California cornerback picks NU, softens blow of 2 late losses

Lamar Jackson played quarterback as a sophomore and junior for his high school outside Sacramento, California, before moving to defensive back as a senior. He’ll start his Nebraska career as a cornerback.

LINCOLN — Nebraska’s 2016 recruiting class added a key player Tuesday.

Lamar Jackson, a highly touted defensive back from California, announced in an online video that he’d sign with the Huskers on Wednesday, ending what had been an extensive pursuit by the NU staff.

Jackson’s stock skyrocketed last spring, well before the play-making quarterback had taken the field at the position most colleges envisioned for him. But defensive backs coach Brian Stewart and the rest of the Nebraska coaches were right there from the start, showing up in Elk Grove, California, just outside of Sacramento, and making a case for the Huskers.

The effort paid off. Jackson ended his announcement video, produced by Bleacher Report and released Tuesday, by placing an NU cap on his head.

“Coach Stewart, I don’t know how many air miles he put on his credit card, but he’s been here a lot,” Franklin coach Mike Johnson said Tuesday. “He’s been here a long time recruiting him. That relationship had a lot to do with Lamar’s decision.”

It was welcomed news for Nebraska, which lost out on two other key targets during the final few days of the 2016 cycle. Receiver Desmond Fitzpatrick (Louisville) and athlete Isaiah Simmons (Clemson) were high-priority targets for NU — players who, like Jackson, had received considerable attention from Husker coaches.

Nebraska did receive a pledge Tuesday from tight end David Engelhaupt of Norfolk Catholic, who was offered Monday night. He announced his decision on Twitter just after 11 a.m.

Jackson’s video hit the Web an hour later.

NU coach Mike Riley tweeted this soon after: “Do you #Huskers fans have a smile on your faces? I know I do! Huge day for the future of Nebraska Football!”

Jackson is rated as a four-star recruit by three of the four recruiting services. ESPN gave him three stars and slotted him as the nation’s 17th-best safety. But he is Rivals’ No. 1 safety, and he’s No. 7 at the position according to Scout. In 247Sports’ composite rankings, he’s the 81st-best prospect in the country. He’s expected to start his career at cornerback for NU.

“He’s just super athletic,” Johnson said. “He could shut down half the field — and he did. There weren’t many coaches that tested him this year. I think that got boring for him, so we used him some as a Wildcat quarterback — he was very explosive.”

Jackson didn’t actually play defense until his senior year, Johnson said.

He was sidelined as a freshman to get his academics in order, the coach said. Jackson then took over as the team’s starting quarterback as a sophomore and junior.

Boise State offered him a scholarship soon after the 2014 season. Everyone else jumped on board, too.

And since most college coaches were projecting Jackson as a defensive back, he started playing a new position, Johnson said.

“A lot of schools got on him late,” Johnson said.

But Jackson visited Nebraska for its 39-38 upset win over Michigan State. He stopped by an NU bowl game practice in the Bay Area. He made up his mind Tuesday.

“I remember him telling me, ‘Coach, Nebraska is football. They live and die with it,’ ” Johnson said.

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