Recruiting: Huskers have history signing scholarship kickers, but results are mixed

Drew Brown was the last scholarship kicker to sign with Nebraska, and he's made more than 75 percent of his field goals. 

There was a popular reaction among Husker fans to Tuesday night’s commitment from kicker Barret Pickering.

Why would Nebraska — which will likely have a small signing class of about 18 recruits — spend a scholarship on a kicker? Why wouldn’t the coaches use that spot on a “more valuable” position like cornerback, defensive end or offensive tackle?

Well, for one thing, Pickering is good. Kohl’s Kicking ranks him as the nation’s No. 2 kicker. “(Nebraska) told me they wanted the best and they want this class to be one of the best classes they’ve ever had,” Pickering told The World-Herald. “It was just really humbling to hear that.”

Nebraska also has a need. As World-Herald staff writer Sam McKewon noted in his reaction to Pickering’s commitment, NU loses Drew Brown after the 2017 season, and the only other place kicker on the roster is preferred walk-on Cole Frahm, who won’t enroll until this summer. “An iffy kicker is too risky a thing in a 2018 season chock full of tough games,” McKewon wrote.

And within the last couple decades, Nebraska has regularly brought kickers in on scholarship, though the results are mixed (as is the case with recruits at every position). Nebraska has had 13 players attempt at least one field goal since the 1996 season — eight of them began their careers on scholarship.

Among the positives is current starter Drew Brown. He was a member of the 2014 recruiting class and has connected on 75.8 percent (47 of 62) of his field goal attempts. Kris Brown and Josh Brown, who both went on to long NFL careers, also began their Nebraska careers on scholarship.

But the practice hasn’t always worked out.

Sandro DeAngelis was signed to a scholarship in 2001 but attempted only 15 field goals in his career, making seven of them. David Dyches was another scholarship kicker coming out of high school, but he lost the job his second year in Lincoln and eventually transferred. So too did Jordan Congdon, a high school All-American who made 24 of 30 field goals in two seasons but left Nebraska for family reasons.

Others like Mauro Bondi and Adi Kunalic were signed to scholarships but combined to attempt three field goals in their careers. Both were kickoff specialists, though, during their time in Lincoln.

And a point for the critics is Nebraska’s recent success with walk-on kickers. Both Brett Maher and Alex Henery joined the Huskers as walk-ons before eventually earning scholarships. They had to prove themselves before they got their tuition paid for, though.

Maher made 19 of 23 field goals while also handling punting duties in 2011, his final season as a walk-on. The next year, he made 20 of 27 field goals while being named the Big Ten co-kicker of the year. After several solid years in Canada, Maher is now getting another chance in the NFL.

Henery made all but three of his 29 field goal attempts as a Husker walk-on. He went on scholarship before his junior season and eventually became a first-team All-American and NFL draft pick.

It’s far too early to know what level of success Pickering will have with the Huskers. But what is certain is the Nebraska coaches felt he was worthy of a scholarship.

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