By Sean Stevens
(Falls City native and former staff writer for HuskerIllustrated.com and Rivals.com)
On Jan. 8 head coach Mike Riley introduced offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf, defensive coordinator Mark Banker, offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh, running backs coach Reggie Davis, defensive line coach Hank Hughes, linebackers coach Trent Bray, defensive backs coach Charlton Warren, and special teams coordinator Bruce Read as his new coaching staff. The wide receivers coach is pending.
Warren is the only holdover from Bo Pelini’s staff, and he’d only been with Pelini for a year after coming over from Air Force.
This is an intriguing staff, especially with the amount of experience they have. Some fast facts:
—There are 216 combined years coaching major college and professional football among the staff.
—There are three former defensive coordinators (Banker, Hughes and Warren) on the staff.
—Langsdorf (Giants) and Davis (49’ers) come directly from the NFL.
—Davis rejected a spot on new Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan staff to join NU.
—Aside from Warren, all have coached under Riley before, which will allow them to hit the ground running this spring.
During their initial press conference, a familiar theme arose – especially from Riley, Cavanaugh and Banker. Each mentioned plans to reach out to members of Tom Osborne’s staff. Specifically, Riley and Osborne have been playing phone tag; Cavanaugh has already spoken with former NU O-Line coach Milt Tenopir and Banker has reached out to former defensive coordinator Charlie McBride.
They’ve yet to hold a practice, but this staff appears to understand Nebraska football’s culture and history. Time will tell if they can translate their understanding into victories on the field.
What Dead Period?
During the holiday season, the NCAA mandates a “Dead Period” (Dec. 15-Jan. 14) when coaches can’t initiate in-person or telephone contact with prospects. Written and electronic communication (i.e. email and social media direct messaging) are allowed during this time.
Despite the restrictions and their moves to Lincoln, NU’s staff was able to secure verbal commitments from OL Jalin Barnett (6-3/303) of Lawton, OK, and RB Devine Ozigbo (5-11/220) of Sachse, TX.
Barnett is, both figuratively and literally, a huge prospect. The 247 Sports composite ranking lists him as the No. 61 overall player nationally and the No. 6-ranked guard prospect. He played in the Under Armour All-American Bowl in Florida, and is NU’s first pledge from Oklahoma since 2005. Hailing from the same high school as Husker greats Will Shields and Mike Minter, Barnett will move from tackle to guard in college.
Ozigbo was a surprise pledge, only because NU had offered three other running backs just before the dead period began. He was previously committed to Iowa State, but Nebraska was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
“I was committed to Iowa State and I was happy, but when Nebraska comes, you know, it opens your eyes. You’ve got to do your research, as I did, and I loved everything about it,” he told Husker Online.
Among his 20-plus offers, Ozigbo counted Iowa, Kansas State, Miami and Wisconsin. Coach Warren had been recruiting Ozigbo for quite some time and offered a scholarship Jan. 9. Ozigbo committed that afternoon.
Despite the early success of Riley’s staff, they haven’t completely locked up all of the players who committed to Pelini’s staff. The defensive end position is particularly concerning, as NU’s two commitments – DaiShon Neal (6-7/245), of Omaha Central, and Reuben Jones (6-4/225), of Lakeland, FL – continue to take visits to other schools.
Neal has trips to Oklahoma and Oregon sandwiched around a Jan. 23 visit to Lincoln. He may also make a trip to Iowa before Signing Day. Despite the busy schedule, conventional wisdom says that playing just 50 miles from home will be too good to pass up. With NU’s lack of depth at end, Neal could play very early.
Jones sees that same depth chart; however, Lincoln isn’t close to home for the Floridian. He will trip to Louisville and Michigan before Signing Day. The Wolverines offered shortly after Harbaugh’s hiring, and Jones is still getting to know the new NU staff.
Nebraska made a big push on Jones and Neal Jan. 15, the day the dead period ended, sending Banker and Hughes to Florida for the morning and afternoon with Jones before returning them to Omaha for an evening visit with Neal.
Jones also hosted coaches from Michigan and Louisville that day, and remained open. He did tell Husker Online, “what’s actually keeping me committed to Nebraska and from making a quick decision to go somewhere else right now, is that I love the freaking Nebraska fans.”
Shortly after hosting them, Neal tweeted a picture of himself with the NU coaches “throwing the bones.” However, he left the next morning for his Oklahoma visit.
There was good news, as defensive tackles Carlos (6-3/270) and (6-3/270) Kahlil Davis of Blue Springs, MO, reaffirmed their pledges to NU after cancelling a scheduled trip to Missouri in late January. Banker, Hughes and Warren all spent an in-home visit with the twins and their parents, along with their high school coach to seal the deal.
Linebacker is also a position with depth concerns. Only four scholarship linebackers will be on campus this spring. One is early enrollee Dedrick Young (6-1/220), of Peoria, AZ. In addition, senior David Santos will sit out spring practice recovering from surgery, and junior Michael Rose-Ivey will be returning from surgery. Banker mentioned adding as many as seven players. That seems like a big number, but they could add at least four or five.
Tyrin Ferguson (6-2/210), of New Orleans, LA, is NU’s other 2015 pledge, and they continue to pursue other targets, such as Adrienne Talan (6-1/198), of Pembroke Pines, FL, Terez Hall (6-3/208), of Lithonia, GA, and Mohamed Barry (6-1/210), of Loganville, GA, and Angelo Garbutt (6-2/210), of Carrollton, TX.
Ferguson and his family hosted Bray Jan. 15, firming up his commitment.Talan visited Lincoln in December and Nebraska remains near the top of his list, but he will visit Temple Jan. 30. TCU, Iowa and Purdue are also pursuing him. Barry is currently committed to Kansas State, but visited Miami last Friday and comes to Lincoln this Friday. NC State and Wisconsin are also among his suitors.Hall will visit Jan. 30 after trips to Indiana and Missouri. Cincinnati and Maryland have also offered. He hosted Wisconsin, Indiana and Missouri recently, and Banker was scheduled to visit him Monday. Garbutt, who will also visit Jan. 30, recently opened his recruitment up after being committed to Oregon State under Riley’s staff. He will trip to Iowa this week.
South Carolina graduate transfer Kaiwan Lewis (6-0/228) is also a possibility. Lewis was a two-year starter for the Gamecocks before a demotion in 2014. He is also considering home-state Rutgers and Penn State. Bray made an in-home visit with Lewis Jan. 16, and locked up an official visit Jan. 23.
Despite the depth issues at defensive end and linebacker, NU also has needs at offensive tackle and would like to take another receiver and safety as well as possibly a quarterback.
Sacramento, CA, tackle Darrin Paulo (6-5/344) was one of Mike Cavanaugh’s first stops on Jan. 15, and the big prospect promptly scheduled a Jan. 30 visit to Lincoln. Paulo has offers from everyone in the Pac 12, as well as Michigan and Wisconsin. He visited Utah last weekend and will see Oregon Friday.
Another possibility is center prospect Fred Ulu-Perry (6-2/310), of Honolulu, HI. Committed to UCLA since July, Ulu-Perry has decided to open things up and will takr an official visit to Lincoln Friday and to home-state Hawaii Jan. 30. The odds remain in UCLA’s favor, but with the number of visitors on campus Jan. 23 and the momentum Riley and staff are building, don’t count out the Huskers.
NU seems to be targeting safeties pretty hard, as Warren was visiting Kenneth McGruger (6-1/209) of Alief, TX, Willie Sykes (5-11/183) of Spring, TX, and Sean Harper, Jr. (6-1/175) of Hartwell, GA, last Thursday.
McGruder is committed to Oklahoma State, but visited Nebraska in September and is a former teammate of NU sophomore safety Joshua Kalu. He will be tough to flip from the Cowboys. Sykes, meanwhile, has visited Purdue (Nov. 7) and Washington State (Jan. 16) before coming to Lincoln Jan. 23. Minnesota and Utah have also offered, but NU appears to be leading. Harper was offered by Warren back in November under Pelini’s staff and is also considering offers from Louisville and Marshall.
There are a number of receivers in play for the one remaining spot, including, but not limited to, Lavan Alston (5-11/173), of Ventura, CA, and A.D. Miller (6-4/175), of Dallas. Alston was leaning towards Oregon State before the coaching changes, and spent a week with NU early enrollee Eric Lee at the Semper Fidelis All-American Game in early January. Lee was in his ear all week, and now Alston has scheduled a trip to Lincoln Jan. 30. Miller, an Illinois commit since July, visited Lincoln Oct. 31 and has kept his options open despite remaining “committed” to the Illini. Kentucky and Cal are also in play here.
Meet & Greet
This weekend is shaping up to be the biggest of this recruiting cycle, if not the entire year, for Riley’s staff. There are currently seven official visitors scheduled, along with a number of committed ‘15 and ‘16 prospects taking unofficial visits.
Barry, Decker, Ferguson, Neal, Ozigbo, Sykes and Ulu-Perry will all be on official visits, along with Lewis (the SC transfer). Early enrollees Avery Anderson, Eric Lee, Aaron Williams and Dedrick Young will all be in attendance as will the Davis twins and tackle Christian Gaylord (6-7/290) of Baldwin, KS.
In addition, 2016 commits Jared Bubak (TE/6-4/237), of Lincoln Christian and John Raridon (OG/6-4/271) of West Des Moines, IA, will be on campus.