), Ernest Hausmann (Michigan),

Scholarship Returning: Nick Henrich, Luke Reimer, Gage Stenger (DB), Garrett Snodgrass, Randolph Kpai, Mikai Gbayor, John Bullock (walk-on)

Scholarship Incoming: Dylan Rogers

Phil Steele B1G Position Ranking (LB)
Ohio State
Penn State
Michigan State

We continue off of our Jack/Edge preview with our ILB room. While Jack seemed a bit thin, we have some pieces returning at the ILB spot that give reason for optimism. Reimer and Henrich have started a combined 45 games, making us one of the most experienced ILB rooms in the B1G. Reimer led the team in snaps with over 600 last year, and led the ILB room in tackles with 58 last year. But gone is second leading tackler, Ernest Hausmann, who had an outstanding true freshman campaign which saw him bolt to Michigan.

You also lost Chris Kolarevic who couldn’t find his place on our defense and Eteva Mauga-Clements. So while we have a ton of experience returning, the issue is really keeping Reimer and Henrich on the field as both have been extremely injury-prone during their time in Lincoln. Henrich was hurt last year and sat out the spring, and Reimer played through a ton of injuries. Things are/were so thin here, they were toying with guys like Butler and Sherman at ILB just to get playmakers on the field.

Sticking with how thin things are… a walk-on has been put on scholarship from the ILB spot in John Bullock, and was also awarded a single-digit number which goes to the top 10 leaders on the team:

2 of our top 3 ILBs are former walk-ons, as Bullock from Creighton Prep and Luke Reimer from Lincoln Northstar bypassed FCS offers to come get a chance here. Reimer would be one of the all-time great walk-ons as he will finish in the top 5 in tackles as he currently sits at 242, with the second place player at 342, that is well within reach.

Let’s get into the players:

Luke Reimer – Undoubtedly the leader of this room, Reimer represented the Blackshirts in Indianapolis at B1G media days. As mentioned above, he could go down as not only one of the best walk-ons to ever do it, but become a top tackler in the programs history. Crazy to think he almost headed up to South Dakota for his college ball. Glad we got him in Lincoln.

Nick Henrich – This is the one that intrigues me… coming off a major knee injury, Henrich was a four star top-recruit in the country but just hasn’t seemed to live up to his billing. Whether it was injuries or other things, he is now a junior and we need him more than ever. The emergence of another walk-on may make it easier to keep him healthy for an entire season to lessen his snaps.

John Bullock – This Creighton Prep standout went from walk-on to scholarship player, as he stepped in during the spring to a starting position while Henrich was completely out and they tried to keep Reimer healthy. Between these three, I feel confident with where we are at this spot. But you can definitely see a difference with this room compared to if we still had a guy like Ernest Hausmann here.

Garrett Snodgrass – Snodgrass has been an interesting one for me ever since the offer. His dad is a legend coach out of York, and part of me thinks the old staffs tried getting back in the good graces with local recruits with this offer. Snodgrass is always the player that picks up defenses we run in a hurry and helps the younger guys get up to speed, so in my opinion White and Dvoracek can trust him to know what he’s doing. But is he physically capable of doing what is asked? He may be called upon this year, though he has battled some injuries so far in 2023.

Gage Stenger – This one really intrigues me, as he was starting to make some plays in the defensive backfield (tweet below). I think our staff figured out we have some options at DB, but ILB we need to develop some depth as Reimer is a senior and Bullock/Henrich are juniors. We get young in a hurry after 2024. Stenger is only 190 pounds but I believe they think they can put some weight on him and he can be our next Bullock/Reimer (not from a walk-on perspective but from playmaking).

Randolph Kpai – This one is so odd to me… If there was ever a film I saw that gave me excitement out of high school for the football player were were getting, it was Kpai’s out of South Dakota. But he has struggled to put on weight and just can’t seem to get on the field for Rhule and staff. He has put on about 10-15 pounds but he just seems to be struggling a bit.

Mikai Gbayor – Another head scratcher for me, as he was a fringe four star recruit and even ranked as the 20th best LB in the country according to Rivals. But he has struggled to get on the field just like Kpai, and when your position coach talks about how good your attitude is and not necessarily playing ability, I get worried.

Dylan Rogers – Rogers committed to the previous staff out of Texas and stuck with us during the transition. I actually thought him and Fields would be a great 1-2 punch at ILB for us in a few years, but they moved Fields to the DB/Rover room and Stenger down. I think the staff knows that Rogers’ development is pivotal to long-term success.


The LB room is interesting, with Butler out our Jack/Edge spot is going to be ran by first-year transfers without a ton of playing experience. A much different situation than our 2022. And our ILB room has a top 3 that consists of 2 former walk-ons. That’s not to say that’s a bad thing, but I’m getting at why Phil Steele may not be so high on our linebackers for this year.

When you look at our DL only having Robinson with extensive playing time coming back, then Henrich/Reimer being our only LBs with extensive experience who are very injury-prone, our front 6 and 7 have so many unknowns it’s tough to feel too positive about things.

With that said, I do like our POTENTIAL here. Henrich and Reimer should be healthy the first month of the season. And while we don’t have a lot of information on Sherman and other edge players, you can at least see some reasons why our staff is excited about what they bring to the table.

I once heard that the middle of your defense can tell you how good or bad you are going to be. I feel good about our back end (Thursday’s preview), I think our DL has enough options, so it will all be up to what Henrich, Reimer, and Bullock look like to determine our success in 2023. If there were no injury history, or minimal, I would be much more positive. I start to get worried after we get through our first 4 games then play a Michigan team that is looking to beat us up then have a short week heading to Illinois where the Fighting Illini and Bielema will look to do much of the same. How we come out of that stretch will determine how things end up in my opinion.

Join us on Thursday when we go over the DB preview (it will be a long one, lots of players). Take a look at the sideline store below!

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4 thoughts on “2023 Preview: ILB

  1. Youre so right about Kpai. I thought his hs film showed the next great lb at Nu. Future nfl guy. Just hasnt developed

  2. I think Rob Dvoracek could have a photo on a milk carton; he’s seemed to garner the least publicity of anyone on this year’s staff. What’s your initial assessment of his coaching & recruiting style and methods? Does he seem to be an upgrade over Barrett Ruud and Mike Dawson (I know, that’s a low bar on the latter)?

    1. I really liked Barrett Ruud as a coach, but plenty of people didn’t. Maybe i’m skewed because he was pretty honest with me about the disconnect and what he wanted in-state but getting vetoed.

      Dvoracek, Wager, and McGuire were the three hires I wasn’t thrilled with. But you can dig deep enough on the internet to find people that thought they were/are homeruns. McGuire’s trajectory is he will be a coordinator at minimum before he’s 30, that doesn’t necessarily mean he is good for Nebraska in 2023 in my opinion. Our room has basically been decimated. We quite literally have nothing but true freshmen and first or second year transfer players there.

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