In the first four recruiting classes of the Bo Pelini era, Nebraska signed just four players from Florida high schools.
Two of them — Tyler Moore and Brion Carnes — had family ties to the Husker program. One was kicker Mauro Bondi, whom Nebraska only secured after another kicker had decommitted. And one was Antonio Bell. All of them left the Nebraska program early.
During this period, the Huskers' primary success with Florida natives came from junior college prospects who matriculated out of Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College — Lavonte David and Stanley Jean-Baptiste.
The low numbers in Florida made some sense. After all, Nebraska was still in the Big 12, playing at least one game per year in the state of Texas. The Huskers recruited Texas hard, as they should have.
When NU moved to the Big Ten, wise recruiting analysts knew that Nebraska would lose some — though not all — Texas recruits. The Huskers still snagged Tommy Armstrong (2012) and Joshua Kalu (2014), for example. But it wasn't as easy. Kids from Texas weren't going to play games in Texas — NU hasn't played a game in the state since moving to the Big Ten — so fewer were going to be interested.
So, a shift toward Florida, starting in the 2013 class, began to occur.
In the 2017 class, it appears ready to hit overdrive.
Nebraska landed its third true Florida high school prospect Monday when Miami defensive end Guy Thomas — who's transferring from one Miami powerhouse high school to the best Miami football factory of them all, Booker T. Washington — picked the Huskers. The choice wasn't necessarily out of the blue, but know this:
Thomas is the highest-rated Florida prospect Nebraska has landed since Moore in 2011. As the No. 61 player in the state, Thomas is the second player since Moore to be ranked among the state's top 100 prospects according to 247Sports.
The other is Zack Darlington, at No. 63 in the 2014 class. Concussion injuries set back Darlington's career several seasons, though he looks poised to compete for more playing time in 2017.
And also know this: If Nebraska intends on pushing more of its chips into the Florida pile, it'll have to get more out of the Florida signees already on campus and continue to recruit higher-rated prospects — like Thomas — in the state.
Here are the 247Sports Composite scores, plus the prospects' in-state ranking, since 2008:
2008: Antonio Bell .8336/107th
2010: Brion Carnes .8674/59
2011: Tyler Moore .9288/31
2011: Mauro Bondi .8021/189
2013: Boaz Joseph .8422/130
2013: Ernest Suttles .8325/161
2013: Kevin Maurice .8286/173
2014: Zack Darlington .8737/63
2014: Chris Jones .8233/181
2014: Sedrick King .8244/184
2015: Adrienne Talan .8416/150
2015: Alex Davis .8054/278
2016: Greg Simmons .8525/111
2016: DiCaprio Bootle .8280/201
2017: Guy Thomas .8727/61
2017: Broc Bando .8413/140*
2017: Willie Hampton .8402/141
2017: Robert Porcher IV .8175/231
*Bando attends IMG Academy, but he's originally from Lincoln.
Out of that bunch, Jones, with seven starts at cornerback, and Bondi, a kickoff specialist for a few years, have been the most impactful for the Huskers. Maurice will surpass Bondi this year as a full-time starter, but he has just one start for the Huskers before this season.
Now, I happen to like the Huskers recent signees and commits out of Florida; defensive backs coach Brian Stewart and linebackers coach Trent Bray have a good eye for raw talent (although Talan, who never made it through one training camp, was a miss.) Nebraska loves Simmons and viewed him as its top middle linebacker prospect last recruiting cycle. I think you'll see Hampton's recruiting stock go up and Porcher's almost has to, since he's rated a two-star prospect by some services. Porcher's size, production and projection is better than a two-star player.
Further, Thomas is really higher rated than No. 61, since 247Sports counts all the prep school guys down at IMG Academy — which recruits its players nationally — as Florida prospects. Some of those kids are about as Floridian as I am.
At any rate, getting top 100 prospects in the state of Florida is where Nebraska, with its recruiting acumen, can reasonably be.
It's also stiff competition.
Of the top 100 Florida players in the 2016 class, 28 signed with schools other than the southern ACC schools, the SEC or in-state programs like FAU, FIU, UCF and USF.
Out of that 28:
>> Six were signed by Notre Dame.
>> Four each were signed by Michigan and Ohio State. (So, in other words, half of the 28 were signed by the Irish, Wolverines and Buckeyes.)
>> Five were IMG Academy prospects.
>> Two belonged to other Big Ten schools (one to Rutgers, one to Maryland).
In 2017, there have been 12 commits that fit the "outsider" parameters. Four are IMG guys. Six have been Big Ten commits (OSU 2, Maryland 1, Michigan 1, Nebraska 1, MSU 1). Four have been IMG kids. Nebraska has its own IMG signee in Bando.
The Huskers don't appear done in the state. Nebraska hosted running back Jamari Peacock for Friday Night Lights and Big Red Weekend. According to 247Sports, NU is still looking at Illinois commit Antwan Collier and Syracuse commit Nadarius Fagan. Both are former Miami Southridge High School teammates of Bootle.
If Nebraska gets some combination of those guys, it could be the Huskers' biggest haul in the Sunshine State ever.