Published Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at 12:01 am / Updated at 12:40 am
FOOTBALL
McKewon: Recruiting nationally at NU is no easy task
Cross looks the part

At the end of Football 202, fans and reporters got to watch an NU conditioning session. It wasn't just the freshmen like last year; it was the whole team. More than 100 guys. So picking out the rookies wasn't easy.

You never want to heap hype on kids who just got to Nebraska. But 6-foot-1 running back Imani Cross is all of his listed 220 pounds and cut. Wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp looked good, but he's been to Nebraska so many times, he seemed like a part of the team before he officially joined it in early June.

— Sam McKewon

LINCOLN — Nebraska's football recruiting database has 8,000 players in it. From that, 1,200 prospect videos have been watched, mostly on the Internet. Three or four coaches have assessed the video, and NU has offered scholarships to 213 of those players. But no offer is made without the approval of head coach Bo Pelini.

“He watches every kid who passes through our (final) evaluation system,” recruiting coordinator Ross Els said.

All this to sign 20 to 25 kids next February for the 2013 class.

That's a lot of sound and fury. And it signifies something.

“Ultimately, it comes down to recruiting,” Big Ten Network analyst Howard Griffith said at Nebraska's Football 202 event Tuesday.

Griffith was correctly answering a Husker fan's question about how the Big Ten closes the gap on the SEC. He could have been talking about any program, though, wanting to take the next step. Coaching helps. The right schedule does, too. But players — fast ones, big ones, smart ones — will make up the gap. There's Virginia Tech before Mike Vick. And the Hokies after Mike Vick. Not the same program. I'd plot the same course for Baylor. Players. Recruiting.

And without making excuses — some fans unfairly insist that any reference to reality is an excuse — Els and Jeff Jamrog, the assistant athletic director of football operations, made it plain: Husker coaches have to exhaust themselves, and their time resources, to recruit well nationally. Yes, they're paid well to do it. But it's not easy.

Els and Jamrog showed calendars awash in travel dates. Pelini might spend five straight days, essentially, on a plane in January. They listed the meager number of daily flights heading into Lincoln (most prospects fly to Omaha). They talked about the importance of using Facebook and Twitter. About how they tried to lure LeBron James on a mock official visit when Nike pitch man Ndamukong Suh rolled into town. Visits — official and unofficial — are scheduled impeccably.

And Florida State — smack-dab in the middle of a recruiting hotbed — still spends $433,326 on recruiting, according to this week's analysis from ESPN.com and former World-Herald reporter Mitch Sherman. The Huskers spent $478,554. Texas spends $577,976. Alabama spends $980,882.

Money. Time. Travel. No excuses. But obstacles.

And perhaps a philosophical shift that needs to happen on an even faster time schedule.

Out of those 213 scholarship offers for 2013, only 24 of them — 11 percent — are to players within a 500-mile radius of Lincoln. That radius includes Denver; Chicago; Kansas City, Mo.; St. Louis; Minneapolis; all of Kansas and Iowa; most of Missouri and Minnesota; and some of Oklahoma. It nearly included Dallas.

That radius isn't as talent-rich as California, Florida, Ohio or Texas. The Huskers have the most offers in those states.

But Nebraska plays a lot of football in that 500-mile radius. There are plenty of Husker fans within that radius. And, aside from Oklahoma, there isn't one program within it that can hold a candle to NU's history and investment in the sport.

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Yes, I'm beating this horse — but it's not dead. It should be revived more in future cycles. Pelini pointed to it in his signing day press conference. More local offers. More wins on those offers.

Els is Pelini's third recruiting coordinator in five years — Ted Gilmore and John Papuchis were the first two — and he's off to a strong, organized start.

He helped get the Big Red Football camps open last week to newspapers and recruiting websites. And though players have to pay out of their own pocket, his idea for a Big Red Weekend — a two-day unofficial visit that starts Friday — is a shrewd attempt to show off NU in the summer, when recruits are pressured to make decisions by college and high school coaches who want them to concentrate on their senior seasons.

Fifty-nine of the top 100 players according to 247Sports have already verbally committed. I'd expect an 80-percent commit rate by Sept. 1, when teams can actually send out written offers. So Nebraska's strategy of relying on the in-season official visits — and month-long recruiting cram sessions in January — won't be enough. Els said he wants NU to have its full allotment of commits as soon as possible.

More than 10 2013 and '14 prospects are heading to Lincoln for the two-day event. NU might get a commit or two out of it. Would Sioux Falls, S.D., safety Nathan Gerry pull the trigger? Or Los Angeles running back Terrell Newby, who pushed off a commit to Cal to visit Nebraska? Two high-end linebackers — Darian Claiborne and Marcus Newby — also visit; both are coveted by multiple Big 12 and SEC teams.

Already this week, Akron, Ohio, wide receiver Kevin Gladney pledged his services. A possession receiver with a good first step, you could call him. The best plays on his highlight video showed him getting open on slant and dig routes.

On the quarterback front, a new name might be climbing up the Huskers' board: Santa Margarita (Calif.) Catholic's Johnny Stanton. The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder threw an hour's worth of passes for NU offensive coordinator Tim Beck, then took the full tour around the North Stadium offices and Memorial Stadium.

“They told me that they really like me and that I'm in a pool with a few other quarterbacks,” the four-star prospect told HuskersIllustrated.com, a World-Herald partner. “They want to get to know the players a little bit more and they want to offer one of us quarterbacks soon. I have my fingers crossed that I'll get that call.

“They told me that me coming out here for even one day was a big step. I think I threw really well today. I think I left it out on the field today.”

Stanton's being recruited as an athlete by several college programs — including California and Washington — but as a QB by Air Force, Navy and maybe Utah. He worked out at UCLA on Sunday and will work out at Oregon, Oregon State and Washington State.

Another quarterback who has an offer — Dallas-area signal caller Damion Hobbs — was on campus Tuesday, although he didn't participate in the camp. Stanton's intriguing — more intriguing, in my book, than Hobbs. Like Taylor Martinez, Stanton quarterbacked a terrific team to a California state title.

Contact the writer:

402-202-9766, sam.mckewon@owh.com

twitter.com/swmckewonOWH

Contact the writer: Sam McKewon

sam.mckewon@owh.com    |   402-219-3790    |  

Sam McKewon covers Nebraska football for The World-Herald. Got a tip, question or rant? Good. Email him. Follow him on Twitter. Call him.

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