ASHLAND, Neb. — Brett Kitrell stands just outside the weight room of Ashland-Greenwood High School, talking about a young life spent in sports, particularly football. His dad, Barry, played fullback at Nebraska, so Brett and his three brothers have grown up loving the game. One of them, Bo Kitrell, is at Nebraska now as a walk-on fullback.
Brett, one of the best-built in-state line prospects in years, is angling for a scholarship offer from Dad’s alma mater. Brett didn’t play organized football until sixth grade, but he’d played years of tackle football with his brothers to prepare.
As music blares from the weight room, Brett points to a house about 200 yards away.
“See that one with the red car in the driveway?” Brett says. “That’s my house. Big yard. That’s kind of the reason my parents bought that house — it’s got a huge yard. Right across the street from the track, too. We’d always go run there. Pretty good to be able to walk to the weight room.”
In the summer of 2015, Brett made big lifting gains. His numbers are posted on the wall inside the weight room — north of 400 on the squat and north of 300 on the bench press.
Kitrell entered his junior year feeling explosive and strong.
“Like a force on the field,” Kitrell said.
Said Ashland-Greenwood coach Ryan Thompson: “He kind of dominated what he was doing. He definitely made his presence felt those first six quarters.”
Kitrell tore the ACL in his right knee in the Bluejays’ second game against Syracuse. He missed the rest of his season. And thus, a guy who’s strong and quick at 6-foot-4, 280 pounds — not an ounce of bad weight, a frame cut right out of the 1980s — does not yet have a Nebraska offer. He has a purplish scar on his right knee.
Thompson said Kitrell is as unselfish as they come, and picked up some helpful leadership traits as Ashland-Greenwood finished its season. But junior year is when Kitrell, had he continued his strong play, would have racked up a glut of offers, so it was tough on him to miss it. If he hadn’t been hurt, I suspect he’d have a Nebraska offer by now and already be committed to join his former Bluejay teammate, defensive end Ben Stille.
After he competes in the state track meet this weekend, he’ll try to earn an offer at Nebraska’s June 13 big man camp. He’ll work out that day for defensive line coach John Parrella and offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh. He could play on either side of the ball.
Minnesota wants Kitrell for offense. The Gophers have already offered, as have Ohio, Air Force, South Dakota State and South Dakota, among others.
The Gophers “liked my motor and my get-off and my ability to put people in the dirt,” Kitrell said. “They like the guys who go straightforward and take people one-on-one.”
Kitrell said he won most of his one-on-one battles at the Kansas City Rivals camp. He worked as a defensive lineman. There were a lot of players at the camp, Kitrell said, so he had to make the most of his repetitions, but he “shook off the rust” in preparation for more summer camps. In addition to Nebraska, Kitrell will look at Kansas State and potentially Iowa State, which has increased its presence in the state.
Player and coach believe he’s made a strong and quick recovery from the ACL tear. Thompson saw how devastated Kitrell was after the injury, so he asked a player whom he’d worked with at the 2014 Shrine Bowl to give Kitrell a call.
Stanford lineman Harrison Phillips, who played at Millard West, just happened to be going through his own rehab of a knee injury last season. He redshirted for the Cardinal.
“It was a good message, and it helped,” Thompson said of Phillips’ phone call. “He told him to persevere, keep working hard, that he’d get noticed.”
Kitrell said he’s appreciated the support of Stille, who is headed to Lincoln this summer. Stille’s new defensive line coach, Parrella, also has been a treat for Kitrell to talk to over several months. Parrella’s first year at Nebraska was Barry Kitrell’s senior year.
“He’s going to be great for the program,” Brett said. “He likes to get to the point, but that’s good.”
Ohio key fertile ground
The commitment of offensive tackle Matt Sichterman of Kings Mills, Ohio, gets Nebraska another player from a state more flush with talent than any other in the Big Ten footprint.
NU has to stay aggressive in Ohio. The Huskers signed safety Tony Butler of Cleveland in the 2016 class. Sichterman’s hometown is just outside Cincinnati. That’s a good start. But there are more to get.
According to 247Sports’ composite service, Sichterman is the No. 20 prospect in Ohio, but there are 69 prospects rated three stars or better. There are 15 rated four stars or better. Of the top 15, Ohio State has snagged six. OSU will always be the gold standard in its own state, but the Buckeyes can’t offer — and often don’t offer — too many players within Ohio’s borders.
“In-state, you’ve just gotta be very cautious,” OSU coach Urban Meyer told Cleveland.com. “Because when that offer goes out, you can’t pull it. You’re in it. Out of state, if you offer a guy, and he has a bunch of other offers, then you can just kind of move on. In Ohio, you have to be very careful.”
Because Meyer is judicious, other teams reap the benefits, specifically Kentucky, where former Nebraska graduate assistant Vince Marrow tends to attract a lot of guys from his home state. Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Northwestern hit Ohio hard, as well, and Iowa has traditionally grabbed players from there. Michigan keeps the state at arm’s length, for the most part.
Ohio is a different place than Nebraska, which my wife, an Ohio native, makes clear. But the states share a love for the game, and there’s some good grit in the region, as well. The Huskers have to keep building roads back into Ohio, even if the previous ones have crumbled.
Big Ten and Nebraska-related updates:
» One of Nebraska’s top running back targets, Kylin Hill of Columbus, Mississippi, picked Mississippi State over the Huskers this week. But his announcement, made on Twitter, made it clear he’d keep the recruiting process open. NU is looking hard at five-star USC commit Stephen Carr, who has a little more size than Hill.
» The Big Ten has 21 commits inside the top 250 of the 247Sports composite service ratings: Ohio State has nine, followed by Michigan (three), Iowa (two), Nebraska (two), Penn State (two), Maryland (one), Rutgers (one) and Wisconsin (one). Nine reside in the top 100: Ohio State has six commits, followed by Iowa (one), Maryland (one) and Michigan (one).
» Ohio State and Michigan are unsurprisingly off to great starts, but Iowa (10 commits) and Northwestern (13 commits) are currently ranked in the nation’s top 15 recruiting classes, according to 247Sports’ composite service. That doesn’t mean those two teams will remain in the top 15 — in fact, I doubt it — but top-25 or top-30 classes aren’t out of the question. The Hawkeyes, whose class includes five-star defensive end and Iowa legacy A.J. Espensa, finally have their new indoor facility and football building; and the Wildcats are building their $260 million lakeshore indoor practice palace. Add in the big seasons in 2015, and you have two programs in strong recruiting shape. Nebraska’s “facility advantage” over Iowa is almost non-existent and will get smaller over Northwestern. Keep that in mind.
» As Michigan State comes off a five-year run of relative excellence, pay attention to the kinds of recruiting battles the Spartans find themselves in, and whether they can close on some of their top targets. MSU has eight commits and remains in the hunt for some elite players. But if those players don’t pick Michigan State, being in the hunt wasn’t worth much.
» Really nice start for Rutgers (10 commits) and Maryland (nine), which have new coaches. Among their commits, the Scarlet Knights have six of the top 30 prospects in New Jersey. Maryland has five-star defensive end Josh Kaindoh in the fold, plus one of the best quarterbacks on the East Coast in Kasim Hill.
» Three coaches — Indiana’s Kevin Wilson, Minnesota’s Tracy Claeys and Purdue’s Darrell Hazell — could use some recruiting momentum heading into next season. Right now, none of them has it. Purdue, with just one commit — the son of Purdue great Mike Alstott — really needs to get the motor moving.
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