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Steven M. Sipple: Janovich great fit for 'Train Wreck' Novak Award

Steven M. Sipple: Janovich great fit for 'Train Wreck' Novak Award

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Things I know, and things I think I know:

Andy Janovich, the wrecking-ball fullback, late last week entered into early stages of studying an important piece of Nebraska football history — that is, the late-1940s playing career of Tom "Train Wreck" Novak.

Janovich likely enjoyed what he learned, including the parts about Novak being from south Omaha, and being as rugged as they come.

"From what I know, it sounds like he was one of those guys who just always worked hard, no matter what happened," said Janovich, who Thursday night will formally accept the Novak Award during the Outland Trophy Dinner in Omaha.

The award is presented annually to a Nebraska senior who "best exemplifies courage and determination despite all odds" in the manner of Novak.

Janovich's uncle Jerry is thrilled.

"You talk about a kid who never quits, that's Andy," said Jerry Murtaugh, an All-America linebacker at Nebraska in 1970 who was a friend of the late Novak and brother of Andy's late mother, Margy.

Janovich lived in south Omaha until he was 3 — near 42nd and Q streets, he said. His large family has deep roots in the area.

Janovich eventually moved to Gretna and starred for the Dragons before becoming a fan favorite at Nebraska.

The more Janovich learns about Novak, the more he'll understand the significance of the award, and why he's an excellent fit for it. Novak, a graduate of Omaha South, was the first Nebraska player to have his jersey number (60) retired, never to be worn by another Husker.

Novak's high school coach, Corny Collin, came up with the nickname "Train Wreck" because Novak was reckless and determined, according to former Journal Star columnist Mike Babcock's book, "Nebraska Football Legacy."

The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Novak was perhaps at his best during a 1947 road game against legendary Frank Leahy's second-ranked Notre Dame squad. A sophomore at the time, Novak made 17 tackles in a 21-play stretch of a 31-0 loss.

Notre Dame fans gave Novak a standing ovation at game's end, according to newspaper accounts.

Although Novak ended his career in 1949 as an All-America center and linebacker, he began college as a fullback/center, earning All-Big Six  honors in 1946 and 1947.

"My eyes have never seen Tom Novak's equal at any position," Lyell Bremser, the great Husker football radio broadcaster from 1938 to 1983, once said.

The 6-1, 230-pound Janovich was never used enough at Nebraska to earn major conference or national awards. Seems a shame. You have to wonder how much damage he could have caused defenses had he been used more often. This season, he rushed 42 times for 265 yards (6.3 per carry) and caught two passes for 58 yards. All told, that's 7.3 yards per touch.

He ended his college career with a six-carry, 31-yard performance against UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl. It was good to see him burst up the middle and run through arm tackles. Vintage Janovich.

"It was a lot of fun," he said. "For every game, really, our focus was to establish the run so it would open up the pass. But we had the run game so well-established against UCLA that there was no need to pass. We just kept running and running, and they couldn't really stop it."

Janovich sounds convinced Nebraska will indeed emphasize an improved running attack — which is what first-year Husker head coach Mike Riley stated a few times late in the season.

Nebraska may have another fullback ready to be prominent in that process. Keep an eye on junior-to-be Harrison Jordan, Janovich said.

"You won't find a kid who likes to hit harder than him," Janovich said. "He runs in there with a full head of steam, and he doesn't care how big you are. It doesn't matter if you're a d-lineman, safety or linebacker —he's going to hit you, and you're going to know who hit you.

"And he's quick. If they need him on third-and-1 or fourth-and-1, I guarantee he gets the necessary yardage. His nickname's 'The Hydrant,' so if he just gets up in there, I guarantee he's going to get that yard."

Perhaps "The Hydrant" someday will have to study up on Train Wreck.

* During the awards dinner Thursday night, two other 2015 Husker seniors will be honored — Jack Gangwish (Guy Chamberlin Award) and Ryne Reeves (Cletus Fischer Native Son). Stanford offensive guard Joshua Garnett is the headliner, as winner of the Outland.

* Jessica Shepard didn't exactly have to strain to get 29 points and 19 rebounds Sunday. The Nebraska freshman made it look easy. I especially like how well she catches the ball in the post — above her shoulders — and gets it to the hoop quickly using either hand. "The thing about Jess, she's got a lot more to her game," Husker coach Connie Yori said. That must sound just wonderful to Illinois.

* You have to feel for Trevor Roach and Rex Burkhead and all the other Cincinnati Bengals who play the game the right way. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis always has liked players who push the envelope. When they push it too far, as was the case Saturday night, the head coach should be held accountable. His job apparently is safe. It shouldn't be.

* Alabama 24, Clemson 20. Love watching that Tide defensive line, and the Heisman Trophy winner.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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