Former Husker Clester Johnson hopes the 'foundation is here' for recruiting in Nebraska

Clester Johnson's son, Keagan, is a junior at Bellevue West. “You have to go out and get the best around the country,” Clester Johnson said regarding in-state recruiting at Thursday’s Big Red Today Breakfast. “But the foundation is here, and it always should have been here.”

Clester Johnson is used to being on the road as a pharmaceutical sales representative. The former Husker wingback also gets plenty of dashboard time as a parent of three wide receivers.

One son, C.J., played for Wyoming, and another, Cade, is a junior All-American at South Dakota State.

A third son, Keagan, is a junior at Clester’s high school, Bellevue West. He’ll be at his dad’s college alma mater Saturday night when he visits for the Ohio State game.

Keagan Johnson has a scholarship offer from South Dakota State and has heard from Northwestern, Wyoming, Iowa State and Kansas State. Nebraska has been urging him to visit, his dad said.

Johnson is glad to see Scott Frost’s staff put more emphasis on local recruiting than his recent predecessors did.

“You have to go out and get the best around the country,” Johnson said at Thursday’s Big Red Today Breakfast, sponsored by The World-Herald and Hy-Vee. “But the foundation is here, and it always should have been here.”

Johnson, who signed with Nebraska in 1991 after an All-Nebraska career with the Thunderbirds, said the typical in-state player’s mindset is different today than in his own playing days.

“If you’d ask my kids today who were their favorite college teams growing up, it would not be Nebraska,” he said. “It would be USC, Oregon, Alabama. When they were younger, those were the great teams.

“Hopefully Scott can start having that success where kids locally will see Nebraska as the obvious choice versus, ‘Well, it’s an option.’”

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Reality bites

Johnson and Damon Benning, the other guest at Thursday’s breakfast, arrived in Lincoln in the early 1990s expecting to be quick hits.

Then reality hit back.

Johnson, who redshirted his first season at NU in 1991, remembers being left off the travel roster in 1992 when the Huskers traveled to Tokyo to face Kansas State.

Two walk-on wingbacks made the trip ahead of him, along with scholarship players Abdul Muhammad and Vincent Hawkins.

So Johnson watched the game at a sports bar.

“There’s nothing more humbling,” he said, “than sitting at the bar watching the game with fans. And people going, ‘I thought you played football.’”

Benning, an all-state I-back at Omaha Northwest who arrived in Lincoln a year later than Johnson, remembers stepping out of bounds on a run late in a practice early in his NU career.

Tom Osborne’s staff taped every snap in practice. The next day, Osborne replayed Benning’s run over and over in a team meeting.

“He goes, ‘Damon, we’re not in the pros. You’re not making enough money to run out of bounds there,’” Benning said, imitating Osborne’s quiet, droll delivery. “‘I want you to lower the shoulder and get back up the field.’”

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