Brenden Stai poses for photo over zoom.
Brenden Stai poses for a photo over zoom.

After a collegiate and professional football career full of accolades, Brenden Stai stays humbly rooted by three main things: family, football, and Nebraska.

Stai, a Yorba Linda, California native, played for the Huskers from 1990-94 and graduated in 1994 as a national champion and first-team All-American offensive lineman. He was drafted in the third round as the No. 91 pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1995 NFL draft.  

Stai was heavily recruited heading into his junior season of high school. In true Nebraska fashion, he visited the university during a February blizzard. At the end of his visit coach Tom Osborne sat Stai down and offered him the only offensive lineman scholarship he had. Stai leaped at the opportunity. 

“I was pulled out of class one day by my coach who said he had someone he wanted me to meet,” Stai said. “As I was walking down my high school hallway, I saw this tall guy standing down a ways with the sun shining real bright on his face. He was doing his famous squint – real Husker fans know the squint. It was the living legend, Tom Osborne, at my high school. It was a really cool experience.”

Stai said being recruited by Osborne was one of his most life-altering events. It caused a southern California high school kid to choose the cornfields of the Midwest. 

“It was a total change for me.” Stai said, “I didn’t know anyone here and Nebraska is way different from California.

“Even the weather on my visit. I was like wow, this is going to be different.”

As Stai’s life-long dream of playing in the NFL got closer, he put his head down and worked. He became a 6-foot-4-inch, 318-pound national champion and All-American guard throughout his collegiate career and declared for the NFL draft in 1995. 

Stai said his wife, Jennifer, threw him a surprise party three days before the draft. She had moved to Lincoln for Stai’s senior season.

“I walked in and saw about 300 people, coaches, old teammates, friends, and family,” he said. “It was such a surreal time and I get goosebumps thinking about it. I felt so excited for the next couple of days.”

Jennifer said she saw firsthand, the work that Stai had put in to get to this point.

“It’s hard to top Brenden’s work ethic,” Jennifer said. “Ask anyone that knew him in football, either college or professional. Yes, he is blessed with Norwegian genes that blessed him with his massive stature, but his work ethic is what drove him and those around him to greatness.” 

The excitement was especially great when he received a phone call during the third round of the draft. It was the Pittsburgh Steelers owner, Art Rooney, along with coach Bill Cowher, who told him that he was selected by the team. In his time spent on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, he was a member of the 1995 AFC Championship team and played in the 1996 Super Bowl. 

Stai stayed in Pittsburgh for five years before he was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2000 where he played one season. In 2001 he went to the Detroit Lions for a season. In his final NFL season, he was traded to the Washington Redskins.

Stai said his time in the NFL was a dream come true. That made all the late nights and long hours put into practicing and perfecting his game well worth it. 

After an eight-season career with four different teams that included an AFC Championship and a Super Bowl appearance, Stai retired. He and his wife Jennifer, settled down in Lincoln where they raised their two daughters, Christina, Brianna, and son, Bryce. Brianna plays basketball at Central Missouri and Bryce plays football at the University of Ohio.

Bryce said his focus has been on football since he put the pads on at age six and fell in love with the game immediately. Bryce said it was clear that the game of football was something that he and his father grew an unbreakable bond through. 

“My father was my biggest role model growing up,” Bryce said. “Especially when it comes to football. His experience and knowledge of the game helped me a lot. When it came to recruiting, I was thankful for that experience and knowledge more than ever.”

Keeping his dad’s alma mater close to heart, Bryce was recruited to play football at Ohio under former Nebraska football coach Frank Solich. Bryce said his father was highly supportive of his decision. 

Brenden is currently the Huskers’ director of development. In addition, he also co-hosts a Nebraska football pregame radio show every Saturday in-season on the Husker Radio Network. As director of development, Brenden works closely with a variety of people, staff, and donors, to make sure the athletic program is continuing in the right direction and improving every year. He said he is extremely happy to be working with Nebraska’s new director of athletics and former teammate, Trev Alberts. 

Brenden’s passion for football, Nebraska, and his family is what drives him. He talked humbly about his experiences working with Osborne, the incredible teammates he had with the Huskers and his career in the NFL. 

Brenden said he looks forward to continuing his work with Nebraska athletics, growing and evolving the athletics department. 

“I wouldn’t change a thing.” Brenden said. “It’s been pretty incredible, and I’m really excited for the future in this role as well. There is no place I would rather be than here in Nebraska.” 

Through it all, Brenden has dedicated an abundance of time, sweat, and energy to bettering the Lincoln community, those around him, and Nebraska athletics.

Senior Sports Media & Communications Major at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln