LINCOLN — It's the best class of in-state football prospects since 2008, and two Omaha Creighton Prep prospects — quarterback Easton Stick and wide receiver R.J. Urzendowski — are a big part of the reason why. Neither has FBS offers yet, but both are on the radars of Midwestern programs and both will hit the combine/camp circuit this spring and summer. It starts with a Rivals camp in St. Louis this weekend.
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Stick threw for 2,062 yards and 17 touchdowns last year. Good arm — better escapability. The kid can scramble for first downs and buy time for downfield throws. What Prep coach Chris Nizzi likes most, though, is what Stick doesn't do: Turn the ball over. Just four interceptions.
“He's a student of the game and people see the evidence of that when he plays,” Nizzi said. “It takes humility to know the chances you shouldn't take. Easton can do a lot, but he's humble enough to know what he can't do.”
South Dakota has offered, while Iowa has “shown a lot of interest,” Nizzi said. Kansas State, Tulsa and Ohio are keeping tabs, too. Is Stick a fit for Nebraska's zone read offense? Hard to say. He's shifty enough.
Urzendowski caught many of Stick's passes — to the tune of 63 catches for 1,093 yards and 13 touchdowns. Some of those big plays were improvisations where the All-Nebraska pick knew where Stick would scramble, and vice versa. The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder had a knack for turning short plays into big ones, Nizzi said, with good vision and instinct.
“There were times when I just asked, 'How did you get out of that?'” Nizzi said.
The 40 times will be key for Urzendowski, who looks like a lot of wideouts you see on lower-tier FBS programs. Good hands. Smart route-runner. Bodies up well on deeper throws. Nizzi said Tulsa, Iowa State and Ohio have shown the most interest.
We'll keep featuring local prospects throughout the spring and summer.
NU eyes secondary
The strength of Nebraska's defense in 2013 — the secondary — quickly becomes a weakness when a boatload of seniors graduate after the season.
Even if Nebraska feels good about current juniors Josh Mitchell, Corey Cooper and Harvey Jackson in 2014 — and young defensive backs Daniel Davie, Charles Jackson, Jonathan Rose and D.J. Singleton down the road — a good chunk of NU's relatively small (15-20) 2014 recruiting class will be dedicated to secondary coach Terry Joseph's unit.
And Joseph's been busy, offering at least 35 cornerbacks/safeties, according to Rivals' database, and several more “athletes” who would play in the secondary.
In a March 4 interview, Joseph said his plan was to offer a lot of players, evaluate them between April 15-May 31 and see which players returned interest.
“It's a system where you can come and play in an NFL-type system and if you do well, you can play in the NFL,” Joseph said in March. “It's an attractive spot. We just got to get out there and chase them with the rest of the big guys, and hopefully we can pull a few in.”
NU seems to have made the most headway with Phoenix Mountain Pointe corner Dominique Fenstermacher, a 5-foot-10, 174-pound three-star prospect who played his junior season at Tempe Marcos De Niza with former Husker target Priest Willis, who's headed to UCLA. NU saw opposing offenses repeatedly challenge Fenstermacher — and pay for doing so.
Fenstermacher visited for the spring game and left bowled over by the facilities and the fan support. But he zeroed in on a strong relationship with Joseph as the top selling point so far.
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“Coach TJ's pretty straightforward,” said Fenstermacher, who's run a handheld 4.58-second 40-yard dash time. “He doesn't beat around the bush. He tells you what Nebraska's about and treats you like a grown-up.”
What's Nebraska about? Fenstermacher didn't delve too far into detail, but I know the pitch trickles down from coach Bo Pelini: He wants kids who buy in all the way, see the family angle. Family members go to class, put in a ton of film prep, do the community service thing, stay out of the bars, talk highly of the family. Pelini wants loyalty and good citizenship as much as talent.
Fenstermacher is intrigued. He has an offer from Arizona, too, but Nebraska's recruiting him harder. UCLA, Washington State, Washington, Wisconsin and Michigan State may come through in the spring for evaluation. If Fenstermacher gets more offers — based on his tape and ball skills, I suspect he will — he'll take official visits in the fall. If not, he may decide by late May or early June.
The following are more early targets at corner and safety. We're aiming for realism here, not five stars that every team has offered.
>> Parrker Westphal, 6-1/185, Bolingbrook, Ill.: Nebraska has been working on this four-star from Chicago's South Side for nearly a year. He visited last summer for Big Red Weekend and has offers from Michigan, Florida and Ohio State, among dozens. Westphal has the long, lanky frame NU prefers in man-to-man corners.
>> Naijiel Hale, 5-11/180, Los Angeles (St. John Bosco): The son of late rapper Nate Dogg is a low-four/high-three star prospect gaining traction. Joseph visited Hale this week.
“The main thing (Joseph) would like me to do is take a visit out there because he wants me to see everything he's telling me about and to show he's just not selling me,” Hale told Rivals.com. “I most definitely want to get out there.”
Look for a Big Red Weekend visit. UCLA and USC haven't offered yet.
>> Jyaz Jones, 6-0/180, Dallas (South Oak Cliff): Nebraska offered the three-star this week. Iowa's been in the mix for a month. Texas Tech and Baylor, too. Oklahoma and Texas are watching. NU still has some juice in Texas. Couldn't find a highlight video on the kid.
>> Mattrell McGraw, 6-0/185, New Orleans (John Curtis): Nebraska plucked P.J. Smith and Walker Ashburn from John Curtis, and Joseph is from Louisiana. NU has an uphill climb for the high three-star, as Texas, Oregon, Ohio State, Alabama and UCLA have offered.
>> Ray Wingo, 5-10/175, St. Louis (University): The younger brother of Arkansas running back Ronnie Wingo Jr. has offers from the Razorbacks, Missouri, Michigan State, NU and others. The three-star is a shifty athlete with good catch-up speed.
>> Trey Carr, 5-11/175, Omaha (Burke): No FBS offers yet. Carr is competitive, physical and can jump. He has to run the right 40 time.
Hauling them in
Around the Big Ten and nation:
>> Northwestern's off to a terrific start with five commits — each from a different state — including Gaithersburg, Md., running back/wide receiver Solomon Vault, who received a Nebraska offer this week. The Huskers have been on the prowl for a talented returner and Vault was that. Pat Fitzgerald is gaining momentum.
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>> Michigan got a commit from four-star wide receiver Drake Harris, a 6-4, 180-pounder from Grand Rapids. Last year Harris caught 91 passes for 2,016 yards and 25 touchdowns, mostly on go routes. He decommitted from Michigan State one month ago. I'd call him a “bracket buster,” a guy who beats double coverage with sprinter's speed and high-jumper height.
>> Wisconsin must have the patience of Job with defensive tackle Craig Evans, a 6-foot-3, 305-pound four-star prospect who committed to the Badgers for the second time — yet remains open to offers from Ole Miss, Michigan State and Georgia, according to 247Sports.
“I'm most definitely going to visit Ole Miss and Georgia,” Evans said to 247Sports. “Whenever I can free some time up, I plan on taking a trip out to Michigan State. I do have some interest in them. They've been around a long time. I don't want to shut them out of the picture completely.”
Then why commit? Twice?
>> Future Nebraska opponents Miami (2014/2015) and Tennessee (2016/2017) are off to quick starts in this recruiting season. Both are in the early top 10.
With new coach Butch Jones, look for the Volunteers to stay there; it's pretty easy to sell kids on a new regime, new scheme and early playing time in the SEC. The big commit of the bunch is 6-foot-3, 210-pound running back Jalen Hurd.
The Hurricanes, meanwhile, are aiming for a third straight top 20 class. Looming NCAA sanctions from the Nevin Shapiro fiasco may change what Miami can sign this year, but UM brass seems confident — even boastful — that the school is now beyond the NCAA's grasp. If so, what a boost for Al Golden's crew. The Hurricanes may lack cohesion when Nebraska plays them, but not talent.
Next week: Offensive tackle targets, and a look at Nebraska's recruiting in Florida.
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