LINCOLN — Mike Riley wasn’t sick on signing day this time. Actually, he carried himself like a guy ready for another go.
The second-year Nebraska coach spoke highly of his 2016 recruiting class, a 21-member group announced Wednesday.
Just don’t expect him and his staff to celebrate for long.
They got their promising quarterback. They addressed depth concerns at linebacker and wide receiver and on the offensive line. They won some high-profile battles and secured enough talented prospects to finish inside the nation’s top 30, according to the ratings of all four major recruiting services.
But Riley, speaking to reporters for 45 minutes Wednesday, was clear that the Huskers aren’t yet where he wants them to be. They learned some tough lessons. The brainstorming and adjusting for 2017 has begun.
“We’re not done learning,” Riley said. “We’re learning about our process and we’re already talking about (next year). We’ve already tweaked it starting Monday, what we’re going to do different.”
He said Wednesday that he’d like to start evaluating future prospects sooner — beginning Monday, the coaches will use the next four weeks to study recruits’ game clips and develop a group of high-priority 2017 targets while compiling contingency plans.
Riley referenced the change of heart by Dez Fitzpatrick, the receiver from Michigan who announced three days ago that he planned to sign with Louisville. The Huskers thought they had him. And when they didn’t, there wasn’t enough time to lure their next option.
“Maybe should have had that other guy ready to go three weeks ago,” Riley said.
The more recruits Nebraska can build relationships with, Riley said, the better prepared NU will be down the stretch.
Some guys want to make their decisions before their senior seasons. Some wait until signing day. Either way is fine by Riley. He just wants the Huskers to be ready.
Nebraska received six of its 21 pledges during the last two weeks this year. Fitzpatrick, athlete Isaiah Simmons and tight end Chase Allen were all seriously considering NU down to the wire — but went elsewhere.
“If you know the plan, you know how that’s going to go,” Riley said. “But the thing is that by making early evaluations and knowing what you would like to do and giving yourself enough versatility with numbers that you feel good about, it gives you an opportunity to see what that individual wants to do.”
Having a full year this time did help.
Riley spent his first signing day press conference sniffling and coughing as he documented a whirlwind, eight-week scramble to assemble a class. He was upbeat and direct Wednesday, conveying details of NU’s recruiting blueprint.
He said he told offensive tackle Matt Farniok long ago that he wanted the last home visit, a living-room conversation that ultimately resulted in a commitment from the South Dakota product. The coach talked about the early identification process of quarterback Patrick O’Brien, who transformed into an elite prospect and had a big senior year. He described the reason behind a late scholarship offer to tight end David Engelhaupt, an in-state player who was always on NU’s radar.
Nebraska’s effort helped produce a class that was ranked as high as 23rd-best nationally by 247Sports as of Wednesday night. The Huskers ranked No. 25 according to Rivals, No. 26 with ESPN and No. 28 in the Scout top 30. Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State led NU in all four of those rankings. Scout had Wisconsin ranked three spots better.
The way Riley spoke Wednesday, he’s looking to be better a year from now.
Getting prospects on campus, particularly those who live within driving distance, will help. Riley wants more players to visit before their senior season begins.
He’d like to re-examine Nebraska’s in-state recruiting plan. He’ll be challenging his innovative staffers to keep finding ways to keep NU’s brand fresh and appealing.
“We’ve been here a year and found out even how much greater than we even knew this place is and the things that are available for kids and how good it is for young people,” Riley said. “We’ll tweak, and we’ll get back out there and go again. The greatest thing in the world for us in our business is to establish a program, to establish the values we want, to establish football that we want, and that takes time.”
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