McKewon: As Huskers shuffle through skill players on offense, help is on the way

Nebraska football recruit William Nixon out of Midway High School in Waco, Texas, runs after a catch against Temple.

LINCOLN — In the second game of his senior season, Nebraska commit Will Nixon was approached by Waco (Texas) Midway High School coaches with a plan.

Switch from wide receiver, the position for which NU recruited him, to running back. Nixon, the team’s best player, would get the ball more. It helped the team — Nixon has rushed for 787 yards and 13 touchdowns in six games — and it came with a side benefit for Nixon.

“You’ve got to be a lot more tough,” Nixon said. “That gets you ready for college, and I want to be the toughest receiver going for the ball, so it helps.”

The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Nixon sees what Nebraska’s offense is doing with freshman Wan’Dale Robinson, too.

“He’s been all over the place,” Nixon said. “It gives confidence to me that Nebraska can use a guy of his abilities. I feel like I have those. He’s a great player, and I love watching him play. I know they’re going to develop me as a receiver, but if they need me in the backfield, then that’s where they need me, too.”

Nixon is one of four offensive skill players committed for the 2020 recruiting class. All four — Nixon, Marvin Scott III, Sevion Morrison and Zavier Betts — are enjoying big senior seasons. And based on the 2019 inconsistencies of NU’s skill players not named Robinson or JD Spielman, the 2020 group, expected to grow by one or two players before the December signing period, should have a particular interest in immediate contributions.

“They told me to be ready right away,” said Nixon, who won’t arrive until next summer because he arrived late into Waco’s school district. Will’s dad, Jeff, started an assistant coaching job at Baylor in 2017. He’s now the co-offensive coordinator for the undefeated Bears and the father of a son who’s not interested in the hometown team.

“I mean, I talk to my dad every day, but I’m really focused on Nebraska,” said Nixon, who is still contacted with some frequency by Purdue and Virginia Tech. Other schools attempting to nose into a Nebraska commit’s life is part of the business.

Though the highest rated of the skill players — Betts — plays at Bellevue West, it tends to be a part of Nebraska’s reality, recruiting backs and receivers away from schools closer to the prospects.

Scott, from Port Orange (Fla.) Spruce Creek High School, turned down several ACC schools and interest from Alabama, among other programs. The 5-9, 195-pound champion weightlifter has been playing varsity football since he was in eighth grade and, according to the latest stats available, is averaging more than 8 yards per carry this season.

Morrison, from Tulsa (Okla.) Edison Prep, has already rewritten his school’s record books for rushing yards and already topped 1,000 yards in six games. He also spurned Arkansas and Missouri, among others, to pick Nebraska. He still hears from Arkansas, Baylor and Texas, but he’s shut down his recruiting as he tries to help Edison win a state title. He’s been the subject of multiple stories in recent weeks.

“I try not to get caught up in the attention, because it’s always better to stay in reality,” Morrison said. “But it is good attention for the team, so that’s a positive thing about it. Last year, it was a one-man show — we knew who was getting the ball — but this year, I have a lot of weapons with me, so if I’m not getting it, there’s a lot of guys who can make something happen.”

Betts has 32 catches for 702 yards and 13 touchdowns in seven games — that’s 21.9 yards per reception and a touchdown on two of every five catches — solidifying his status as a high four-star recruit and top-100 prospect. The 6-2, 190-pound Betts’ camp performances have generally been as impressive as his work in games, and his speed and size represents a missing piece in Nebraska’s offense, which routinely trots out slot receivers to the outside X spot previously occupied by Stanley Morgan, now in the NFL.

Nixon, who also has 19 catches this season, got to know Betts well on his recent official visit to NU.

“He loves to express himself,” Nixon said. “It’ll be a good friendship.”

More recruiting odds and ends:

» NU remains in the market for more receivers. Kilgore (Texas) Junior College wideout Omar Manning — 35 catches for 727 yards and six touchdowns through seven games — is a top target. The 6-4, 220-pound Manning, who matriculated to Kilgore after leaving TCU, officially visited Nebraska during the summer. It’s the only official visit he’s taken and he has talked little with the media since then. He’s the No. 3 juco prospect, according to 247Sports composite service.

» Nebraska hosted Georgia commit Justin Robinson, a 6-4, 200-pound receiver who is McDonough (Ga.) Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy teammates with recent Husker defensive line commit Marquis Black. Robinson has 28 catches for 455 yards and eight touchdowns this season. Another target, Los Angeles-area receiver LV Bunkley-Shelton, had his official visit postponed, according to reports, because of canceled flights. Bunkley-Shelton plays at powerhouse Serra High School.

» As of Wednesday, NU’s recruiting class is ranked 29th (247Sports composite), 33rd (Rivals) and 32nd (ESPN) nationally and seventh (247), seventh (Rivals) and eighth (ESPN) in the Big Ten. The Huskers also have fewer commits than all but three Big Ten teams. According to 247Sports and Rivals, Nebraska has the fourth-highest per-recruit average ranking behind Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.

How big might Nebraska’s class get? The Huskers have 16 scholarship seniors — one of them, Christian Gaylord, could apply for a sixth season of eligibility — plus one open scholarship that has yet to be apportioned to a walk-on. That’s 17 slots.

Two more could open if redshirt freshmen Andre Hunt and Katerian Legrone — indefinitely suspended by NU — do not return to the program. That’d be 19 before any attrition, common in every college football program, happens after the season. Big Ten rules allow teams to oversign their scholarships by three, so a class size between 20 and 25 seems likely.

Coach Scott Frost’s first class included 23 enrollees, including cornerback Will Jackson, who lasted a few months, and transfers Noah Vedral, Breon Dixon, Vaha Vainuku and Tre Neal. His second class included 27 enrollees and transfers Kanawai Noa, Darrion Daniels and Travis Vokolek.

» With Grant Tagge’s pledge Wednesday (he’s a distant relative of Jerry Tagge), NU’s 2020 walk-on class sits at nine. NU technically has eight walk-on seniors, that’s not including Jeramiah Stovall, who was put on scholarship for this semester.

» Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos is bullish about the “human equation” deficit that exists at NU in terms of top-end talent among starters and backups. If one is inclined to agree, the depleted 2017 recruiting class is a place to start.

Four of the top five signees in that class are gone. Eight of the 18 enrollees are, as well. Of the eight who left, Avery Roberts, now at Oregon State, is having the best season with 30 tackles (four for loss) this season. Tyjon Lindsey (12 catches, 127 yards, two touchdowns) is also at Oregon State. Tristan Gebbia is a backup quarterback at OSU; Ben Miles is a fullback for his dad, Les, at Kansas; Andrew Ward has 13 tackles as a Central Michigan linebacker; Willie Hampton and Guy Thomas are in junior college and Keyshawn Johnson has left the sport. While cornerback Elijah Blades failed to academically qualify for Nebraska out of high school, he has surfaced at Texas A&M as a starter.

Of the remaining 10 signees from the 2017 class, two — Brenden Jaimes and Austin Allen — are starters and two more — Deontre Thomas and Damion Daniels — have played with regularity this season. Broc Bando played the second half of the Minnesota game at guard.

In the 2018 class, six signees, including Hunt and Legrone, have either left the program or are not participating with it. However, that class has already produced six starters, including kicker Barret Pickering, out all of this season with an undisclosed leg injury.

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