Two years ago, before Scott Frost had an undefeated season under his belt and a return to his alma mater was more of a feeling than a firm reality, Nebraska held a fairly exclusive satellite camp in the St. Louis metro area.
It was at Lindenwood University, a nice Division II school tucked in a suburb. NU was the headliner program — the only Power Five team there. And St. Louis Trinity Catholic High School brought all of its best players. Marcus Washington. Shammond Cooper. Isaiah Williams. It was pretty clear what the Huskers were doing — having something close to a private workout with some top 2019 prospects.
“It’s huge for St. Louis to have this group down here,” Trinity Catholic coach Corey Patterson said at the time. “They’re showing that they really want to be here in St. Louis.”
The Trinity Catholic guys later visited a Friday Night Lights camp in Lincoln. That was a star-studded affair, filled with prospects who never ended up at NU. The whole house of cards on the Mike Riley era fell apart a few months later, Frost returned to put the program on his shoulders, and Patterson, in January 2018, took a job at Illinois coaching tight ends.
On the final day of May, Nebraska was back at Lindenwood for another year, working a massive satellite camp chock-full of prospects — with other Power Five programs. Illinois landed Williams and Cooper largely thanks to Patterson. Washington chose Texas. Of the city’s top 10 prospects in 2019 (according to the 247Sports composite), three picked the Illini, three picked Missouri, one picked Ohio State, one picked Texas, one picked Notre Dame and one went to the MAC.
Friday was another opportunity for NU to get its foot in the door. It won’t be easy.
A glance at the top St. Louis prospects for 2020 shows Nebraska has ground to make up. The city’s top running back, Reggie Love, is committed to Illinois. The top receiver, Jordan Johnson, is pledged to Notre Dame. Another top athlete — Mookie Cooper, whose game has some similarities to Wan’Dale Robinson’s — appears to be leaning to Illinois. Jeremy Maclin’s cousin, Jay, is headed to Missouri. (A Bill Callahan miss that keeps on giving.)
It’s a competitive region for football talent. (Basketball, too, as seen by the decisions of Bradley Beal and Otto Porter to attend Florida and Georgetown years ago).
Frost, in his Big Red Blitz Tour, had a good way of summing it up.
“St. Louis is important,” Frost said. “Obviously it’s a great talent pool in St. Louis. It’s an interesting location to me in St. Louis because it gets recruited by Big 12, the SEC and Big Ten. It’s right at the confluence of those three conferences. It’s challenging to recruit there because it’s a lot of competition, but there’s definitely good players there as well. We’ll be there.”
He’s right about the confluence of three conferences. And, for whatever reason — probably the yo-yo success of Mizzou football — prospects in Missouri have never been particularly loyal to the home-state school. They’re free agents. In guys like Bruce Pickens, Grant Wistrom, Mike Rucker and Will Compton, Nebraska has rather enjoyed the fruits of that free agency, as well.
Compton was from Bonne Terre, Missouri — an hour south of St. Louis — and the last of a wave of eastern Missouri prospects who picked NU. Former defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove had brief success on the eastern side of that state. Since then, Nebraska has done the bulk of its Missouri recruiting in Kansas City, plucking several starting defensive players out of that metro area: the Davis twins, Maliek Collins, Freedom Akinmoladun and Michael Rose-Ivey. Anywhere else, though, has been hard. Tre Bryant signed with Nebraska out of St. Louis Christian Brothers and appeared headed for a strong career until his progress was derailed by knee injuries. Jaevon McQuitty hails from Columbia but hasn’t made a big impact yet.
Because of Frost’s reputation and offense, this current iteration of Husker football seems best positioned to make a move on St. Louis skill players. Landing linemen, including pass rushers, could prove stickier. Linemen tend to get more attention no matter where they are because every team can use more good ones. But in St. Louis those prospects are particularly saturated with attention. The top 2020 outside linebacker in the region, Antonio Doyle, has offers from most of the SEC power schools (Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Texas A&M, Auburn, etc.), Oklahoma, Michigan, Florida State and more. That’s a lot of heat around a four-star prospect.
Of course, satellite camps aren’t always about the guys in the current cycle, but the guys in 2021 and 2022. St. Louis has plenty of prospects who will get Nebraska’s attention and interest. The Huskers have received interest in return and should get more.
But Frost had it right: It’s competitive around the Gateway to the West.
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