Like a lot of Nebraska football fans, Chris Kolarevic watched the Huskers’ 2020 season on television from his couch.
The main difference, of course, is that the graduate transfer linebacker from Northern Iowa kept closest watch of Barrett Ruud’s inside linebackers group, knowing that he’d be joining them in a few short months.
When Kolarevic verbally committed in late October, he did not know that Will Honas would opt to return for a sixth season after a solid 2020. He had not yet seen Luke Reimer make the jump into being an impact player or Nick Henrich finish strong down the stretch by tallying 21 tackles over the season’s final two weeks.
“I wasn’t able to take a visit, which was tough because of COVID, but I was glad I got to watch them on TV. It was cool watching those guys play,” Kolarevic said Monday. “They do a lot of different things than I did at UNI, so it was good to just kind of see how their defense worked and how they run around. They were flying around last year and did a good job, so it was fun to watch those guys play.
Since arriving on campus, though, Kolarevic said he’s blended in well with the group and that he’s excited about the unit’s potential going forward.
Oh, and those guys he watched on television have pretty darned good things to say about him, too.
“He’s a freak of nature, I’ll tell you that,” Henrich said Monday. “Super athletic, fast, physical. … He’s also been just outstanding learning the defense and asking us questions. He’s been a great addition to the room.”
“He’s a stud,” Reimer said earlier this month. “Nothing but good things to say about him. He has really good habits, you can tell he’s played a lot of football at UNI and he’s a really good player. Really good dude.”
Indeed, the 6-foot-1, 235-pound Kolarevic finished up winter conditioning as one of the team's standout performers in the index testing and has impressed teammates and coaches alike both in the weight room and on the field through the first 10 spring practices.
"It’s been awesome getting to know the guys and just being part of this team has been great," he said. "I feel like I fit in really well right away, just being around the guys, and I’m picking up the scheme well, spending a lot of time in the film room and trying to pick up the new defense."
Not many positions on the team have seen its depth increase in the past two years like Ruud’s. Even after Collin Miller suffered what ended up being a career-ending neck injury last year, NU had a productive trio in Honas, Reimer and Henrich, with spot duty from Garrett Snodgrass, as well. The Huskers have nine scholarship inside linebackers in spring ball and a 10th joining in May in Mikai Gbayor (and potentially Wynden Ho’ohuli, depending on which position he begins his career at). Kolarevic said Monday that there are about 17 players in Ruud’s group overall this spring.
“Barely got enough seats in the meeting room,” he cracked.
Among the experienced players, Honas has been limited this spring, but that’s just meant more repetitions for Kolarevic, who said he is both learning the defense and trying to help the young players in the room.
“I think that was the expectation was that I could come in and having played a lot of snaps of college football, I kind of understood the concepts and how to do different things in the defense,” the Traverse City, Michigan, native said. “I think the expectation was I could come in and help the younger guys out, the younger guys, because there’s a lot of them.
“I think I’ve been able to watch film with those guys, especially the incoming guys this year because they’re trying to pick it up quick. They’re always attentive, always asking questions and I do my best to answer.”
Kolarevic put up big numbers when healthy during his three years at UNI and said that playing both outside and inside linebacker during his time there has helped him, particularly in coverage, so far this spring. On Saturday during an open practice, he got his hands on a ball over the middle and was active while rotating with Reimer and Henrich in the top groups.
“I feel like I can bring that (coverage ability) here and fly around and make plays on the ball,” Kolarevic said.
Before the pandemic, 2021 figured to be a year of major transition at the position with Miller and Honas projected to be gone and only young scholarship players behind. Now, though, Henrich and Reimer have a pair of upperclassmen to compete against and play with, and the group’s experience rivals the other veteran positions on the Nebraska defense.
The unexpected veteran presence probably means fewer snaps on the field in 2021 for Henrich, but he beamed Monday when asked about learning that Honas, the former junior college transfer, would be back for a sixth collegiate season.
“We’re family, man,” Henrich said. “I would have been so sad if he left. I mean, obviously I’d be happy for him because what’s best for him is what I want. But that’s my brother, and another year of playing with him meant the world to me and it means the world to the guys in the room.”