Conner Kranda has a more intimate relationship with Memorial Stadium in Lincoln than most.
While thousands upon thousands have entered the holy football grounds as spectators, Kranda is in rare company with those who have actually played a game on the field that the Nebraska Cornhuskers call home.
And not just once, Kranda played in four state championship games inside of the stadium during his years at Aquinas Catholic High School in David City; winning the title as a freshman, junior and senior, and finishing runner-up as a sophomore.
Running the old-school Wing-T offense, Kranda played left running back and had his fair share of touches. He even served as one of two deep men on kick-off return team.
“They never kicked it to me though, they always kicked to my cousin,” he said of being a return man inside of Memorial Stadium.
But during the annual Red-White Spring Game, held April 21, Kranda finally got his hands on a kick, only this time it was spiraling down toward him in the form of a punt.
A punt worth $25,000.
A friend’s misfortune led to Kranda fielding the money-winning punt in front of more than 85,000 spectators that day. During an interview with the Banner-Press, Kranda, who is a sophomore nursing major at the University of Nebraska, said that students attending athletic events are encouraged to check in at various venues using an application on their phone called Iron N Rewards.
“It’s basically just encourages students to go to the events,” he said. “You can sign into the games and get points that go toward prizes at the end of the year.”
Through the App, one student – Kranda’s friend – was randomly selected to have the opportunity to catch the $25,000 punt at halftime, however, a broken arm prevented this from happening.
Kranda said his roommate was the first alternate his friend selected, and when his roommate turned it down, he reluctantly accepted.
“I honestly was really hesitant, it was way outside of my comfort zone so I can’t even really tell you why I did it,” Kranda said. “ … But (when I was down there) I was thinking about all of my experience playing football, not only in Memorial Stadium, but just in general.”
After catching the punt, the first thing Kranda remembers is the explosion of the crowd, then glancing over to where his friends were sitting in the UNL student section celebrating.
“Then I got mobbed by the players,” he said.
Although it all happened quickly, Kranda said he had a split-second to text his family while on the sidelines awaiting the big moment letting them know what was about to transpire.
“I pretty much told them that it’s a long story, but that I’m trying to catch a punt for 25 thousand dollars,” he said.
After receiving the text – and learning that their son made a few dollars that afternoon – his parents made the trip to Lincoln to celebrate with Kranda at Granite City.
The money, he said, is being sent to him in the form of a check and will go toward college expenses. Kranda said a portion of his winnings will go to his friend with a broken arm, because it’s the right thing to do.
For a few days, Kranda became a bit of a celebrity among his peers.
“Walking to campus people have given me looks and done a few doubletakes,” he said. “Only a few asked me about it, though. Then a girl in one of my classes asked about it and then the whole class was giving me crap, asking if they could borrow a few thousand dollars and stuff like that.”
He said the entire situation is still pretty surreal.
“It’s still bizarre to me,” Kranda said. “You see kicking field goals or half-court shot attempts all the time but they never really happen, and I actually completed it and won the money, which is insane. It definitely still hasn’t sunk in.”