LINCOLN — A different vibe. A good vibe.
Nebraska's new Friday Night Lights camp format appeared to be a hit with prospects as they walked off the Memorial Stadium turf. For roughly the final hour of a three-hour event, they'd worked up a fierce sweat while some parents and a handful of reporters watched from the stands.
Drake and Kanye West pulsed from stadium speakers while NU pump-up videos showed on Husker Vision. The drills over that final hour were standard camp fare — pass routes and one-on-one pass routes — but the event moved with a crispness, efficiency and pace unlike previous Nebraska camps. Never a slow moments. Lots of clapping huddles, occasionally punctuated by the "Seven Nation Army" chant.
The rest of the Friday Night Lights event left a strong impression that should continue for the June 12 event.
Offensive prospects wore red "Go Big Red" jerseys. Defensive prospects wore black. NU camp staff — including a bunch of current Husker players — put campers through a variety of combine-style workouts and drills. At the end, everybody — roughly 200 campers in all — filed into Memorial Stadium for the finale.
Nebraska coaches have put an emphasis on keeping the top in-state scholarship prospects at NU. But, to do that, they have a lot of evaluation and talent identification work ahead of them. Coach Mike Riley stocked his staff with guys he trusts. They're also guys who are starting from scratch with prep prospects around here. So the camp environment, at least in year one, will be a major tool for them.
On Friday night, many of the state's best prospects who don't have NU offers appeared. Arguably the best is a few years away from college — Beatrice sophomore-to-be Cameron Jurgens, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound tight end. And he has room to grow. Jurgens looked good during pass routes and drills. He announced that Nebraska had offered on Twitter.
Two Millard North prospects — linebacker Jacob Matthew and running back Adrian Kellogg — also had good camps. The 6-3, 230-pound Matthew has North Dakota State and Ohio offers, among others. The 5-10, 180-pound Kellogg was one of the quicker players in camp and showed good change of direction. He could be a slot receiver at the next level, too.
The same might be said for Lincoln Southeast running back Martiez Prather (6-0, 185), who had a good burst in drills and spent some time talking to coaches afterward. Prather's Southeast teammate — 2017 wideout Sterling Smith — is an intriguing size (6-3, 215) with flexibility to play a couple of positions. Millard South linebacker Barrett McDonald (6-3, 215) showed good change of direction and athleticism in drills.
Along the line, 2016 Millard West center Jack Domandle (6-4, 280) again looked strong, with good feet; Domandle has a South Dakota State offer. Bellevue West junior-to-be Tyler Ciurej wasn't sure earlier in the week if he'd head to the camp, but he was there, and held his own. Ciurej, 6-2 and 280, could be a major FBS prospect because of his natural quickness and strength, which he showed off at Tuesday's MG Camp. But as good as either Domandle or Ciurej was 2017 Gretna center Patrick Arnold, who at 6-2, 275 pounds may be slightly undersized, performs well against power rushes. Aurora junior-to-be Gavin Rush (6-3, 290) and Omaha Central senior-to-be Connor Pavlik are two more to watch.
The biggest attraction: A strong group of wideouts to work with wide receivers coach Keith Williams. The best of them were Calabasas (California) 2017 wideout Keyshawn Johnson Jr. and his teammate, 2018 prospect Brian Hightower, who's listed at 6-3, 180 pounds on his Rivals profile but may be taller.
Johnson, whose father is a former NFL wideout, is listed at 6-1, 195. He was the most polished of the receivers at the camp — not surprising — even though Williams consistently coached Johnson rigorously in drills. Hightower didn't have Johnson's hands, but he had a long stride and extra gear on deep routes. Nebraska offered Hightower on Friday night.
But they were the only two. McLane Mannix, a 2017 three-star prospect from Midland (Texas) Christian High School, isn't a big guy — 5-9, 180 — but he's quick and possesses good hands; he projects to a slot receiver. Paradise Valley (Arizona) wideout Jacob Brown is currently committed to South Dakota State, but the 5-foot-11, 185 pounder was sharp on routes and accelerated well. West Brook (Texas) Cameron McKinney was arguably the smallest wideout there - 5-9, 155 - but a burner.
Several solid regional line prospects attended, as well. Traverse City (Michigan) West offensive tackle Jacob Cerny had the frame (6-5, 290) that most screamed "FBS lineman." He has offers from Illinois and Cincinnati, respectively.
But the best lineman overall was 2017 Cherry Creek (Colorado) defensive end Jon Van Diest, an all-state player in Colorado as a sophomore who already has CU and Colorado State offers. Only 6-1, 230, Van Diest had good speed and surprising punch. He's an edge rusher. Omaha Central end Elijah Wilson — 6-3 and 245 pounds — again had a strong day after showing well at the Big Man Camp on Monday.
One missing piece: A top-shelf quarterback. That makes sense, though, considering Nebraska already has two quarterback commits in the class. The wideouts would have been helped, though, with some better passes. Among 2018 in-state prospects, two looked promising. Lincoln Southeast quarterback Jack Strong (6-1, 190) had a good throwing motion while Elkhorn South signal caller Cole Hanafan (6-3, 215) was the most physically impressive.
The Friday Night Lights camp was a strong start to a new coaching staff's idea of evaluation.
>> A quick Nebraska-related roster note: Each year, there's a few incoming recruits who don't look as big as their recruiting profiles say they will, and there's a few who look better. Put wideout Lavan Alston in the latter category. He has the size to shift to outside receiver if Nebraska absolutely needs that. He's roughly the same size — hands, feet, frame, all of it, as NU's other incoming receiver Stanley Morgan. That's a good tandem.