With the regular season over Nebraska’s coaching staff hit the road hard recruiting with junior colleges as a primary focus. Results have been positive.
Following official visits for the Iowa game, DT Terrell Clinkscales (6-4/315) of Dodge City (KS) CC and CB Byerson Cockrell (6-2/185) of East Mississippi CC both joined NU’s class.
The nation’s No. 1-ranked junior college DT, Clinkscales should compete for playing time right away. He turned down 30-plus offers, including Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State and Oregon, to join Bo Pelini’s program. NU’s history with defensive linemen played a part in his decision.
“It was a big factor,” Clinkscales told HuskerOnline.com. “I feel like they develop great d-linemen. Plus with Coach Rick (Kaczenski) and the way he coaches those guys up I know he can get me where I need to be.”
Cockrell pledged shortly before his team won the JUCO national championship. He talked with HuskersIllustrated.com about the opportunity for playing time next fall.
“I really liked the game and the facilities because I wasn’t expecting that, because I’m not from here,” he said. “Most importantly I could have a lot of playing time… I was talking to the coaches today about the coverages, drills they do. I feel like that’s something I can do.”
Defensive end Joe Keels (6-4/280) of Highland (KS) CC remained committed to Wisconsin after visiting NU in November, but the Huskers continued to pursue him. Clinkscales also got in Keels’ ear, and on Dec. 10 Keels flipped from Wisconsin to Nebraska.
This is a big win for the Huskers not only because Keels provides immediate depth on the defensive line, but also because they effectively stole him from the division rival Badgers. I expect Keels and Clinkscales to compete for playing time immediately in 2014.
NU also added another JUCO pledge in November with receiver Robert Lockhart (6-1/185) of Hinds (MS) CC. The Huskers pursued Lockhart out of high school, before he signed with Virginia Tech. He never made it to Blacksburg, though, instead becoming a student at Miami before transferring to Hinds.
NU beat out Ole Miss for Lockhart’s commitment this time. He will have two years of eligibility and a redshirt season remaining at Nebraska.
It wasn’t all JUCO guys, though. High school defensive end Darius Slade (6-5/237) of Montclair, NJ, has long been leaning to Michigan St., but recent in-home visits with Nebraska’s staff have him thinking hard about the Huskers. He’s also considering Penn State, but this seems like a two-school race. The Spartans’ recent Big Ten championship plays in their favor; however Slade likes how NU uses Randy Gregory.
I thought that this one might come down to the impression NU’s coaches made on Slade’s parents on a Dec. 11 in-home visit, however Slade announced that morning that he would make his commitment known at a ceremony that day at his school. With Pelini and defensive coordinator John Papuchis set to visit that evening, things looked positive.
In the end, it was his talks with the head coach that swayed Slade to NU.
“From the outside looking in, most people think coach Bo is not a great guy or not a great coach, but when you get a chance to meet him and talk to the players, they all have great things to say about him,” Slade told HuskersIllustrated.com. “He’s a great coach. He cares about his players and has their back 100 percent…”
In addition, LB Jaevon Walton (6-0/236) of New Orleans chose NU over Missouri and others. Walton is a bit “under-the-radar”, but NU has had success with players like him recently. Players such as Ameer Abdullah, Cethan Carter and Maliek Collins were all ranked and recruited very similarly to Walton. Whether Pelini’s staff has hit the jackpot again remains to be seen, but Walton looks the part and shows up well on film while playing for powerhouse Edna Karr HS in New Orleans.
During the last official visit weekend (Dec. 14) before the dead period in recruiting begins, the NU coaches brought multiple prospects to Lincoln.
Running back Brandon Powell (5-9//167) of Deerfield Beach, FL, is someone the Huskers have been recruiting since the summer. Initially committed to Tennessee, Powell flipped to Miami in August but has continued taking visits.
“With Nebraska, they’ve been on me ever since I first committed to Tennessee a long time ago and since I’ve committed to Miami they still haven’t given up on me,” he told HuskerOnline.com. “They’re still coming after me hard and that’s why I have a lot of interest in Nebraska right now.”
Word from recruiting experts is that Nebraska has jumped to the top of Powell’s list.
Another player NU has long coveted is athlete Kalen Ballage (6-2/216) of Falcon, CO. Ballage can play a number of positions after starring at running back in high school. With his size and 4.37-second speed in the 40-yard dash, he’s a top-250 prospect.
Just days before his visit, Ballage committed to Arizona St. Washington is also in play with new head coach Chris Peterson from Boise State, and NU should stay in it to the end with Ron Brown as his lead recruiter. This could come down to Signing Day.
Receiver Erik Lauderdale (6-2/200) of Saddleback CC in Mission Viejo, CA, was the third official visitor. He’s also considering Oregon, Florida, Tennessee and Arizona State. The Ducks have a pretty solid lead for his pledge, especially with QB Marcus Mariota coming back for another season. A visit gives NU a chance, but they’ll have to knock it out of the park to sway him – especially with a visit to Oregon yet to come.
Two late additions to the weekend were quarterback/athlete Coltin Gerhart (6-1/216) of Murrieta, CA, and JUCO DB Kweishi Brown (5-11/180) of Grossmont (CA) CC.
Brown has Arizona State at the top of his list and is also considering West Virginia and Washington. He was originally committed to Arkansas, but decided to reopen his recruitment mid-fall. Brown is more of a true cover cornerback than the other JUCOs the Huskers are pursuing. He will graduate in May with two years of eligibility remaining plus a redshirt year if needed.
Gerhart is committed to Arizona State as a safety, but Nebraska offered him as a quarterback. He is the brother of Minnesota Vikings running back Toby Gerhart and current Arizona State offensive lineman Garth Gerhart.
Watching highlights from his senior season, Gerhart shows good pocket presence, above-average arm strength, fairly good touch, and good speed. He’s not “Taylor Martinez fast”, but then only about 1-percent of athletes have that type of explosiveness. Gerhart looks to be faster than the QBs currently on NU’s roster, and he runs an offense similar to what Tim Beck calls in Lincoln. Stealing him from ASU would be a solid coup. Oklahoma, BYU and Duke have also offered him.
Another factor in Gerhart’s recruitment is that he literally grew up in the same neighborhood as Taylor and Drake Martinez, and his father coached Taylor Martinez in high school for two years. While that won’t be a deciding factor, the relationship will allow for a predetermined level of trust during his visit.
Change in Plans
Nebraska is also heavily involved JUCO defensive back Josh Keys (6-2/180) of Mississippi Gulf Coast CC, who visited during the Michigan State game. As the weekend began, NU was considered the leader for Keys’ pledge.
NU had been his only official visit, and the recent change in visit plans by fellow JUCO DB Danzel McDaniel (6-2/205) of Dodge City (KS) CC seemed to indicate that Keys would commit. Then Keys unexpectedly took an official visit to Southern Miss. for the weekend, and then even more inexplicably committed to Texas Tech!
Word among recruiting experts indicates that Keys’ decision could be good news for NU. The extreme change in direction might mean that the Huskers feel confident about other targets.
Not all Roses
Defensive back Chance Waz (5-11/173), who we mentioned last time might flip from Colorado to Nebraska, did indeed flip after the Iowa game. He stayed committed to NU for a full two weeks, but decommitted after receiving an offer from Baylor who he mentioned as his “dream school.” It’s just a matter of time before he commits to the Bears.