Through Friday, Mad Chatter will post a series of blogs reflecting on Husker recruiting history.
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Guy Chamberlin was from Blue Springs, Nebraska. Roy Lyman was from McDonald, Kansas. They played before Memorial Stadium was even built.
Bob Brown was from Cleveland. Mick Tingelhoff was from Lexington, Nebraska. They played before Memorial Stadium held 40,000 people.
Only one Husker in the Pro Football Hall of Famer played in the “modern” era. And he came from the absolute, most unlikely place:
I wrote this morning about the epic Osborne/Switzer recruiting war for Leodis Flowers, which Nebraska won. That was 1987. Consider this the epilogue to that tale.
By 1989, the landscape had changed dramatically.
Brian Bosworth had written a book (published in August ’88) saying OU players used cocaine and fired guns at a dorm. In December ’88, the NCAA placed Oklahoma on three years probation, including a two-year bans on TV appearances and bowl games.
Switzer denied breaking any NCAA rules. Surely, he’d survive in Norman. Then in ’89, the schooner crashed.
On Jan. 13, redshirt freshman cornerback Jerry Parks shot in the chest his high school classmate and roommate, offensive lineman Zarak Peters, after a late-night argument in the dorm; the bullet missed Peters’s heart by three inches. Parks then allegedly aimed the pistol at his roommate, starting QB Charles Thompson, then pointed the weapon at his own head and pulled the trigger, but the gun misfired.
On Jan. 21, three players were arrested for gang-raping a woman in the dorm. (Nigel Clay and Bernard Hall were later convicted).
And on Jan. 26, Charles Thompson sold 17 grams of cocaine to an undercover FBI agent. (He was arrested in February, convicted and spent 17 months in jail).
Of all the shady things that happened at Nebraska in the mid-90s, Oklahoma’s antics in the 80s were 10 times worse.
This was the context for Shields’ recruitment. On Jan. 23, 1989, two weeks before Signing Day, Shields became only the second Oklahoman of the Osborne/Switzer era to accept a Nebraska scholarship. Probation at OU (and Oklahoma State) was a factor, his coach said.
Husker fans barely noticed. The big news in Nebraska was Creighton Prep’s Junior Bryant -- national lineman of the year -- dropping the Huskers from his list of finalists; he ended up at Notre Dame.
National recruiting analyst Max Emfinger rated Shields, a 6-foot-3, 280 pounder, the 13th best defensive tackle prospect in the country. Wait, defense?
NU coaches told Shields he could choose offense or defense; Shields was more familiar with blocking than tackling.
"I sincerely believe that he's an excellent Division I line prospect on either side of the ball," said Lawton High coach Derald Ahlschlager. "I think he has an excellent opportunity to play there."
In reality, Nebraska hoped that Shields would be part of a package deal. NU badly wanted Shields’ teammate, running back Dewell Brewer, who visited Lincoln two weeks before Signing Day.
"I think Dewell's going to decide what's best for him," Ahlschlager said.
Brewer plans to visit Oklahoma this weekend, and his coach said the back probably will pick OU or Nebraska.
In the end, Brewer stayed home led the Sooners in rushing in 1990 and ’92. By then, Oklahoma was in ruins. Switzer resigned under pressure in June ’89. Gary Gibbs replaced him and tried to navigate through probation. In six years, he never fared better than 9-3.
Nebraska lost just once (1990) to Oklahoma the rest of the Big Eight era.
Shields earned first-team all-conference his last three years. In 1992, he won the Outland Trophy and the Huskers won in Norman, 33-9.
Switzer was gone. Osborne was just hitting his stride.
In the 90s, Nebraska raided Oklahoma for Mike Minter (another Lawton High product who was All-Big 12 in ’96), Ben Rutz, Josh Heskew (All-Big 12 center in ’98), Jason Lohr (starter at defensive tackle in ’00), Jon Rutherford (starter at right guard in ’01) and Josh Brown (All-Big 12 kicker in ’02).
None were as great as Will Shields, who may have worn crimson and cream if only he’d been born a year earlier.