Nebraska’s highest-rated high school football prospect didn’t recognize the number, but the man on the other end of Zavier Betts’ cellphone delivered historic news.
The Bellevue West receiver, a national top-100 recruit committed to Nebraska, was getting an invitation to the finals of the Nike Opening camp.
“I was in the living room, my mom was sitting at the table, I was freaking out,” Betts said Tuesday at the annual Locker Room camp at Omaha Westside. “I got off the phone and I said, ‘This is bad news, but good news. Got invited to the Nike finals.’ I was shocked and excited I made it.”
Even more impressive: Betts qualified for the Nike Opening finals based on a regional performance in April that came after months of rest — and a little JV baseball. Betts hadn’t lifted a weight since December, Thunderbirds coach Michael Huffman said, and he still dominated in a camp setting.
That’s how talented Betts is, Huffman said. More potential than anyone Huffman has ever coached.
“He’s by far the best physically,” Huffman said of the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Betts, the No. 46 player in the country according to Rivals.
Betts caught a touchdown Tuesday in a showcase scrimmage against defending state champion Omaha Burke.
West and Burke figure again to be among the state’s best teams, and Tuesday’s scrimmage showed the edginess between them when West running back Jay Ducker hesitated on purpose just as he ran in a touchdown so he could deliver a shoulder pad to a Bulldog defender. Both Burke and West moved the ball against the other’s defense.
“It’s a good feeling knowing our offense works, even if we have to fix things,” Betts said.
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For Huffman, it’s good knowing Betts isn’t the only receiving option for West’s two quarterbacks. If defenses cheat toward Betts on one side of the field, Huffman has stationed senior Nate Sullivan and junior Keagan Johnson — the younger brother of C.J. and Cade Johnson — to the opposite side.
“We’ll just work that side of the field if they want to take away Zavier,” Huffman said.
And that’s not mentioning Ducker, who recently received a Northern Illinois scholarship offer and is equally dangerous as a runner and a receiver, or the two quarterbacks, Evan Cleveland and Millard West transfer Nate Glantz. With two signal callers, Huffman said, he’ll be less hesitant to use designed quarterback-run plays that should be available because opposing defenses worry so much about the skill talent.
It’s the kind of offense that can win the Thunderbirds’ first state title since 2016, when Betts was a freshman. That’s one of Betts’ team goals — to give freshmen on the team the experience he had back then. Betts’ individual goals are more tied to the classroom — where he continues to work on his grades and is taking an online course this summer.
“The whole schoolwork thing,” Huffman said. “He’s got to put more time into it. Now, to his credit, he’s putting time into school this summer, he has to do it and he’s doing it. He’s so likable.”
And candid. Betts flatly said West players don’t want a state title as badly as their coach does, which is part of why, after the JV rosters subbed in for the end of the Burke scrimmage, Betts was barking at a teammate to deliver a better block downfield.
“I think he wants it more than we do,” Betts said. “Which is a good thing, but also a bad thing. His level of wanting it is way up here and we’re down here. We’ve got to get ours up.”