While many college freshmen spend their time watching Netflix, working on homework and adjusting to college life, a few go above and beyond to live up to their athletic potential.
Competing at the Division I level is a challenge. NCAA analytics state that less than two percent of high school athletes across the nation go on to play Division I collegiate sports every year. At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, there are hundreds of high-level athletes who play on club teams, in intramural leagues and for non-school sanctioned organizations whose skill goes unnoticed. While they do not wear Husker uniforms, their hard work and motivation embody the work ethic of Nebraska sports.
Freshman Cody Kashmark said he is trying to make his name known in baseball this year. Kashmark played baseball and football for his hometown of Prior Lake, Minnesota. As center fielder, he hit six home runs his senior year and received over 10 Division II offers to play for local Minnesota colleges.
Kashmark said he wants to try to further his baseball career at UNL.
“I am currently playing center field for the Nebraska club team right now,” Kashmark said. “I have been emailing Nebraska’s baseball coach, talking about opportunities for next year.”
Kashmark said the roster cap is full for this season, but he was offered the chance to practice with the team and possibly walk on next fall. While his future in Division I baseball is uncertain, Kashmark continues to practice every day in hopes of achieving his dream.
Kashmark’s roommate, Jack Hansen, also has ambitious athletic goals for his freshman year. Hansen played four years of hockey for Prior Lake High School and spent one summer traveling with a local club team, the River Falls Renegades. He plays center for the Nebraska club hockey team and helped the team win six of its first seven games. So far this season, he has recorded four goals and 13 assists.
“College hockey is a very competitive sport,” Hansen said. “I’m glad I have found a team at Nebraska with a reasonable level of competition.”
While Hansen said a senior year full of injury and bad coaching prevented him from receiving any collegiate hockey scholarships, he is happy with his life in the sport right now.
Many athletes enjoy competition at the club level. Some athletes want to move on to Division I teams and others simply enjoy the club level competition. But, some students prefer a more individual approach to sports.
Freshman Maddy Gillett ran her first marathon when she was 15 years old. Since then, she has run more than five marathons. In high school in Sioux Falls, she ran track and cross-country. Her performance there earned her various Division II scholarship offers. In college, she still runs 80 to 90 miles a week, in preparation for future marathons.
Although this may be a tough training schedule for some, Gillett said she enjoys her schedule.
“It’s easy for me to balance,” Gillett said. “I go running so early in the morning that it’s a great start to my day.”
While Gillett embraces the demanding schedule, freshman Ben Darby said running too hard is what ended his chance at a college sports career.
Darby was a three-sport athlete at Cheyenne Mountain High School in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He ran an 11.83 second 100-meter dash his junior year of high school, earning walk-on offers from the Nebraska track team. However, due to a hamstring injury his senior year, Darby’s track career ended before reaching the collegiate level.
Darby does not run competitively any more, but he has channeled his athletic energy into martial arts. He trains intensively at Longoria’s Black Belt Academy and hopes to enter amatuer MMA fights around Lincoln in the future.
“Losing the opportunity to compete at the college level was disappointing,” Darby said. “But now I have found my passion in martial arts.”
Darby said he considers training a way of life. His healthy habits have become integral to his day, and he said he has no intention of stopping.
There are over 25,000 students at UNL today. Only 600 of them are school-sanctioned student athletes. Within the student body, there are many students who put thousands of hours into sports, with no recognition or award for their actions.
Some students fight to make a team while practicing every day for another. Some put years of hard work into sports and are not willing to give them up. Others like the rush of exercise and the rigidity of a routine.
From the field at Memorial Stadium to basketball courts at the Campus Recreation, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is filled with talented athletes. They can be found at the baseball field, hockey rink or running trail. There are hidden competitors everywhere.
As Darby said “Sports aren’t about jerseys and wins. They are about chasing your dreams. If you are pursuing your passion, you are a true athlete.”