As part of our Year in Review series we're taking a close look at why the 2019 Nebraska football season went the way it did. The series originally appeared in the December issue of Hail Varsity. Make sure you don’t miss more stories like this by subscribing today.
First we looked at Nebraska’s leadership. Next up, the Huskers' approach to in-season recruiting.
There were a lot of things during the 2019 season that did not go according to plan for Nebraska. The Huskers had a plan for the 2020 recruiting class. It was a great plan. Until the key component in the plan—a big season on the field—failed to materialize.
The plan was to determine which of the team’s top prospects would be making summer college decisions. Next, host those prospects for early official visits, gain their commitments to continue building a top- 15 recruiting class, then move to other top targets who wanted to make decisions in-season.
Looking back at who the Huskers hosted in the spring and summer, it’s a group of familiar names and good players. Nebraska hosted six players in April and June who would become Huskers. Defensive lineman Nash Hutmacher, junior-college wide receiver Omar Manning, running back Marvin Scott III, outside linebacker Blaise Gunnerson, cornerback Tamon Lynum and running back Sevion Morrison all visited early and committed.
Nebraska missed on a few who visited during that stretch––linebacker Cody Simon (Ohio State), wide receiver Ajou Ajou (Clemson), cornerback Josh Moten (Texas A&M), linebacker Choe Bryant-Strother (UCLA) and linebacker Malik Reed (Wisconsin)—but missed against strong competition. Kilgore Community College wide receiver Omar Manning, who visited Nebraska in June, had yet to committ to a college as of press time. He later committed to Nebraska and signed during the early signing period. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound wideout is the best player the Huskers hosted early and is a huge get this cycle.
Nebraska hit over .500 on prospects who visited in the spring or summer. In recruiting, 50% of a team’s visitors committing is a positive thing. More data is needed on utilizing the new early-official-visit rule to see how effective it is.
“I think I’m still up in the air about it a little bit,” defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said in August. “To me, if a prospect’s parent can come and they want to make a decision early it’s great. Some of these guys that want to take official visits in the spring but aren’t going to decide until December, that’s a little risky. I think there’s some good to it though.”
The early part of Nebraska’s strategy to use visits in the summer to build the base of the class was sound. The Huskers had 10 commitments when the season kicked off on Aug. 31 against South Alabama. Half of those commits took an official visit before the first game.
Now the second part of the visit strategy comes into play in how the Huskers built their 2020 recruiting class.
Game-day visits to Nebraska
are special for prospects and their families. It can’t be said enough how unique the atmosphere is at Memorial Stadium on Saturdays. The engaged fans filling a sold-out stadium are always mentioned by prospects. It is something unlike anything else they find on other visits. Nebraska’s staff knows that, too. So, the second part of the strategy was to bring in more top talent for game-weekend official visits. It would be even more impactful during a season if the Huskers were playing well.
The problem was what happened in-season. It was not expected for the team to look
so pedestrian to start the season on offense. Part of the appeal for the Huskers when they turn the corner is that it will look like fun. Imagine the high-flying offenses of Oregon and University of Central Florida. Put that in Lincoln with the atmosphere of Memorial Stadium and the Huskers would have a potent combination. The season that Nebraska actually had put a damper on that.
During the season the Huskers added four commitments. Three took in-season official visits. Defensive back Henry Gray (Northern Illinois game), defensive back Ronald Delancy III (Ohio State) and defensive tackle Marquis Black (Ohio State) are the in-season commits so far who took official visits during a game weekend. New Mexico Military Institute outside linebacker Junior Aho committed to Nebraska before taking an official visit. Aho later left Nebraska’s 2020 recruiting class after the early signing period concluded.
Another key component for the Huskers was hosting potential flip targets for visits. Nebraska does a nice job of keeping in contact with players the coaches like who have committed to other schools. That leads to them being able to host those prospects in hopes of changing their minds with a big visit. Oregon defensive back commit Myles Slusher and Alabama linebacker commit Jackson Bratton visited for the Ohio State game, Miami wide receiver commit Marcus Fleming and Iowa State wide receiver commit Xavier Hutchinson took in the Wisconsin game and Colorado defensive line commit Julius Coates saw the season-finale against Iowa in person.
Fleming left the Miami class while on Nebraska’s campus but has yet to publicly pick another school. Fleming chose Nebraska on the first day of the early signing period. The Huskers gave Coates a lot to think about. He is expected to choose between Colorado, Oregon and Nebraska. The rest of the flip targets who came to town are sticking with their original commitments.
There are a lot of decisions to be made that will dictate if the Huskers made good choices. Deciding who to bring in on official visits during the season is risky. There are multiple key targets who visited that have yet to make a college decision. Defensive end Nusi Malani, outside linebacker Kaden Johnson, cornerback Darion Green- Warren, defensive back Jaiden Francois and East Mississippi Community College defensive end Julius Coates all have pending announcements. There is a lot of talent in that group if Nebraska can close on them.
Some of the story on how Nebraska’s visit strategy worked is yet to be written. We will know a lot more on Dec. 18 as the early signing period opens up, then know even more in February when the book is closed on this class officially.
There was a strategy in place for building this class. It was just knocked off course by the unexpected 5-7 season in Year 2 under Scott Frost.
Greg is the Recruiting Analyst for Hail Varsity and has covered Husker athletics since 2013. He has always had a passion for sports while growing up in the Chicago area. As he got older and had to hang up his cleats and sneakers, he realized his passion for sports went beyond just watching and attending games. He has covered many events from the Rose Bowl to championship boxing matches. If he’s not talking sports, he’s hovering over his grill. He is married to an amazing woman, Kim, and they have a dog that barks when Greg yells at the TV during games.