LINCOLN — Personable. That’s one way to describe new Nebraska baseball coach Will Bolt.
Others have affixed their own adjectives to him — mostly related to traits good for winning sporting events — and I don’t doubt them. Tough. Gritty. Intense.
But I appreciated last Thursday that the man is personable and, in being that, adroitly navigated a room of folks — media, family, staff, ex-teammates, NU administrators — who generally, even if no one’s going to say it out loud, would love to see Nebraska baseball all the way back to where it was in 2008.
Nebraskans are polite — or as NU Athletic Director Bill Moos likes to say, humble — but also proud, enough so Michigan baseball’s success in merely reaching the College World Series (much less doing so well in it) is something Husker fans might like replicating.
When I have conversations with Nebraska fans, it almost always progresses beyond football. Sometimes, we go six, seven sports deep. Baseball is a frequent topic. So is Moos.
My unscientific observations continue to see Moos as wildly popular with rank-and-file fans. Two of NU’s previous three athletic directors were some of the most unpopular figures in this state, so Moos benefits by comparison. But, outside of volleyball and track, Nebraska’s transition to the Big Ten has not been a road paved with lots of championships. The league at which Husker fans once poked fun packs a punch.
Moos personifies fans’ desires to pop a few jabs back.
He has hired eight coaches in 20 months. Even if some of the job openings were prompted by retirements or departures, this kind of coaching overhaul was coming down the pike before Moos arrived — especially in football and men’s basketball.
“I’ve checked off a bunch of lists,” Moos joked at Bolt’s introductory press conference. “I like the coaches we have. The ones that are new, the ones that have been here for a while. It’s just a really, really good mix.
“All have the same focus and understand the charge and what is expected of them in a variety of different areas, from academics, to student-athlete retention and also the scoreboard. We can win at Nebraska, it’s been proven, and we can win right and with the right talent.”
Moos noted that Nebraska doesn’t have to “fly-over talent” to get to more talent. That was a nod at Husker baseball — and other sports — keeping more local talent at NU.
Husker football coach Scott Frost addressed and resolved that issue quickly after previous staffs lost NFL draft picks like Harrison Phillips, Noah Fant and Easton Stick to other schools. We’ll see how many programs successfully follow Frost’s lead.
“In some of these positions I’ve made, I definitely feel we weren’t going in the right direction,” Moos said. “Others, like Darin (Erstad), was really a retirement. And I applauded that, in regards to spending more time with his family. I think he really left that program in good shape.
“My coaches know what’s expected of them, they know what the culture is and I feel, across the board, feel very blessed and fortunate that they’re at the University of Nebraska and they compete in the Big Ten.”
As it stands, Nebraska appears headed for its lowest finish in the Director’s Cup standings. Right now, NU is 49th overall and 12th in the Big Ten. Husker baseball will improve the overall points total a bit, but probably not enough to match the 44th place from last year. The athletic department’s revenue ranks among or near the nation’s top 25. Fan support is top 10 nationally in some sports.
All of Nebraska’s indicators are good. Revenues are up. Belief is high.
Moos has set up NU for good results.
NU doing fine with five commits
Beware putting too much stock in summer recruiting rankings.
It’s late June, the halfway point in the 2020 recruiting cycle. Yes, 10 of the Big Ten teams have double-digit commits. Yes, NU has five after the commitment of Alex Conn.
But remember: Nebraska may offer a lot of prospects, but it generally has a board, it’ll work that board and it won’t take guys at the bottom of the board just to replace them later with guys higher on the board.
Some schools (ahem, Michigan) have more or less done that.
According to 247Sports, Michigan had five decommits for its 2019 class. Minnesota had eight decommitments for its 2019 class — four in December 2018, just before the signing period. The Gophers had eight for their 2018 class, too.
In 2019, the Huskers, in effect, had two: running back Thomas Grayson and defensive tackle Tony Fair. The latter didn’t appear ready to academically qualify, so he decommitted in December and eventually landed at UAB.
Bottom line: Nebraska isn’t looking to play musical scholarships.
“One thing I take pride in when it comes to recruiting is that we are as honest as we can be,” Frost said in December. “We give good people our word or say something, we mean it. When a kid is committed to us, we’re committed to them.”
I don’t get the sense Husker coaches want “OK, sure” from recruits. They want a firm, excited yes.
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No coach wants to babysit a recruit’s commitment. But at NU, ambivalent wafflers can be especially obvious. You either want to be at Nebraska — at a public, football-mad, biggest-show-in-the-state kind of program — or you don’t.
That’s where NU’s willingness to offer and scout so many prospects helps: The Huskers have a deep board.
If Nebraska doesn’t get Plan A at every position — only Alabama and Clemson do at this point — it has more backup options, precisely because NU assistants, and an organized recruiting administrative staff, did the work to build a deep board.
That’s how late in last year’s recruiting cycle, Nebraska landed three prospects — Jamin Graham, Jimmy Fritzsche and Demariyon Houston — who hadn’t been on the media’s radar much at all before Nebraska pursued them. NU stayed diligent, and got what I think will be three pretty productive players, all from the south.
So even if the Huskers’ dominoes fall a little more slowly, keep in mind: They’re still set up to fall.
Watch, too, the average-rating-per-recruit score. Rivals does it with a star ranking, 247Sports does it with a 70 to 100 scale.
For the 2020 class, Nebraska’s per-average score is 89.95, according to 247Sports. That’s second in the Big Ten behind Ohio State. As of Tuesday, Minnesota — with 21 recruits — is 11th in the league at 85.05. Iowa — with 20 commits — is ninth at 85.78. Both schools were just below 86 for the 2019 class. NU was at 88.50.
Any score at 90 or above on signing day in December is excellent. Top 15 nationally.
Nebraska tends to land in the 86-to-88 range since joining the Big Ten. Only once since the 2011 class has NU’s average been under 85. In 2014. A class that produced no NFL draft picks and played a role in two 4-8 seasons. Of the 10 lowest-rated players (according to 247Sports) in that class, three — cornerback Chris Jones, safety Byerson Cockrell and kicker Drew Brown — became regular starters. Five transferred, one (Larenzo Stewart) never arrived and one (Sedrick King) left the program before exhausting his eligibility.
Those averages matter. Right now, Nebraska’s is pretty good.
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Adrian Martinez is, in short, one of the most talented quarterbacks to roll through Nebraska in many years. And Scott Frost knows it. Click here to read more.
The heart and soul of Nebraska’s defense, Mohamed Barry is perhaps the Huskers' best leader. The run-stuffing linebacker has lacked an elite defensive line in front of him ... until now. Click here to read more.
One of the most valuable transfers in recent Husker history, Darrion Daniels came to campus ready to work and lead. And, by all accounts, he’s done that, immediately becoming one of the top voices for the Husker defense. Click here to read more.
Few players turn and run the way JD Spielman does, and he’s a good returner, too. His health is paramount, and, like a well-tuned sports car, Spielman can’t get too banged up. Click here to read more.
Lamar Jackson has the frame, the length, the speed and the talent to be one of the Big Ten’s best cornerbacks. One of the nation’s best corners, for that matter. Click here to read more.
Nebraska's Deontai Williams has little fear in run support and he can cover ground quickly in the pass game, as evidenced by two interceptions last season. Click here to read more.
Nebraska running back Maurice Washington’s sheer gifts are offset by off-the-field issues that hindered his progress since high school and could mean he misses some playing time in 2019. When he’s out there, it’s clear: He can play the game at a high level. Click here to read more.
While he didn’t win every one-on-one battle, Dicaprio Bootle's league-leading pass breakup total indicates he’s one of the better field corners in the Big Ten West, and perhaps the league. Click here to read more.
Brenden Jaimes’ most important job is to protect the backside of quarterback Adrian Martinez, and other than a few hiccups, he has done that well. As a junior, he’s likely to be one of the better tackles in the Big Ten. Click here to read more.
Khalil Davis is poised for a breakout senior season. He helps anchor an experienced defensive line that should be — and needs to be — among the Big Ten’s best in 2019. Click here to read more.
Carlos Davis, who has 25 career starts, has long been one of the more respected Blackshirts among teammates, but now he has the experience to reinforce his reputation. Click here to read more.
Dedrick Mills could have a Devine Ozigbo-like impact on Nebraska’s running game with his physical, up-the-middle style. Talent and opportunity appear to be lining up for the rounded back. Click here to read more.
Nebraska's Matt Farniok, the new vocal leader of the offensive line, earned the right to be the one holding others accountable after starting all 12 games at right tackle last season. Click here to read more.
Exactly where JoJo Domann will line up on the field isn’t always obvious. That’s just fine for Nebraska as long as he’s out there. NU’s most versatile defender has his own position name — Cinco. Click here to read more.
The hype is high for Wan'Dale Robinson. And the talent is real. Expect to see him take off right away. Click here to read more.
If the tight end position gets going again at Nebraska, Jack Stoll figures to be a big reason why. While others at his position may have more physical upside or long-term potential, no one offers the same reliability and intangibles. Click here to read more.
Cam Taylor has contributed on all four special teams units and can play safety or nickelback if necessary, as well. The ingredients are there for him to quickly become one of NU’s youngest defensive leaders, if he isn’t already. Click here to read more.
After beginning last season as a backup, Boe Wilson started the last nine games at right guard en route to honorable mention All-Big Ten status. Click here to read more.
Nebraska has had success in the graduate-transfer market under Scott Frost. That trend may continue with Kanawai Noa. Click here to read more.
Perhaps the final piece for Ben Stille is on-field disruption. With a full offseason of strength training, he could be the biggest in-house improvement on the team as a pass rusher and edge setter. Click here to read more.
Here comes Nebraska’s long-term answer at nose tackle. A season to learn under older brother and grad transfer Darrion Daniels won’t hurt for Damion Daniels, and neither will another offseason to build his strength and conditioning. Click here to learn more.
Nebraska's Mike Williams already has the speed, the hands and the understanding of the offense. If he can also be a consistent blocker, his playing time could spike as much as anyone on the team. Click here to read more.
Collin Miller made 17 tackles in 12 games as a reserve. Now, Miller's job is more clearly defined, and whether through ability or attrition, he will get a chance to prove his versatility and the fruits of his hard work. Click here to read more.
For all of Nebraska’s uncertainty at outside linebacker, Tyrin Ferguson represents perhaps the most reliable option when 100 percent. For the senior, though, being at 100 percent isn't always a given. Click here to read more.
Trent Hixson, from Omaha Skutt, got a taste of major college football while appearing in four games last year. Since then, O-line coach Greg Austin describes him as playing with “his hair on fire.” Click here to read more.
In a sense, Dismuke is the last man standing. Now the junior with 44 career tackles in 20 games (one start) is perhaps a favorite to start at safety. Click here to read more.
Nebraska's Kade Warner knows the offense, he blocks consistently, and he doesn’t drop passes. The 20-year-old wideout caught 17 balls for 95 yards in nine games last year. Click here to read more.
Noah Vedral, who followed Scott Frost from UCF, is as versed in the offense as any current Husker. If nothing else, he’s a valuable insurance policy for starter Adrian Martinez. Click here to read more.
Alex Davis played all 12 games last year with four starts. Until now, it’s been more about thinking than reacting for the 23-year-old whom teammates call “Ace.” Click here to read more.
Another offseason of strength training and familiarity with Nebraska's scheme gives Caleb Tannor the potential to become one of the team’s most valuable defenders. Click here to read more.
As a redshirt freshman, Austin Allen caught two passes for 54 total yards. The Aurora product will be in a battle with Kurt Rafdal for the second-string tight end spot behind Jack Stoll. Click here to read more.
Inside linebacker Will Honas only appeared in four games last season and racked up 15 tackles, including one for loss. This season he'll have beat out three others for that starting position. Click here to read more.
Miles Jones will line up all over the field. Nebraska’s thin at running back, so there’s a good chance he’ll get a decent load of carries. Click here to read more.
With how often Nebraska will rotate defensive linemen, sophomore Deontre Thomas will see the field as long as he’s healthy. And he may finally be able to contribute to a pass rush with his size and speed off the ball. Click here to read more.
There’s plenty of opportunity for Jaron Woodyard to make an imprint in his senior year. The junior college transfer still presents an opportunity to take the top off a defense, but only if he can find his way onto the field. Click here to read more.
Should he prove he can block and become a consistent option for Adrian Martinez, Andre Hunt could easily become Nebraska's third starting wide receiver. Click here to read more.
Noa Pola-Gates may need to pack on some weight this summer and fall to have a chance at playing right away, but the ceiling for the No. 2 player from the state of Arizona is high. Click here to read more.
The comparison to Dave Rimington by Scott Frost isn’t rubbing away anytime soon for Cameron Jurgens. He has a chance to start in on that legacy this year as the odds-on favorite to be Nebraska’s starting center. Click here to read more.
Kurt Rafdal averaged 16.8 yards per catch, fantastic for a tight end, particularly for a freshman. He gives Adrian Martinez a red-zone option should the NU receiving corps take a while to come along this season. Click here to read more.
Nebraska has struggled to keep linemen healthy the past few years, and if one goes down, Christian Gaylord could take over on either side if needed. Click here to read more.
Though young, Braxton Clark is a tall corner who will fit behind Lamar Jackson and Dicaprio Bootle. Click here to read more.
Matt Sichterman is a former three-star recruit from Cincinnati. He has put on weight and could move inside to a guard spot if necessary. Click here to read more.
You could argue the position group with the most question marks is running back, making Rahmir Johnson’s presence even more important. He ran for more than 2,300 yards as a senior in high school. Click here to read more.
Barret Pickering was money at the end of last season. As a true freshman, he nailed his final 10 field-goal attempts, including three in the snow against Michigan State for a 9-6 upset win. Click here to read more.
Nebraska's Joseph Johnson wears weight on his frame well after a redshirt season, and now he’s needed at inside linebacker, which has a firm alpha in Mohamed Barry and a lot of questions otherwise. Click here to read more.
Watching the tape of Quinton Newsome at safety is like watching a natural at the position. His ceiling as a safety is as high as that of Deontai Williams — who’s bound for a special 2019 himself. Click here to read more.
Isaac Armstrong averaged 43.6 yards per punt — ninth-highest in Husker history — and pinned the opponent inside its own 20 nine times. He can be a weapon for the Huskers this fall. Click here to read more.
The younger brother of starting right tackle Matt Farniok, Will is shorter but possesses many of the same qualities as Matt. Tough, athletic, plays to the whistle. Click here to read more.
In the right situations, Katerian LeGrone can be the kind of big-play guy Cethan Carter used to be for the Huskers. Click here to read more.
Honorable mention: QB Andrew Bunch, RB Wyatt Mazour, P William Pryzstup, DB Jeramiah Stovall, LS Chase Urbach, ILB Jackson Hannah, WR Jamie Nance, WR Darien Chase, QB Luke McCaffrey, DE Chris Walker. Click here for more on the Huskers that received honorable mention.