LINCOLN — On signing day 2011, there was no reason for Bo Pelini to think anything would change.
The Husker coach had just signed his highest-ranked recruiting class, and most of it came from familiar, fertile ground — Texas.
NU signed six Lone Star State prospects, and three were top-100 prospects nationally according to the 247Sports composite. Charles Jackson was No. 77. Jamal Turner was No. 65. And the gem of the class — the guy who remains NU's highest-rated recruit of the Big Ten era — was Aaron Green at No. 32.
Pelini rejected any idea that moving to the Big Ten would alter Nebraska’s efforts in Texas.
“It really didn’t even come up much because I think the kids have been excited about playing in the Big Ten and the things that lie in store for our program in the future,” Pelini said at the time.
Pelini signed 27 players from Texas in his first four classes (2008 through 2011).
In the eight classes since (including 2019) NU has signed 17, and the Huskers didn't add any in 2016. Leaving the Big 12 had a big effect on Nebraska’s recruiting in Texas.
Sign up for Big Red Today news alerts
Get a daily Husker news roundup, recruiting updates and breaking news in your inbox.
The same was true for Missouri — which built its best teams on Texans — when it left for the SEC. Interest from those prospects plummeted the minute neither program could guarantee they'd play many games in their home state.
Which is why the number of Nebraska offers going out in Texas over the last two weeks is notable. So is Scott Frost’s presence in Dallas on Wednesday. He may have been there to visit 2019 Dallas South Oak Cliff pass rusher Steven Parker, but Frost also made the rounds to several high schools in the area.
According to the 247Sports database, Nebraska has made 37 offers in Texas for the 2020 class. That's more than any other state. The Huskers are perhaps attempting their most aggressive reach into Texas since Pelini was head coach.
“It’s very strategic,” NU offensive line coach Greg Austin said this week. Austin is a Texan. He was part of Frank Solich’s last recruiting class in 2003. Six Texans signed that year. Austin liked everything about Nebraska when he signed. He believes it’s “O-Line U,” but he also liked the idea of playing at least one game in his home state each year.
Austin played seven times in Texas from 2003-06, including three bowl games. The biggest win of the Bill Callahan era, Texas A&M in 2006, was an hour from Austin’s stomping grounds in Cypress.
Recent Husker Joshua Kalu, another Texan, never played in his home state. Neither did Drew Brown. So that’s one obstacle.
Another was Texas A&M’s entry into the SEC. For one thing, it made A&M a recruiting juggernaut. Eight of the top 25 prospects in the state, according to 247Sports, have signed with the Aggies' 2019 class.
It also further opened Texas to the SEC West. As a result, just six of the state’s top 100 prospects signed with Big Ten teams, though it’ll be seven if Parker picks Nebraska over Kansas.
For five years, NU made Texas its recruiting backbone, signing seven in 2007, nine in 2008, eight in 2009, and five each in 2010 and 2011. The keystone player, of course, was Rex Burkhead, the Friday Night Lights hero from Plano. Then, in 2012, Nebraska signed Tommy Armstrong, who’d become a four-year starting quarterback. NU only signed two Texans that year, though. Since then:
Out of that bunch, four became regular starters — Kalu, Brown, Devine Ozigbo and Brenden Jaimes. Maurice Washington — who grew up in California but spent his senior season in Texas — will soon join that group. Six either never showed up or transferred without making much of an impact — Dimarya Mixon, Dwayne Johnson, Jordan Stevenson, Trai Mosley, Larenzo Stewart, Deiontae Watts.
Missouri, leaving the Big 12 for the SEC one year after Nebraska left for the Big Ten, experienced similar dips.
The Tigers signed 12 Texans in 2008, seven in 2009, nine each in 2010 and 2011, and six in 2012. Big numbers. But from 2013-15 — Gary Pinkel’s last three recruiting classes before he retired — Missouri signed just six Texans combined. New head coach Barry Odom signed just two in 2016.
Then Missouri started recruiting the state hard once again. Five in 2017, 10 in 2018 and four so far this year. Hiring Brick Haley — formerly a defensive line coach at LSU and Texas — had something to do with it.
At Colorado — which left the Big 12 for the Pac-12 in 2011 — the Buffaloes signed just eight Texans combined from 2013-16. Then Mike MacIntyre hired receivers coach Darrin Chiaverini, who had previously coached at Texas Tech. CU signed eight Texans in 2017 and five in 2018. One of those Texans, Laviska Shenault, keyed the Buffaloes’ win over Nebraska last season.
Austin is that Husker alum who also knows Texas. Houston, specifically. That’s his area. Ryan Held and Troy Walters — who went to high school in College Station — handle Dallas.
The goal is simple: Offer wisely and get them to visit. The Huskers can win a recruiting battle, Austin said, once prospects see NU’s campus and sense the closeness of Frost’s staff.
“That’s what happened with Brant Banks,” Austin said, referring to NU’s lone Texas signee so far.
It’s worth making the effort, even as Nebraska puts greater emphasis on SEC country and winning more in the 500-mile radius.