Nebraska only FBS team with 3 brothers on roster
By ERIC OLSON
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) With yet another son playing football for Nebraska this season, Christine Cotton has had to make another alteration to her game-day apparel.
The red jersey she's worn since 2008 originally had tight end Ben Cotton's No. 81 on the front and back. When offensive lineman Jake Cotton joined the program two years later, his No. 68 went on the back.
This year she's added No. 84 to her sleeves for freshman tight end Sam Cotton.
"If I had more boys, I'd need more arms," Christine said.
As it is, Nebraska will be the only FBS team this season to have three brothers on its roster.
Not to be forgotten, the Cotton family patriarch, Barney, is the Cornhuskers' offensive line coach.
Christine is a proud wife and mom, of course, and she said she understands why people find it fascinating that one family is so well-represented on the team.
"I don't want people to think I take it for granted," she said. "But I don't get swept off my feet by dramatic storylines because I know the hard work that was involved."
Ben is a senior who's entering his third season as a starter. Jake is a sophomore competing for a spot on the two-deep at one of the guard spots. Sam is a freshman and the only scholarship tight end in the 2012 recruiting class.
Barney, who played offensive and defensive line for the Huskers from 1975-78, didn't push his sons into football. He told each one to strive to be the best at whatever he chose to do.
But Barney was a third-round draft pick who played four years in the NFL, and he was coaching before he and Christine started a family. It was natural that the sons would play football.
"We've got a close family, and I've been pretty fortunate to have the opportunity to have three boys at the same school so both their parents get to watch them play," Barney said.
The Cotton household fostered the aggressiveness and competitiveness required to play football at a high level.
There were wrestling matches to determine who would secure preferred seating on the couch in front of the TV.
When mom served ice cream, she risked having a ruckus break out if the size and number of scoops weren't precisely the same in each bowl.
Board games weren't for the faint of heart.
"It was fun," Ben said. "Sometimes it didn't end well, but that's what brothers do. Brothers fight, but they love each other and have each other's backs at the end of the day."
The brothers and their parents stand united against cynical fans who argue the Cotton boys got their scholarships, in part, because their dad is on the staff.
"I've heard that before," Barney said, bristling. "Those (naysayers) obviously haven't watched film. They've earned their chance to be here, and that's all I'll say about that."
Ben was judged a three-star recruit coming out of Ames (Iowa) High, according to Rivals.com's five-star scale. He pledged to Louisville in the summer of 2007. Other offers had come from Iowa, Wisconsin, Kansas and Iowa State, where his dad had been an assistant before new Nebraska coach Bo Pelini hired him in December 2007.
Ben said he didn't have to think long about switching his commitment to Nebraska after Pelini offered a scholarship.
Jake, a two-star recruit, had offers from Division II Nebraska-Omaha and Northwest Missouri State before verbally committing to Nebraska prior to his senior year at Lincoln Southeast. He also was recruited by Ohio University and Iowa State.
Sam, a three-star recruit out of Lincoln Southeast, had offers from Ohio and Tulsa in addition to Nebraska. He was the Huskers' only in-state scholarship recruit this year.
Jake said it would be foolish for anyone to think he and his brothers rode their father's coattails to Nebraska.
"Coach Bo, the staff, they can't put their necks out for a coach's kid because at the end of the day it's the bottom line if they don't win," Jake said. "If they don't bring in good players, they're not going to have a job. They can't just do something like that."
Ben said, "When all is said and done, they'll all know all three of us were deserving."
The Cotton boys say having dad on their coaching staff and their parents in the same town hasn't cramped their college experience.
Ben and Jake share a house with two other players. As a freshman, Sam is required to live in a dormitory. Sam plans to move in with Jake when Ben moves out after graduation.
"You get to live on your own and be away from your family, have your alone time, your grown-up time," Ben said. "But if you want to go home for a family dinner, have mom cook for you or just see your puppy or hang out with the family and just kick it, it's truly a blessing from God to be able to do that."
Updated August 9, 2012