LINCOLN — Mentoring is nothing new for Matt Masker. He has done it from the day he became a starter back at Kearney Catholic.
Masker and Heinrich Haaarberg were on the KCHS football team during the 2017 season. At the time Masker was a senior, Haarberg was a freshman quarterback in waiting, playing wide receiver.
Four years later, the two former Stars are reunited, but in a red and white uniform.
“It kind of feels like a dream,” Masker said. “The kid has grown so much and matured so much. He’s not even the same person anymore. He’s grown six inches and is just an incredible athlete, and an incredible kid. It’s kind of like we picked up where we left off. I’m happy that I get to be there for him and mentor him again and help him learn the offense.”
The Nebraska Cornhuskers have five quarterbacks on the roster. Adrian Martinez is the returning starter. Masker is the second veteran of the group, and the rest are freshmen. Masker enjoys the relationship he has with his teammates, but he has a special bond with Haarberg.
“We’re just brothers. We basically do everything together. We spent a lot of time together in the film room, on the field, in the weight room, doing homework together,” Masker said. “All of us are really close. You think it would be natural for us to knock heads and be super competitive in an unhealthy way, but that’s not the case.”
Haarberg is a true freshman and an early enrollee. Being that he is the youngest of the quarterback group, having Masker taking him under his wing made things a little easier for the freshman.
“He’s always been my mentor and older brother when I was a freshman at Kearney Catholic,” Haarberg said. “The first time I got here, the relationship had already been built, which was helpful. Matt has taken me aside and spent valuable hours of his time just teaching me little tricks and helping me understand the playbook. I’m incredibly grateful for that.”
Masker was a high school standout at Kearney Catholic. He led the Stars to three playoff appearances and was a two-time, all-state quarterback. Masker had offers from Division II schools but decided to take his chances and walk on at Nebraska. Like any other local Nebraskan, it was a childhood dream to join the Cornhuskers. Masker accepted the challenge.
“You just have to believe in yourself, trust in yourself because confidence is everything in a quarterback,” Masker said. “You’re running the entire offense, and you, to be in command of everyone else. Whether you are a scholarship guy or walk-on guy, at the end of the day, you are still playing quarterback at the Division I program in the Big 10.”
Rashawn Harvey coached both Masker and Haarberg at Kearney Catholic. He is thrilled to see two of his former starting quarterbacks working together and is not surprised that Masker gets the chance to mentor Haarberg once more but on a bigger stage.
”Having some former athletes on your high school team there where you are now, you have an opportunity to have someone who can mentor you and not go into it blind,” Harvey said. “They will give you the tips and talk to you about the expectations and what is required to be successful in that program.”
It is unusual for two quarterbacks who went to the same high school to be on the same team at the Division I level.
Once Masker established himself, more Kearney players followed in his footsteps. Masker would take them under his wing and set the ground rules and expectations.
Masker is still a competitor. He wants to continue to climb the depth chart with spring football kicking off on May 1. As he looked back when he joined the Huskers, he showed humbleness in being in this position and is invested in the walk-on program coach Scott Frost is building for the local talents.
“I think I learned that it’s more about myself ... and a man going through those seasons. Walking on isn’t for everybody. It’s really tough, and you have to go through a challenge that I wanted to accept, and I wanted to earn every single thing that I was going to get.”