LINCOLN — Nebraska listed Mick Stoltenberg as one of four signees for its offensive line Wednesday, but head coach Bo Pelini left open the possibility of the 6-foot-5, 270-pounder from Gretna helping the Huskers somewhere else.
Stoltenberg said recently that Nebraska had spoken with him about tight end and offensive tackle. Pelini said don't rule out defensive end, where NU currently just has three scholarship players on its roster.
“A kid who's that big, and can run the way he can, can do a lot of different things for us,” Pelini said. “What we've talked about is we'll play him where we can get him on the field the quickest. I think he's a guy that's going to be a heck of a football player down the line.”
Stoltenberg played defensive end as a junior at Gretna. He was set to go both ways as a senior before suffering a knee injury in his second game.
Stoltenberg joined Lincoln Southeast products D.J. Foster and Luke Gifford to give the Huskers three in-state recruits, their most since grabbing Daniel Davie, David Sutton, Zach Sterup and Ryne Reeves in 2011. NU signed just one in-state player each of the past two years (Josh Banderas in 2013, Sam Cotton in '12).
“We got the kids here in the state that we really wanted,” Pelini said.
Football recruit Harrison to play baseball, too
Nebraska baseball coach Darin Erstad was walking home from a neighbor's Fourth of July party last summer when his phone rang. It was two-sport recruit Monte Harrison.
And for a moment, Harrison had Erstad feeling pretty nervous.
“Typical Monte, he made some joke. He made it sound like it was going to be bad news,” Erstad said.
But Harrison was calling Nebraska's baseball and football coaches that day to make a nonbinding pledge to NU. Harrison followed through on the commitment Wednesday by signing a letter of intent to play both sports for the Huskers.
Problem is, he'll have a decision to make in June. He's expected to be an early round selection in the Major League Baseball draft.
That process is difficult to predict, coach Bo Pelini said Wednesday. For now, though, Pelini thinks Harrison plans to be Husker.
“I know one thing, it'd have to be something pretty significant to keep him from (going to college),” Pelini said. “Because I know in his mind, he sees himself as a football player. He likes to play the game and is excited about coming here.”
No sense stressing about that now, according to Erstad. He said he's advising Harrison to simply enjoy his senior year at Lee's Summit West High School.
“That stuff will all take care of itself,” Erstad said.
Southeast proves good pipeline for Huskers
Nebraska went heavy in the Southeast, signing three prospects from Florida, three from Louisiana and one each from Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.
A sign of things to come? Maybe, Pelini said.
“You just don't know where they're going to come from,” he said. “We recruit areas. We recruit a little bit by position. Start out more by areas and move to a little bit more by positions as it moves on. It just so happens that we got a pretty good group from the Southeast. It changes. It's a little cyclical.”
Although Nebraska was not overly productive within the Big Ten states — it had zero signees from Ohio for the first time since 2009 — Pelini said it does not have anything to do with the Huskers backing off at all in that area.
Nebraska also took four from Texas, and Pelini said one thing the South has going for it is population.
“There's just more kids, there's going to be more players,” he said.
Pelini likes QB Darlington's skill and leadership
Nebraska is optimistic about the future for quarterback Zack Darlington, who was sidelined for nearly all of last fall after suffering concussions in the summer and then again in the season-opening game for Apopka (Fla.) High.
Darlington enrolled in January and has been going through winter conditioning with current NU players. Pelini said he doesn't believe the concussions will be a “real big issue” going forward.
“I think he'll be fine as far as that's concerned,” Pelini said. “But knowing where he is, I wouldn't anticipate wanting to get him hit through spring practice. To me that doesn't make a lot of sense.”
Darlington led Apopka to a Florida Class 8A state championship his junior year, when he accounted for close to 2,500 total yards and 29 touchdowns. In the state final, he passed for 254 yards and ran for 130 and three scores.
“He can do everything,” Pelini said. “He can run, he can throw, he's a proven winner and he's a tremendous leader. So we really feel good about him.”
While Darlington committed early, NU added a second quarterback last weekend with A.J. Bush out of Alpharetta, Ga. Bush led Norcross High to the Georgia Class 6A state title last fall.
“He's a very talented athlete and a guy that Tim (Beck) really liked,” Pelini said. “We got on him late, brought him up here and he really liked what he saw. I think he'll bring a lot to the table for us.”
Heavy snow complicates signing day in Kansas City
The weather system that canceled local school and spoiled signing day ceremonies around the Omaha metro had an even bigger impact on three Nebraska recruits a few hours to the south.
Andy Leech, coach of tight end recruit Freedom Akinmoladun, said he spent six hours driving to his players' homes, picking up letters of intent to fax.
The Kansas City International Airport received a Feb. 4 record of 7.5 inches of snow, according to the Kansas City Star. The drifts made it worse, according to Leech.
“I've got four-wheel drive — or else it wouldn't have happened,” Leech said.
Pelini: 'Faux kitty' hits recruiting trail
Pelini had a new travel companion on the recruiting trail, if you believe the John Papuchis tweet last month that showed the head coach boarding a private jet with a pet carrier.
It was a nod to the Bo Pelini/Faux Pelini exchange on Twitter over Bo wanting back his mythical (we think) cat.
With coaches on the road for a good chunk of January, Pelini joked Wednesday that his kitty “went with me everywhere I went.”
“Became a hell of a closer, I'll tell ya,” Pelini said. “Really closed the deal on a couple of them and really fired up about his future in recruiting.”
The cat's name?
“That's just private between us,” Pelini said.
Nebraska has jump on 2015 with four commitments
Nebraska already has a jump on 2015 with four commits for the next recruiting cycle, including three from last weekend after hosting a junior day.
Pelini said he liked the strong start, which currently has the Husker class ranked No. 13 by 247Sports. But he said it's only a start.
“It's a long way to go,” he said. “There's a lot of work between now and then. I feel great about the way this (2014) class wrapped up, and we'll worry about 2015 tomorrow. Let's enjoy this one for a couple hours.”
* * *
Video: Omaha.com signing day playlist: