Nebraska has often tried cultivating the fertile recruiting land of SEC country.
Nebraska’s first recruiting class under Scott Frost reveals that the staff’s background has already borne fruit. The Huskers had never signed more than three Florida natives in a cycle, but got eight in 2018. They had never landed more than two Georgia products in one class before getting three this offseason.
“That’s going to be a trend,” offensive coordinator Troy Walters said. “Florida high schools, they play good football and we have a lot of connections and ties to the state of Florida, so we’re going to utilize it.”
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Many of those commits are trending toward early playing time.
Running back Miles Jones and junior college transfers Deontai Williams (safety) and Mike Williams (receiver) hail from the Sunshine State. Georgia players Breon Dixon (sophomore linebacker) and Caleb Tannor (freshman outside linebacker) are already making impacts, too.
The résumés of Nebraska assistants speak to their ability to land quality Southern talent, especially in Florida. Defensive backs coach Travis Fisher played at UCF from 1999 to 2001, and worked with the Orlando program the previous three seasons. Special teams coordinator/outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt spent time with Florida Atlantic (2012-13) and is popular around the area high schools. Tight ends coach Sean Beckton is a former UCF player who coached at his alma mater for 17 years.
The entire staff, which came whole cloth to Lincoln, recruited the state the past two years at UCF. Beckton will recruit the Orlando area going forward, while Fisher takes the city of Miami and Dade County. Dewitt’s territory includes most of south Florida (Fort Lauderdale to Fort Myers) and defensive coordinator Erik Chinander has the Panhandle. Linebackers coach Barrett Ruud, who played in the NFL for the Buccaneers, will assist in the Tampa area.
“Kids are going to come here if we can get them on campus and let them see what we are building,” Frost said. “I think our relationships with the state of Florida are going to continue to help us. We are going to go everywhere and get the right kids.”
Fisher said there are traits about Florida players that not every college coach understands. Weather and tourist attractions like the beach and Disney World don’t matter to most. Many are willing to travel to be part of a winning team with an honest staff.
That last point is especially important, Fisher said. He knows scores of teens who have been deceived by coaches before. They’re told what they want to hear, only to have the situation change.
Of NU’s signees, cornerback Braxton Clark (Orlando) had his offer from Virginia Tech pulled late in the early signing period when the Hokies landed a player they liked better. Safety CJ Smith (West Palm Beach) decommitted from Florida last summer because he felt the staff there wasn’t being truthful. Deontai Williams (Jacksonville, via Jones County Junior College in Mississippi) decommitted from Florida for a second time in December after a coaching change. Mike Williams spent a year at Georgia Southern, then ended up at NU via East Mississippi Community College because he said he “just felt the love” with Frost and Co.
“They’re told, ‘Hey, you’re going to be the next this,’ ” Fisher said. “The next day, the coach leaves to take a job. That could happen to pretty much every one of those kids. And it’s happened so much in college football to these kids (that) they’re getting a little smarter and deciding, ‘Hey man, I’m going to go be around great people.’ ”
Beckton recruits the Atlanta area, and has already been instrumental in reeling in Tannor and tight end Katerian Legrone from Fulton County’s BEST Academy. He also knows where to find the state’s deepest talent pool — Gwinnett County, producer of 24 top-100 recruits in the past decade, according to ESPN (fourth most of any county nationally).
And while the SEC and ACC heavy-hitters will secure their share of top-shelf players from there, NU isn’t shying away from anyone.
“Go after ’em all,” Beckton said. “And then if Florida, Georgia comes in there and guys commit, you keep an eye on it, but you move on to the next guy. We have a huge list of kids, and we have a pecking order, and if some of those kids commit on the list, we move down.”
According to The World-Herald database, Florida has produced 49 scholarship players for Nebraska — none more prominent than quarterback Tommie Frazier (Bradenton, 1992). Georgia has provided 18. Those numbers rank 10th and 20th, respectively, for NU.
The totals should rise as the Huskers focus on those states with more intensity than ever before.
“Picking Nebraska isn’t an easy decision,” Frost said. “Especially for a kid from Florida, Georgia or Alabama. So the kids that are going to come here and choose Lincoln, Nebraska, and choose this program are probably choosing it because they want to come here around good people and do good work.”