Nebraska punter Drew Brown wears a necklace with the number 27 to commemorate fellow punter Sam Foltz, who died in a car accident July 23, while participating in a news conference in Lincoln, Neb., Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016. Nebraska prepares to begin NCAA
Nati Harnik
August 03, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) Nebraska left an empty chair for Sam Foltz at the table where he would have signed autographs at fan day Wednesday evening. The All-Big Ten punter's locker stall remains the way he left it, and will throughout the season. Same for his lifting station in the weight room, with 325 pounds on the bar.

Now his teammates must get ready to play football.

Preseason practice begins Thursday, five days after the team traveled to Grand Island for the funeral of Foltz, who died in a July 23 car crash in Wisconsin that also killed former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler.

''It's going to be tough. It's really going to hit me tomorrow at our first practice when Sam isn't there warming up with us,'' kicker Drew Brown said.

Coach Mike Riley and players met with the media Wednesday, and to a man they promised to honor Foltz's memory by the way they play this season.

Foltz was a big presence, opposite the stereotypical specialist who is isolated on the sideline. An outstanding athlete, Foltz could keep up with or beat his teammates in running drills and in the weight room. Riley said he wouldn't have been surprised if Foltz had been one of the team captains this year.

Linebacker Josh Banderas said Foltz played an integral role in establishing an environment of hard work and commitment to playing for each other and the state of Nebraska.

''As a leader of the team, that's what he would have wanted us to do through the whole season,'' Banderas said, ''so that's going to be the mindset and the culture we're going to live by.''

Riley said the best tribute to Foltz would be for everyone in the program to approach the game the way Foltz did.

''If I could be as happy doing my job and as enthusiastic as Sam was,'' Riley said. ''He loved it, was proud of his craft and worked at it like a pro, and he did it with a lot of fun, a lot of joy.''

Brown and Foltz were in Wisconsin to work at a kicking camp the weekend Foltz and Sadler died in a crash about 30 miles west of Milwaukee. Brown and Foltz were among a group traveling to a residence where they would spend the night. Brown and Foltz rode in separate vehicles.

Authorities said Sadler, with Foltz in the front passenger seat, lost control on wet pavement and crashed into a tree. LSU kicker Colby Delahoussaye, who was in the back seat, survived.

Brown, wearing Foltz's No. 27 on a neck chain Wednesday, said his last day with Foltz was like any other he had spent with his closest friend on the team.

''We are always joking around, just making fun of each other,'' Brown said. ''At the same time, we had a camp to do. It was raining all day so the camp was delayed. We were just getting our work done and went to one of the coach's houses to hang out and have a good time. Everything happened after that.''

Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. said he and his teammates have drawn closer together since Foltz's death. The Huskers will wear a ''SF27'' decal on their helmets and on other gear this season.

''There are a lot of guys who are looking forward to the season - definitely the senior class that came in with `Foltzy' - and want to get out there and play for him,'' Armstrong said.

A moment of silence was observed during fan day, and then the 6,500 attendees watched a video tribute to Foltz on the Memorial Stadium big screen.

Also Wednesday, the athletic department announced it would award the Sam Foltz Memorial Scholarship to a football player who embodies Foltz's leadership, excellence in the community and in the classroom. The department's Hero Leadership Award will be renamed the Sam Foltz Hero 27 Leadership Award to honor 27 athletes across all sports who exhibit a commitment to leadership and service.

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