ELKHORN – The Noonans’ July Fourth holiday this summer wasn’t complete without jumping into a boat at the lake.
Maverick, less than two weeks after committing to play football for Nebraska, was the first to step onto the wakeboard. His twin brother Alec followed.
Who is better at conquering the waves? Maverick says it’s him. Alec respectfully disagrees.
Hey, they’re brothers. There’s bound to be some harmless and fun difference of opinion.
But who is the most athletic person in the family? This isn’t up for debate. It’s Mom.
“Oh, yeah, definitely” Danny Noonan says of his wife Julie, who was a three-sport star at Osceola High School in the early 1990s. “I was more like a big circus bear. You let it out and you tell it what to perform and you put it back in the cage.”
Danny, of course, was a wrecking ball for the Blackshirts and the 1986 Big Eight male athlete-of-the-year before playing seven seasons in the NFL.
Maverick is hoping to follow a similar path as his dad.
A 6-foot-4, 235-pound edge rusher, Maverick will be chasing quarterbacks this fall for Elkhorn South before headed to Nebraska in January. Alec, meanwhile, saw his recruiting stock rise this summer on the AAU basketball circuit and is a starting shooting guard for the Storm.
Their younger brother Branson is a soon-to-be 6-foot-5 (and still growing) junior basketball player at Elkhorn South. And 6-year-old Marisa, who has the family edge in energy, will soon start swim lessons.
Their family athletic tree runs deeper. The kids’ aunt, Cindy (Hays) Klepper, still owns the girls state basketball record for points in a game (65) and is in the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame. Danny’s brother David also played football for the Huskers.
Yes, the Noonan-Hays family has an abundance of athletic DNA. But there is more behind their success, especially the twins, as they prepare to write the final pages to their high school careers.
Sure, they’re talented athletes. Their parents were talented athletes. But the Noonan brothers have worked toward their goals without relying on just family genes and athletic ability.
“Those two boys, their work ethic is just unbelievable,” said their Aunt Cindy, who lives in Colorado. “They worked hard for a lot of years. The talent was there. I think just their desire to be good and get better every year can be attributed to their work ethic.”
Only 11 girls basketball players have scored more points than Cindy, who netted 2,077 points while at Osceola. After graduating from high school in 1988, she attended Midland where she became an All-American on the hardwood. She still holds several school records.
“It’s not every day that you come across an athlete that is skilled, emotionally mature and athletic, and she fit all three of those categories,” said Joanne Bracker, who coached Cindy at Midland and is in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame after winning an NAIA-record 736 games. “That was probably one of the best coaching experiences of my life.”
Julie is six years younger, so she never got a chance to play with her older sister (though she did serve as team manager when Cindy played). When Julie got to high school, she immediately blazed her own trail. She was a standout volleyball player, a two-time first-team all-stater in basketball and a state medalist in the high jump. She scored 1,415 career basketball points.
Julie’s coach told a TV station, when Julie was named the prep athlete of the week, that she had the best turnaround jump shot in the state.
Danny was a football standout at Lincoln Northeast before he played for Tom Osborne. By his senior year in 1986, Danny was an All-American middle guard. He had 53 tackles that season, including 12 for losses. A few months later, the Dallas Cowboys took him in the first round of the NFL Draft. His pro stops also included Green Bay and Denver, and he was inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame.
It would be easy to think that Danny and Julie, being successful athletes themselves, wanted their kids heavily involved in sports at a young age and chasing the same dreams they did. But that wasn’t the case.
In fact, “We were probably the opposite of (most people),” said, Danny, who met Julie through mutual friends before asking her out two years later at Prairie Life Fitness in Lincoln.
“I burned out (in high school) and I was like, ‘I’m not letting my kids burn out like that,’ so it was always free play in the summer is always better than going to practice or games,” Julie added. “If you’re going to be good, you’re going to be good. You don’t need to start when you’re 3 years old.”
The boys were eventually drawn to sports.
They tried many of them – football, basketball, soccer, baseball. Even a little track. They did their best to wear down the concrete in the driveway while putting up shots. They played youth football in the Junior Storm program. Alec played wide receiver while Maverick was muscling his way to the backfield to stuff quarterbacks and running backs.
Maverick was serious about basketball and football before turning his full attention to football while in high school. For Alec, basketball has always been his favorite sport.
Though they are twins, they don’t necessarily look alike. They’re about the same height, but Maverick is built like a football lineman and Alec is built like a shooting guard.
They have the same determination though, and they both know what it takes to win at a high level. It’s a big reason why, though they play different sports, that they follow the same process: Work hard, dedicate yourself and work some more.
“It’s very beneficial,” Alec said of training with Maverick. “We always just try to one-up each other. I would do 11 reps after he would do 10 and we would kind of do that.”
The scrapbooks at the family’s home help the story unfold. Mom got a lot of headlines in the local newspapers when she starred at Osceola. The family’s makeshift weight room in the basement captures Dad’s athletic accomplishments through photos, jerseys – including a No. 95 Blackshirt – and news clippings hanging on the walls.
Now Maverick is making headlines.
He started his sophomore year with the junior varsity football team, but after a couple of games was elevated to the varsity squad where he went head-to-head with future Husker Teddy Prochazka in practice.
Maverick got bigger, stronger and quicker. He and his dad put together his sophomore season highlights to post for college coaches to see. “You’re going to get some college offers off this,” Danny recalls telling his son.
He was right.
Nebraska was the first to extend an offer. Stanford, Arizona State, Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Michigan State, Vanderbilt, Minnesota and Missouri followed.
After recording 17 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including five sacks, last season, Maverick became a critical target in Nebraska’s 2023 recruiting cycle. His combination of size, speed and knowledge of the game make him a rare instate talent.
He also appears to be a fast learner.
Danny tells the story of when Maverick learned to ride a bike for the first time. Training wheels or a guiding hand? Not Maverick.
“Most kids it takes them a day or day and a half … he just hopped on the bike and drove off,” Danny said. “I was just like, ‘What just happened?’”
Even with one of the greatest Blackshirts living under the same roof, Maverick didn’t feel any pressure to pursue playing at the next level, nor did he put pressure on himself.
“I really didn’t think about (college) too much,” said Maverick, who committed to the Huskers in June. “I guess I just love football and if I can continue my career (in it), that’s what I want to do, but I really didn’t think of college football too much. I just did what I loved.”
Did Nebraska have an advantage because Maverick’s dad played there?
“No, not at all,” Maverick said. “I was just going to do whatever felt best for me. Is it cool? Yeah. But was that any factor whatsoever? No.”
Alec, meanwhile, began thinking about college basketball within the past year. He had a strong summer with OSA Adidas Gold, which led to an offer from Concordia, a rising program that reached the NAIA Elite Eight last season.
Alec also is receiving interest from Midland, where his Aunt Cindy played. That culminated with an offer just today.
As a junior, he was second on the team in scoring at 12.4 points per contest, shot 54% from the field and helped the Storm reach the Class A state tournament.
Alec said he wasn’t a great shooter when he was younger. But that changed with the help of someone Cindy and Julie know well – Joanne and Leon Bracker. They are longtime family friends, and mentors for the boys.
Leon was Joanne’s assistant coach at Midland, and he has taught shooting to thousands and thousands of kids.
Cindy, by the way, says she was a bad free-throw shooter in high school. That changed at Midland thanks to Leon, she noted.
The Brackers drove to the Noonans’ house where they worked with the boys in the driveway.
“I went there a lot of times,” Leon said. “I started working with them pretty much on basic fundamentals, things that they needed to do to get better. Because you kind of see that there was a lot of potential there.
“You could tell right away, those kids were focused, and they paid attention and they wanted to get better.”
The Brackers tried to make it to as many basketball games as possible. If they couldn’t make it, Julie sent them video links to the games.
“I never really had a good shot until they helped me with it and ever since then, it’s gotten better and better,” Alec said.
There is a perk to having a father be a former Division I and NFL football player, and later an assistant strength and conditioning coach at Nebraska. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the Noonan brothers focused more on weight training.
They couldn’t play sports or compete in AAU tournaments. Everything was pretty much shut down. So Danny took them to the Warren Academy where they had the facility to themselves many times.
The workout plans were different every time.
“I try to show them different stuff,” Danny said. “Weightlifting, there are so many different ways to do it. Yeah, you got your basic squat and you got to be good at that. That’s going to put on size, strength, speed, power, all of that. (There is) hang cleans, but then after that you have a thousand different ways to do exercises.”
The Noonans were at the Warren Academy sometimes six days a week. They started drinking protein shakes after workouts.
Maverick and Alec each put on nearly 15 pounds in a few short months. They also worked with Harrison Phillips and Noah Fant, two Omaha natives who trained in their home city because the NFL had shut down their facilities.
The Noonans found other ways to make progress. Maverick continued to study new ways to get around offensive linemen on the football field. Alec still was working on his jumper in the driveway.
In fact, after averaging about 28 points a game in a three-day AAU tournament in Kansas City recently, Alec was back at it when the family got home.
“We get back late Sunday and it’s probably 9 o’clock at night, sun is going down, and I hear the ball dribbling in the driveway,” Danny said. “It’s Alec with his Crocs on shooting hoops. After we just had three solid days of basketball. He played his butt off and had some unbelievable games.”
The twins were not up to speed on their parents’ athletic success until recent years. Sure, they’d hear about it from people – “Hey, you’re Danny Noonan’s kid” – but it didn’t really sink in.
The YouTube highlights and VHS tapes of Husker games from the 1980s are out there, so Maverick has seen some of the film. His thoughts after watching his dad play for Nebraska:
“He just kicked the (crap) out of the center every time,” he said. “He just bull-rushed everyone on every play for four quarters.”
Julie’s athletic talents, and their aunt’s, also have impressed the boys.
“It’s crazy how … they averaged 20 (points) a game,” Alec said. “That’s really hard to do.”
Now it’s the boys’ turn.
It’s not their intention to match or pass their parents’ athletic accolades. They want to do it their own way. But they plan to do it with the support of each other.
A big reason why Maverick chose the Huskers was so he could remain close to family. You could see it in Maverick’s commitment post on Twitter, which featured a picture of him donning a Husker uniform with Marisa by his side.
“That was probably one of the most important driving factors for me, why I wanted to go to Lincoln,” Maverick said. “I wanted to see her go through kindergarten and elementary school. I just like being around them.”
Said Alec, “Just having them in the stands and knowing they’re watching me and all the background we have, it’s pretty special.”
For Danny and Julie, playing for sports gave them many thrills. But cheering on their kids is a thrill of a lifetime, whether it’s on the football field or on the basketball court.
Or wakeboarding on the lake.
“I like when they’re having fun,” Julie said. “I love it.”
“It’s not like we pushed them to do any of that,” Danny added. “I’m proud because they love doing it, or else they wouldn’t be in that driveway. They enjoy it and that makes me proud of them – that they’re doing something that they love to do.”