McKewon: Star-studded list of recruits expected to shine under Nebraska's Friday Night Lights

Mike Riley will host some of his top recruits on campus this weekend for the Friday Night Lights camp.

LINCOLN — In a fieldhouse at IMG Academy, there’s a board that lists every graduate of the boarding school and the college they’re attending.

Nebraska was on the board for the 2017 recruiting class with offensive lineman Broc Bando. NU will be on the board for the 2018 class at least once with cornerback Brendan “Bookie” Radley-Hiles.

A good visit for Nebraska’s Friday Night Lights camp and Big Red Weekend could bear more IMG fruit at a key position: running back.

Of the many prospects attending the camp and the recruiting event that follows on Saturday, top 100 prospect and four-star tailback TJ Pledger might be the one to watch most closely. He also attends IMG, a sports-centric boarding school in Bradenton, Florida.

Like Radley-Hiles, Pledger also is originally from California, where he played his junior season at Chaminade High School, the alma mater of former Husker back Terrell Newby. Pledger, currently committed to Oklahoma, is close friends with Radley-Hiles — and has been for more than a decade.

According to a USA Today story, he’s the one who helped recruit Radley-Hiles to IMG so they could play their senior seasons together. Now, Radley-Hiles is recruiting Pledger to Nebraska.

Pledger will visit NU with his mom, according to recruiting reports. OU just took another back in its 2018 recruiting class. Nebraska, which had been considering not signing a running back in 2018, would make an exception for Pledger, the 5-foot-9, 175-pound runner who’s ranked in the top 100 by every major recruiting service, and No. 20 nationally by Scout.

IMG has been a consistent theme in NU’s recruiting efforts this cycle. Recent commit Joshua Moore attended IMG for several months and squared off daily against Radley-Hiles. That friendship played a role in Moore’s eventual commitment to Nebraska Sunday. He’ll attend the camp. Another IMG prospect, defensive back Houston Griffith, is expected to be in town.

With Pledger, the IMG effect may grow. Players bond quickly in the program, IMG coach Kevin Wright said, out of necessity and mutual interest; most of the athletes at IMG are there to prepare for college and potential pro careers.

“You have to be intrinsically motivated to be a student here,” Wright said in a recent interview. “From the time you get up — 6:15 a.m. — until the time you go to bed — 10:30 p.m. — your day’s planned. This being a boarding school, they have to learn to rely on each other. They have to learn to trust and rely on adults.”

Pledger ran for 1,881 yards and 10 touchdowns last season at Chaminade. He committed to Oklahoma on March 25. In the NFL draft a month later, the Sooners had two backs selected, Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine. But former OU coach Bob Stoops has since retired, replaced by offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. Pledger’s visit puts Nebraska squarely in the mix. Radley-Hiles, also in town for the weekend, is the ringleader for the 2018 recruiting class.

Neither Pledger nor Radley-Hiles is the highest-rated player visiting this weekend, though. Harrisburg (Pa.) outside linebacker/defensive end Micah Parsons is.

Parsons had been committed to Penn State before he backed off that decision in late April. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Parsons, a consensus five-star prospect, has the Nittany Lions, Ohio State and Alabama among his top offers. Parsons would be an outside linebacker in NU’s defense. Parsons played several positions last season — including running back — and made a rare midseason switch in high schools, playing for two teams after the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association approved the move.

Several other visitors — mostly from the 2018 and 2019 recruiting classes — are scheduled to make the FNL event, according to recruiting site reports and World-Herald confirmations. Because these are unofficial visits, visitor lists are hard to finalize; prospects may pay their own way to camp at Nebraska or attend the Big Red Weekend event.

The list

» Current commits: Cornerback Brendan Radley-Hiles, wideout Joshua Moore, kicker Barret Pickering, defensive end Tate Wildeman, nose tackle Masry Mapieu, center Will Farniok, wideout Manuel Allen and cornerback Chase Williams should be in attendance. That’s the bulk of NU’s 2018 recruiting class; another commit, Beatrice’s Cam Jurgens, attended last weekend’s recruiting event. Cornerback commit Mario Goodrich, a standout basketball player, is in his final summer of playing club hoops.

» Top-shelf defensive back prospects: Houston Griffith — the son of BTN analyst Howard Griffith — is close with Radley-Hiles and has NU in his top seven. Ohio State and Penn State are there, too; he also recently visited Florida State. Griffith is a consensus top-100 prospect whose size — 6-1, 195 — makes him attractive to top schools.

Thomson (Ga.) cornerback Christian Tutt is a fast-riser on NU’s board. The 5-11, 195-pound four-star has NU in his top group and he started his visit Thursday.

» Key pass rushers: Micah Parsons jumps off the page with his highlight reel, and Nebraska hasn’t landed a top high school pass rusher in many recruiting cycles. NU is also high on Midwest City (Okla.) athlete Jalen Redmond, who’s played only one season of high school football, and Tampa (Fla.) Plant lineman Judge Culpepper, who is the son of former NFL lineman Brad Culpepper. Redmond and Culpepper visited for Nebraska’s spring game.

» Wide receivers to watch, including a former commit who’s still interested: That would be St. Louis Christian Brothers College wideout Cameron Brown, who abruptly decommitted from the Huskers after attending an Ohio State camp and receiving a scholarship offer. Nebraska is still actively recruiting Brown.

Kobe Smith — 6-foot-2, 175 pounds — had a big junior season at Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra High School, where he caught 51 passes for 859 yards and six touchdowns. Smith has an offer from USC, among other schools, but is making a visit to Nebraska.

NU could plan to recruit extra receivers now that it cut all recruiting ties with former 2018 commit Eric Fuller and freshman Keyshawn Johnson Jr. has taken an extended leave of absence.

» Nebraska’s top target for 2019: That’s Loganville (Ga.) Grayson linebacker Owen Pappoe, who’s a four-star right now but likely will be a top-20 national prospect in 2019. NU has recruited Pappoe since linebackers coach Trent Bray arrived and landed another Grayson star — Mohamed Barry. The 6-1, 210-pound Pappoe has 40 scholarship offers, including Alabama, Florida State, Georgia, Auburn and Ohio State.

» A St. Louis 2019 trio: Trinity Catholic High School will send three prospects to the NU camp — receiver Isaiah Williams, receiver/defensive back Marcus Washington and linebacker Shammond Cooper. All three are four-star prospects and all three attended Nebraska’s satellite camp in St. Charles, Missouri.

» A 2019 local quarterback with a Husker, Hawkeye and Cyclone offer: Council Bluffs Lewis Central signal caller Max Duggan will return to NU for a second straight week, and he’ll likely be the guy throwing to a number of the top receivers in the camp. NU rolled out the red carpet for Duggan last week — where he was arguably the featured prospect — and his return for the second camp shows considerable interest in Nebraska.

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