LINCOLN — We briefly interrupt the biggest recruiting weekend thus far for Nebraska’s new coaching staff — the old staff got a few things right when it came to reeling in prospects.
Big Red Weekend, the invention of former recruiting coordinator Ross Els, was one of them. And the latest group of personnel guys had no problem embracing it.
It has worked before. The new staff hopes it will work again, both this weekend and the weekend of June 13.
“The Big Red Weekend was something that was pretty positive,” said director of player personnel Ryan Gunderson, who followed new coach Mike Riley from Oregon State. “It was a weekend that you could kind of base something around. There was a reason to come to campus. A lot of people are out of school then — with Nebraska being a little bit harder for kids out of state to get to. It was just something we kind of looked at and said, ‘That’d be smart.’ ”
The new staff will couple the event — an unofficial visit that aims to surround prospects with support staff and current players arriving for summer conditioning — with a new “Friday Night Lights” camp. Weather permitting, 200 high-level campers will head into Memorial Stadium on Friday for drills and competition.
Although 2016 and 2017 prospects participated in line and skill player camps earlier in the week, the “FNL” event is designed for players looking for scholarships. The $50 cost — on the low end of camp prices — may help bring prospects whom the coaches aren’t expecting.
“Friday’s going to be more of a hands-on, football skills, teaching, coaching situation,” Gunderson said.
Saturday, the Big Red Weekend, is more of an invite-only event, although, if some player particularly impresses on Friday night, he may be invited again on Saturday. Gunderson said he expected “five or six visitors” for the weekend. The list of unofficial visitors is often fluid until the actual visit date, but a 2016 offensive lineman from the Kansas City area seems likely — Lee Summit (Missouri) West guard Boe Wilson.
A 6-foot-3 290-pounder, Wilson has offers to Kansas, Louisville and Purdue, among others. One team that hasn’t offered: home-state Missouri. Wilson’s high school head coach, Royce Boehm, is the father of Mizzou All-America center Evan Boehm.
But the bigger prospect may be junior-to-be Keyshawn Johnson Jr., who tweeted Thursday morning he was headed to Nebraska for the weekend. Johnson is one of the top wide receiver prospects for 2017, and his father — former NFL wideout Keyshawn Johnson — played for Riley when Riley was the offensive coordinator at USC. NU would have to fight off the father’s alma mater to land the son.
Another prospect who will visit is Fort Pierce (Florida) Central linebacker Greg Simmons. One of NU’s top targets at inside linebacker, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Simmons committed to Miami earlier this year. He had 90 tackles and 10 sacks last season for Fort Pierce Central. He told CaneSport.com he missed two weeks of spring practice with the flu but is now playing with the Cobras’ 7-on-7 team.
Simmons told CaneSport that teams were still pursuing him, adding he’s “pretty solid” to Miami. In recent weeks, Rutgers and North Carolina State have offered Simmons, a three-star prospect according to all four major recruiting services.
According to two Nebraska recruiting-centric websites, NU also will get a visit from Powder Springs (Georgia) McEachern High School offensive guard Tremayne Anchrum.
A 6-foot-3, 260-pounder, Anchrum is a three-star prospect according to Rivals, 247 Sports and Scout and holds offers from Georgia, Missouri and Clemson, among other schools. Powder Springs is a bedroom community of Atlanta, 20 miles northeast of the city.
Like Nebraska coaches and staff members before him, Gunderson said Big Red Weekend offers a personal approach for prospects.
“Whenever you can get a kid on campus, it’s about making the most of the opportunity — whether it’s one kid, five kids or 20 kids,” Gunderson said. “You’ve got however many spots in the class. One is an important number. And sometimes you only get one opportunity to make an impact on the kid. We’re trying to be really efficient with these visits and make them really impactful on the kids.”
In an interview with The World-Herald last week, Riley said he expects the Big Red Weekend events to produce verbal commits.
“We hope it certainly does lead to commitments,” Riley said. “No doubt about that. It’s sometimes the finishing touch for guys. They’re interested, they like everything they’ve heard, and now they have to see the place. It can be the final touch that seals the deal.”
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