In an April 18 interview with World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel, Nebraska coach Mike Riley gave his fullest answer yet about his ambitious — and indisputably expensive from a private-plane perspective — recruiting plan. He started by outlining the importance of the 500-mile radius, then launched into the broader plan.
"Can we get half of our class, 10 to 12 guys, from this radius? If we can, then can we get two top players from California? Can we get three or four from Texas? Can we get a couple more from Louisiana, a guy from Georgia? Can we go back to where De’Mornay (Pierson-El) is from (Washington, D.C. area) and get a guy? Can we get two out of Florida? And maybe the Northeast; historically New Jersey’s been good.
Brian Stewart is from the D.C. area. Keith Williams gets guys from Louisiana. Trent (Bray) recruits Dallas, Reggie Davis recruits Houston. Mark Banker has recruited California and Hawaii forever. We are going to re-establish George Darlington’s connection in Hawaii. There’s going to be two or three great players from Hawaii each year. Can we get one? Also, I want the kids coming out of South Dakota.
When you look at it like that, it doesn’t feel overwhelming."
Riley, his assistants and recruiting staff — as robust as a Husker "front office" has ever been — are free to pursue this vision. It is ambitious. It also more or less adds up to 25. I think Riley'd like to hit that 25 quite often if he can.
But I'd be surprised if it were just two out of California each year. California is where Riley, while at Oregon State, made his hay as a recruiter. Beaver football, at its best and most mediocre, was built on recruiting California under Riley.
In his last four classes at OSU, the Beavers signed 102 players, according to Rivals. Here's the state-by-state breakdown of those classes:
American Samoa 2
So 48 percent of Riley's last four classes came from California. That's the very definition of "inroads."
And it's not a stretch for Californians to play at Nebraska. NU's alum base has always been stronger on the West Coast. The Huskers have a strong history of recruiting in Southern California, and Northern California has occasionally produced a good player, too, for the Huskers. While Nebraska hasn't had much success recruiting offensive linemen out there, it has hit on many skill players over the years.
In the 2005-2014 classes, Nebraska signed 38 players from California high schools or junior colleges.
2005: Jordan Congdon, Ola Dagunduro, Bryan Wilson, Rodney Picou, Marlon Lucky, Jacob Hickman (Grayshirt)
2006: Major Culbert, Brandon Johnson, Steve Allen, Andre Jones, Rickey Thenarse, Carl Nicks, Anthony West, Maurice Purify
2007: Roy Helu, Austin Stafford, Joseph Townsend, Zac Lee
2008: Tyson Hetzer, Quentin Toailoa, Cameron Meredith
2009: Taylor Martinez, Eric Martin, Dijon Washington, Lazarri Middleton, J.T. Kerr, Dejon Gomes
2010: Josh Mitchell, Quincy Enunwa
2011: Daimion Stafford, Joe Carter
2012: Thomas Brown, Corey Whitaker, Zaire Anderson
2013: Chongo Kondolo, Drake Martinez, Johnny Stanton, Terrell Newby
That's 3.8 prospects per year. Riley took 12 per year his last four seasons at Oregon State. Taking just a few — and I know Riley was just picking out a number in the Shatel interview, not giving hard and fast totals — isn't necessary.
This Husker staff could take north of five per year. It's a region, after all, they must know better than any other. These coaches, at least the ones Riley brought with him, presumably know which programs produce hidden gems and which programs produce overrated players. They know the junior colleges inside and out — Williams used to be the offensive coordinator at one — and some of those colleges know Nebraska pretty well, too, given the Huskers' presence in recruiting several of them.
Now, recruiting California takes more time in the recruiting calendar. And it costs more money, especially in terms of flights. And it's possible that, given all the resources he could want, Riley is ready to recruit elsewhere because, ultimately, Oregon State was pretty inconsistent in the last four years with California recruits, however individually good a few of them might have been.
But watch this trend. Nebraska has the potential to attract volume from the West Coast. It was already attracting high-end talent.
According to Rivals, NU has offered 24 prospects in California so far and 11 of them have already committed to other schools. Look for more offers. And watch to see how well Riley's staff fares there.