Rodney Groce can get off the line of scrimmage in a flash. His highlight video is littered with examples of him closing on ball carriers like a blur.
The inside linebacker made his college decision just as quickly after visiting Nebraska last weekend. He wants to be a Husker.
Groce, a 6-foot-1, 230-pounder from Pleasant Grove, Alabama, announced his commitment Friday. The 12th member of Nebraska’s 2020 recruiting class is a consensus three-star prospect with myriad SEC offers who also had heightened interest in Mississippi State and Georgia Tech, among others.
Pleasant Grove coach Darrell LeBeaux has coached multiple high-end SEC players, including ex-Crimson Tide and Washington Redskins defensive tackle Daron Payne. He said Groce might be better than all of them with how he changes the dynamic of a defense.
“It’s easy for him in so many ways,” he told The World-Herald. “He’s just so freakin’ explosive, man.”
Groce added about 30 pounds in the offseason but lost none of the quick-twitch ability that allows him to dunk a basketball or power clean upward of 300 pounds without a sweat. He placed third in the long jump at the state track meet last spring by leaping more than 21 feet.
The football IQ is high, too. He doesn’t play offense but can tell receivers where they should be. LeBeaux spots his defensive coordinator often nodding when Groce is explaining to a defender how to align. When preparation meets athleticism, LeBeaux sees plays like one earlier this season when Groce faced an opposing left tackle who was committed to Georgia Tech.
“First time he lined up on that kid, I don’t think he got out of his stance and Rodney blew up the running back and the quarterback,” LeBeaux said. “Rodney kind of looked over to the sideline like, ‘Y’all serious?’ ”
Coach Scott Frost and defensive coordinator Erik Chinander visited Pleasant Grove in the spring, offering a scholarship only after Groce and his parents assured they were interested despite the SEC attention.
Groce becomes the fifth defensive player to commit to NU’s 2020 class and the first inside linebacker. As of now, the Huskers will have five scholarship players at the position next year.
Their latest pledge turned down multiple offers from ACC and SEC programs to come north. It follows an official visit to Lincoln where Groce’s host was defensive back Cam Taylor-Britt, another Alabaman who was once in a similar situation and also followed a less-traveled path.
“Folks that like football might be shocked, like, ‘Oh, he’s leaving and not going to the SEC,’ ” LeBeaux said. “But folks that understand ball know he’s going to play where he sees fits for him.”