As serious of a matter as Tuesday night’s Nebraska Class A state final can be for some, three-star tight end Sam Cotton (Lincoln, Neb./Southeast) and his family have found tons of humor in it the last few days.
When Southeast beat Papillion-La Vista and Omaha Burke defeated in-town rival Central in last week’s semifinal round, it set up a matchup between Cotton family present and Cotton family past. Sam Cotton, a Nebraska commit, will play in his final game wearing a Southeast uniform against a Burke team both his father and grandfather hold cherished memories with.
Sam’s father, former Nebraska offensive lineman Barney Cotton, was an all-state selection at Burke in the 1970s before eventually spending time in the NFL in the early 1980s. Barney currently is the offensive line coach at Nebraska.
Sam’s grandfather, Dick, was a longtime athletic director at Burke before retiring in the early 1990s after more than 20 years of service. He was at Burke when the program last advanced to the state finals in 1984.
“They’ve got a tradition there [at Burke] where they put trees around their track,” Sam Cotton said. “My grandpa has a tree.”
Sam, a 6-foot-4, 235-pound tight end who committed to Nebraska in June, has a chance to do what no other Cotton – including his older brothers and future Nebraska teammates Ben and Jake Cotton – has done. A state championship would mean bragging rights within the home for the youngest Cotton male. It also will mean bragging rights for a Southeast graduate over Burke.
“Everyone is making a joke of it, even my coaches,” Sam said. “My family keeps making jokes of my grandparents cheering for Burke. Both teams wear black and gold, so they can wear the colors and no one would know the difference.”
Jake Cotton, the middle child, graduated from Southeast in 2010. The oldest son, Ben, graduated from Ames (Iowa) in 2008. Jake is a 6-6, 295-pound redshirt freshman offensive lineman, while Ben is a 6-6, 255-pound junior tight end and an academic all-conference player.
Sam has taken all the ribbing in stride from coaches and family members, but when Tuesday approaches, look for him to be all business in an effort to help his team win another state title. Southeast is gunning for its ninth state title and first since 2002.
A win would be extra special for Sam, as the game is being played at Memorial Stadium, his future home.
“One of the big things we keep talking about is how everybody is going to be really nervous,” he said. “We play a lot better when we’re loose, so we can’t let the pressure get to us. We’ve got to just go out and play our game.
“We know they [Burke] are a really physical team, probably the most physical team we’ve seen all year. We’ve just got to play fundamental football. We’ve got to stop the run on defense and move the ball on offense.”
And if all goes well, the Cotton family – whether having Southeast ties or Burke ties – will have a high school state championship to share late Tuesday night.