Norfolk Catholic’s Jeff Bellar passed along the news to Omaha North’s Larry Martin during a casual conversation between football coaches Monday morning. One of Bellar’s junior defensive linemen, Ethan Piper, had received a scholarship offer from Iowa over the weekend.
The first thought from Martin, whose team captured the Class A state title last month, was that it should have come from another school. After watching Scott Frost’s press conference Sunday, he believes the days of Nebraska being out-recruited on its own turf are numbered.
“I said to Jeff, I said, ‘Hopefully down the road these are going to be the types of kids that we know about already in our state,’ ” Martin said. “I think Scott and his staff will work diligently to make sure that we’re covering every area of the state. We can’t miss on the Nebraska kids, you know? We gotta have them in our program. They gotta be the foundation, like Scott said. The program can’t lose focus of who we’re playing for.”
Martin wasn’t the only one paying attention when the Huskers’ new coach said the Big Red will aim to restore the walk-on program to what it was in the 1990s. Prep players and coaches from around the state perked up at the message that NU would do more to keep its top talent close.
“Those things have been said by each of the last few staffs,” Bellevue West coach Michael Huffman said. “I think actions speak louder than words.”
Nebraska’s two in-state commits for the 2018 class told The World-Herald they like the big-picture idea of diving deeper into the local prospect pool. On an individual level, though, they and the new coaches have some get-to-know-you work to do.
York defensive lineman Masry Mapieu said he’s just begun to talk with new defensive line coach Mike Dawson and has yet to hear much from the incoming staff. Beatrice tight end Cameron Jurgens — who doesn’t yet know who would be his position coach at NU — spoke with Frost on the phone Sunday and met him face to face in Lincoln on Monday.
“His message was mainly just that I’m an in-state kid that we gotta have there,” said Jurgens, who took an official visit to LSU late last month and has been committed to Nebraska since August 2015. “Something he wants is to make sure he gets the best in-state kids. That’s what he sees me as.
“It’s definitely different. I’ve got to meet the new staff and wait and see what I think of them. I’ve been committed for such a long time, got to know all the guys. It’s going to be weird going there and seeing all new faces. But it’s just a part of college football now.”
Nebraskans Garrett Nelson (linebacker from Scottsbluff) and Garrett Snodgrass (athlete from York) are the team’s only known 2019 pledges. Both said they were more committed to the school than to individual coaches and remain solid in their choices.
Snodgrass said his father, York coach Glen Snodgrass, sat in with Frost and other Oregon coaches when they made the national title game after the 2014 season. Nelson is still shaking his head because his mother predicted he would play for Frost years before he started getting recruiting attention. So it’s not a total restart for either standout.
“He wants to play for Nebraska,” Nelson said. “I would take 100,000 of those guys over the guy that’s like, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I want to play for Nebraska but I’m just kind of coming here.’ It’s really exciting to see all these in-state Nebraska kids getting excited again that they’re going to be a Cornhusker and they’ve wanted to be their whole life. I’m the same way. I’ve gotten that opportunity and some haven’t yet, and I’m happy for them that they will.”
Said Garrett Snodgrass: “There’s a lot of great athletes in this state. They did a great job of recruiting Nebraska kids before and I’m glad to know it’s still going to be an emphasis with Coach Frost.”
Omaha Burke junior Nick Henrich was the first in-state player to receive a 2019 Nebraska offer when the Huskers reached out last June. But Iowa, Iowa State and Minnesota were among those who beat them to the standout linebacker. Henrich said “we’ll see” about whether the new staff might change his thinking about the local team that was slow to come around.
Burke teammate and junior tight end Chris Hickman got his Nebraska offer in September and said he’d be evaluating the coaches as much as they will him.
“I think it’s great because a lot of players here that should be getting more looks don’t really,” Henrich said. “I think it’s great Coach Frost is trying to do that. It’s a dream come true for a lot of guys who grew up watching Nebraska.”
Huffman said the Huskers have already lost too many standout locals — Stanford senior defensive tackle Harrison Phillips (Millard West) and Iowa sophomore tight end Noah Fant (Omaha South) come to mind — and hopes the talent drain stops under a staff dotted with former Huskers who know what impassioned players can do.
“There’s too many kids from this state right now playing at other schools,” Frost said. “We are going to do everything we can to make sure that those kids are here.”
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Erik Chinander, defensive coordinator
Chinander has spent the past two seasons as the defensive coordinator at UCF. A 2016 Broyles Award nominee as the nation’s top assistant, Chinander comes to Lincoln after leading a dramatic defensive turnaround. His UCF defense allowed 12.5 fewer points in 2017 than it did in the season before his arrival. Chinander’s defense also ranked fourth nationally in takeaways in 2017. Chinander spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons as the outside linebackers coach at Oregon, after serving on the Philadelphia Eagles defensive staff in 2013. Chinander has been on the staff of one FCS and two FBS teams that have played in a national championship game.
Troy Walters, offensive coordinator / wide receivers coach
Troy Walters served as Scott Frost’s offensive coordinator at Central Florida the past two seasons. One of the nation’s top assistant coaches, the 2017 Broyles Award Finalist has six years of Power Five experience in his nine years as a collegiate assistant.
Greg Austin, offensive line coach
A former Nebraska offensive lineman, Austin brings eight years of coaching experience to the Husker staff. Austin has spent a total of five seasons working on offensive staffs with Frost, including the past two seasons as UCF’s offensive line coach. Austin helped the UCF offensive line rank among the national leaders in fewest sacks allowed in 2017, while heading into the bowl season ranked first in the nation in scoring and fifth in total offense. Austin also has three seasons of NFL coaching experience, working on Chip Kelly’s Eagles staff from 2013 to 2015. Austin made 18 career starts as an offensive guard at Nebraska and was an honorable-mention All-Big 12 pick in 2006.
Jovan Dewitt, outside linebackers/special teams coach
Dewitt brings a wealth of experience to the Nebraska staff, with 18 overall years of coaching experience, including nine seasons as a defensive coordinator and four years as a special teams coordinator. Dewitt spent the past two seasons as the associate head coach at Central Florida, where he worked with the linebackers and served as special teams coordinator. In 2017, Dewitt’s linebackers helped UCF rank third in the AAC in scoring defense and pass efficiency defense. Dewitt has previous college FBS experience at Army and Florida Atlantic and worked on the staff at Northern Iowa from 2009 to 2011.
Mario Verduzco, quarterbacks coach
Verduzco brings 41 years of coaching experience to the Nebraska staff, including serving as both a junior college and high school head coach. Verduzco served as the UCF quarterbacks coach the past two seasons and directed the development of McKenzie Milton, who was one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in 2017. Milton completed better than 69 percent of his passes this season, while throwing for 3,795 yards and a school-record 35 touchdowns. Verduzco was Missouri State’s offensive coordinator in 2015, after a 14-year stint with Northern Iowa, working on the same staff as Frost for two seasons. Verduzco spent five seasons at Rutgers from 1996 to 2000, and prior to that coached for 19 seasons at various levels in his home state of California.
Mike Dawson, defensive line coach
Dawson brings 19 years of coaching experience to Nebraska, including the past two seasons on the UCF staff and three years of experience in the National Football League. At UCF, Dawson’s defensive line ranked fourth in the AAC in rushing defense in 2017 and two of his three starting defensive linemen earned all-conference honors. Dawson spent three seasons on Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles staff from 2013 to 2015, working with the defensive line. Dawson also has college coaching stops at several schools, including Boston College, Akron, New Hampshire, Pittsburgh and Maine.
Ryan Held, running backs coach
Held returns to his alma mater with 17 years of college coaching experience, including 12 seasons as a head coach. On Frost’s staff at UCF the past two seasons, Held has coached the running backs as the Knights led the nation in scoring offense in 2017, while ranking fifth in total offense. Held previously made a name in the coaching community as a successful junior college, Division II and NAIA head coach. Held served as a head coach at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, Highland (Kan.) CC, Southwestern Oklahoma State, Oklahoma Panhandle State and Peru State. Held was a part of two national championship teams in 1994 and 1995 as a walk-on receiver for the Huskers, and began his college coaching career as a graduate assistant on Tennessee’s 1998 national championship team.
Travis Fisher, defensive backs coach
A former NFL cornerback, Fisher joins Frost’s staff after working on the UCF defensive staff for the past two seasons. Fisher’s defensive backs were a big reason why the Knights recorded 55 takeaways and scored eight defensive touchdowns over the past two seasons. In 2017, UCF ranked fifth nationally with 18 interceptions. Fisher had two defensive backs earn first-team All-AAC honors and UCF ranked in the top 20 nationally in interceptions. A former Knight cornerback, Fisher was selected in the second round of the 2002 Draft by the St. Louis Rams and played eight seasons in the NFL. He began his coaching career at UCF in 2013, spent one season at Southeast Missouri State and has been in Orlando the past three seasons.
Sean Beckton, tight ends coach
Sean Beckton will be a first-year Husker assistant in 2018 after previously spending his entire coaching career in Florida. A 22-year coaching veteran, Beckton spent 19 seasons coaching at Central Florida, his alma mater, including serving as the Knights’ tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator under Scott Frost the past two seasons.
Zach Duval, strength and conditioning coach
Zach Duval previously worked as a Husker student assistant (1994), graduate assistant (1995-96) and assistant football strength coach (1997-2002 and 2008). Duval spent the past two seasons as the director of sports performance for football at Central Florida, where he also oversaw the school’s entire sports performance department.