This bit of recruiting intrigue would be documented on social media now. In 1980, however, it depended on the accounts of those involved, Melvin Priddy in this case.
Priddy was the football coach at Arlington Heights High in Fort Worth, Texas, and Nebraska was recruiting his quarterback, Turner Gill, as were Oklahoma and Texas, along with USC, Michigan and Ohio State. Gill didn’t take official visits to the latter three, according to Priddy.
Gill would say later that he had been a Sooners fan and given the opportunity, he would go to Oklahoma. Two days before the signing of Big Eight letters of intent, he told Coach Barry Switzer he had settled on the Sooners over Nebraska; he had eliminated Texas earlier.
Recruits could sign Big Eight letters, though not mandatory, the week before national letters could be signed. Cornhusker Coach Tom Osborne encouraged athletes to sign a Big Eight letter only if they planned to sign a national letter as well. If they weren’t certain, they should wait.
The high school running back many considered the best in the country in 1980, Kerwin Bell from Huntington Beach (Calif.) Edison, announced the day before Big Eight letters could be signed that he had narrowed his list to Nebraska, USC and Texas, dropping Oklahoma.
Even so, Osborne had suggested to Bell that he wait to sign if he wasn’t sure about the Huskers. Gill’s situation was different. With the elimination of Texas – race might have been an issue in whether he’d get a shot at quarterback with the Longhorns – his decision was between Nebraska and Oklahoma.
There were some who questioned whether the Huskers would give him that shot. But that concern was unfounded. Gill was confident in what Osborne told him.
Gill also wanted an opportunity to play baseball. The Chicago White Sox would make him a second-round draft pick following his senior year at Arlington Heights. Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas all had said he could play both football and baseball. So that was never an issue.
The day after telling Switzer he was coming to Norman, Gill changed his mind. He would sign a Big Eight letter (and national letter) with Nebraska, he said, so there was no need for Sooner coaches to come to Fort Worth for a final visit before signing day.
Husker defensive coordinator Lance Van Zandt, a Texan, recruited there and visited Gill that day, accompanying him to a movie in the evening, according to Priddy, “Heroes” starring John Ritter. After the movie, Oklahoma football assistant Scott Hill and baseball coach Enos Semore were waiting at Gill’s home. “They wanted one last chance,” Priddy told the Lincoln Journal. “They got 30 minutes.”
Their visit was to no avail. Gill then spent the night at Priddy’s house.
Priddy and Gill went to breakfast at a pancake house the next morning and arrived at the high school at 7:57 a.m., three minutes before letters of intent could be signed. “I wasn’t taking any chances,” said Priddy. “Nebraska and Turner Gill is a perfect marriage.”
History has shown it was.
As for Bell, he didn’t even sign a national letter of intent on the first day it could be signed. Rather, he announced he would visit Kansas. He subsequently signed with the Jayhawks, joining high school teammates Frank Seurer, a quarterback, and Bill Malavasi, a linebacker, in Lawrence.
Nebraska’s 1980 recruiting class included four listed as running backs: Dave Burke from Layton, Utah; Ricky Greene from Seminole, Texas; Jeff Smith from Wichita, Kansas; and Mike Rozier from Camden, New Jersey – who would spend one season at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College before transferring to Nebraska. The class also included Irving Fryar from Mt. Holly, New Jersey, listed as a split end-defensive back.
Gill, Rozier and Fryar were the “Triplets” in Nebraska’s “Scoring Explosion” offense in 1983. Switzer was credited with giving them the nickname “Triplets.” During their time, the Huskers were 3-0 against his teams, though Gill was sidelined by injury in 1981 and Mark Mauer stepped in.
Mike is in his 40th year covering Husker athletics, after seven years of community-college teaching. He has written and edited a dozen books, all on Nebraska football except one, a brief history of Husker basketball. He previously wrote for the Lincoln Journal and Star and Huskers Illustrated. He enjoys music, from the Grateful Dead and Jack Johnson to Van Morrison, Bob Wills, Glenn Miller and pretty much anyone else.