The year was 2013, the place was Lincoln, Neb. and with seconds left to go, the Nebraska Cornhuskers looked like they would fall to the Northwestern Wildcats. Standing on the sidelines, you could feel the disappointment as some fans moved toward the exits, but many stayed and watched. In college football, there is always hope right down to the last play.
Quarterback Ron Kellogg III took the final snap, rolled out and heaved the ball 49 yards into a sea of Wildcats and Huskers. The player who came down with it had officially made his mark as the kid with Stick’Em on his hands.
Kim Westerkamp didn’t see her son make that game-winning catch, not live anyway. She had to see it on the big screen. “(The family) had already started walking down and I was pacing thinking ‘oh, they’re gonna lose to Northwestern’, thinking the game’s over and then I see Ameer (Abdullah) get the first down and then I kind of got blocked, so I couldn’t see the field. All of a sudden, everybody goes nuts. I’m like, ‘what happened?’ and Michael Rose’s dad has this bear hug on me and he’s hugging me and spinning me around,” she remembered.
Kim relayed 20 members of the Westerkamp family were in attendance, all in a frenzy as their boy saved the day and perhaps Bo Pelini’s job for the time being. Nebraska had been on the bad end of a number of significant games (and ones that shouldn’t have been) over the past two years. Two games against UCLA, drubbings by both Ohio State and a Wisconsin team that was 6-6 at the time, a Capitol One Bowl loss to Georgia and the week prior, the Huskers fell to Minnesota.
One play and the Huskers appeared back on track, at least for the moment. Right after No. 1 made that catch and extended his arm back to ensure a touchdown call, fellow receiver Sam Burtch plowed into him and yanked him down to the turf by his facemask. Offensive linemen piled on along with bunches of teammates.
Westerkamp’s star began to shine as one of the brightest that evening.
The following year, a whirlwind of a season, he became one of Nebraska’s most dangerous weapons along with fellow receiver Kenny Bell. “He was confident, believe me, the kid didn’t lack confidence,” his mother said. “When you play against him, he’ll let you know it, he’s not cocky, but he stands up there tall. The first time we saw it really start to come out was in the Wisconsin game during his freshman year when he caught one of his first passes and he did the first down signal and I was like ‘Thank you! Thank you, Jordan, there it is!’”
The wide receiver from Lombard, Ill. made a near-impossible behind-the-back catch that was voted Play of the Year in game one of the Huskers’ 2014 season. Westerkamp’s ability was reflected in his stats. He snagged 20 receptions for 283 yards and that single touchdown against Northwestern as a freshman. As a sophomore in 2014, those numbers jumped to 747 yards and five touchdowns.
That year, Westerkamp may have made his presence known, but the Nebraska football program was rocked. Bo Pelini was relieved of his duties and questions were plentiful. Tommy Armstrong had flown back to Illinois with the Westerkamps and once the news broke, he and Jordan were woken up, shocked and confused. That said, Jordan’s mother and father had talked about this situation before he ever chose Nebraska as his second home.
“We talked about this,” Kim said. “We talked about what would you do if your coaches ever left, because it happens. It happened to my husband the day after he signed with Illinois, his receivers coach left.” It was now a reality and like all of the Huskers, the Westerkamps had to assess the situation.
There was concern over whether or not his position coach, Rich Fisher, would be sticking around. Would there be a whole new staff? A new offensive identity? These were same worries the family had faced during Jordan’s recruitment. The hiring of Mike Riley came with high praise from a person well-known by Bob Westerkamp who has been around the sport of college football for decades.
“We knew about coach Riley, we knew about Oregon State and Tom Lemming sent Jordan a message,” Kim said. He told the Nebraska receiver he’d love his new head coach.
It turns out that Lemming was right. Not only does Westerkamp love his new head coach, but he adores his new position coach. Keith Williams filled the last vacant spot on the new coaching roster and he’s been a hit with everyone in the state ever since. “Coach Williams will just say it how it is. He’ll tell you, ‘yeah, you ran a good route, but it wasn’t the right route. Way to go.’ He’ll call you out on everything,” Kim Westerkamp said.
Since superstar status in 2014 last year, Jordan has inched ever closer to that elusive 1,000-yard receiving mark that no Nebraska football player has ever reached. In 2015, he managed 918 yards and seven touchdowns. The trends suggest that 2016 may be the year Westerkamp cements his legacy as one of the best Huskers to ever catch footballs for the Big Red and a pioneer for what’s to come.
We’ll visit that in the final edition of the Jordan Westerkamp Chronicles in August. Make sure you re-visit part one — ‘the early years’ — here.