Mike Ekeler is all business this week and with a singular mindset entering Thursday's Kansas State-Nebraska football game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
"It's all about being 5-0," said Ekeler, a former Wildcat linebacker, but now linebacker coach for the Cornhuskers. "It might have felt different the first time, but now it's about winning a game and going to 5-0."
Ekeler played for the Wildcats in 1991 through 1994, but has since coached at his old home stadium - now Bill Snyder Family Stadium - wearing various shades of red. He was a graduate assistant at Oklahoma in 2004 when the Sooners topped K-State, 31-21, and he was on the Nebraska staff in 2008 when the Big Red thrashed the Cats, 56-28.
As a player, Ekeler went 0-4 against Nebraska, losing in Lincoln (38-31) as a freshman, in Tokyo, Japan (38-24), back in Lincoln (45-28), and in Manhattan, 17-6.
It's the first of those games that the Blair, Neb., native says he remembers the most.
"Growing up in Nebraska, the year before I had sat in Memorial Stadium cheering for my team, and then to be playing in that stadium the next year against my childhood team was quite a shock to me," said Ekeler, who played on Blair's Class B state title winning teams in football and baseball during his senior season.
As an undersized 5-foot-10, 200-pound linebacker, Ekeler held no grudges when he was only offered a walk-on invitation to NU. As he says, "At that time, I intended to play baseball somewhere. I mean, they had 240 players at the time, so it looked to be a pretty up-hill fight."
Through a friend who was playing baseball at K-State, Ekeler found his way south of the border, and as he says, "One thing led to another, and I ended up playing football."
Known for his Kamikaze style of play, in particular on special teams, Ekeler says of his K-State days, "It was an unbelievable experience. I set an NCAA record for having the absolute most fun ever."
One of Ekeler's trademarks was his pregame sprint from the 50-yard-line through the end zone and banging his head into a plywood advertisement attached to the railing.
In the first game of his senior season, he reflected, "That one didn't turn out too well. I hit too high on the Pepsi sign and hit one of those posts. I broke my nose and had two stingers in my back. On the first play of the game I was barely touched, but it knocked me out cold. I was lucky not to come out of that thing paralyzed."
That personality flare helped Ekeler earn the Purple Pride Award for leadership in 1992, the Ken Ochs Courage Award in 1993, and the Special Teams MVP in 1994.
To this day, Ekeler has been the only Wildcat that Bill Snyder ever "appointed" to be a captain. All the others have come via a team vote.
While his collegiate coaching career has taken him to Oklahoma for two seasons under Bob Stoops, LSU for three years under Les Miles, and the last three years at Nebraska under Bo Pelini, Ekeler says he will never be a part of a better staff than what he played for at K-State.
"Coach Snyder's attention to detail is something I still marvel at," said Ekeler. "When I was there, the staff included Bob Stoops, Mike Stoops, Jim Leavitt and Mark Mangino. I took something from all of those guys."
While the K-State memories are fond, Ekeler leaves little doubt as to where his loyalty lies today.
"These are my guys and where I'm making a living. The purpose on this trip is to only go to 5-0."
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