When the dust of National Signing Day settled and all of the letters of intent were faxed in, Nebraska coach Mike Riley took to the podium to discuss the newest group of Nebraska football players.
In his initial message, Riley made it clear that signing a recruiting class is a total team effort.
“I’m excited to be here,” Riley said. “I’m excited to announce this 2017 Husker class. We’re very proud of the work that was done and kind of the development of those relationships that get us to the point where we can have a class like this. Lots of people take part in the recruitment here. Everybody’s all in at Nebraska when you’re talking about recruiting these young men. We owe a lot of gratitude to our life skills department, our academic support people, all the professors and deans around campus that have taken part. Our president and our chancellor, our athletic director, our athletic department in general is always really engaged in the recruiting. We appreciate all those parts; it means a ton to us. So everybody plays a role in what ends up being a product here in our class. We’re excited about it.”
Riley made it clear that although he likes the class they signed, he isn’t satisfied with where the program is at right now.
“This is a really good class that, whatever you look at it’s high teens, early 20s,” Riley said. “I want to do better next year so we’re on our way to start to do that right away.”
Nebraska finished with 20 scholarship signees, leaving them with at least two open scholarships to carry into the spring.
“I love that versatility which we’ll carry through to that time and see what might be available,” Riley said. “We had some options last year that we weren’t able to basically take advantage of, and this year we will if it’s the right guy.”
Nebraska landed four recruits from California — Tyjon Lindsey, Keyshawn Johnson Jr., Tristan Gebbia and Elijah Blades. Riley addressed his ideal target for commits from the Golden State on average.
“I would say four might be high end,” Riley said. “Two or three, that’d be all right. When I look at this, I’m not going to get overly anal about ‘this is what we should get out of here and if we don’t…’ because the one thing we’ve found, we did really well in California. We were down to today with a bunch of really good players, and I don’t mind that. I hate losing at the end, but I think it just proves once again that we got four guys that wanted to come and we love it.”
Riley spoke about what kind of quarterbacks the Huskers will continue to recruit moving forward and what that means for the offense.
“What I want to do is win,” Riley said. “We’ll get the best guy to do that. We want a passer. We want a guy that can pass the ball. If that guy can run too, that is really good. We’re not going to turn down one of those dual-threat guys at all; as a matter of fact, guys that are high on our list for next year are that kind of guy. What we know now is we can blend what we have done in the past with what we have learned to do in the last couple years and I like that a lot. There are some elements that we have put in over the last couple years because of the skill set of Tommy [Armstrong Jr.] that are going to be good for us going forward in the future. I’m excited about that. I think it’s been good for Nebraska and it’s been good for our coaches and it’s been good for our playbook, because I think that has to be forever evolving around your people.
“I do not expect, however, to have anyone who can run like Tommy that’s right there right now. But does that mean a guy can’t run a zone read or can’t do some of the stuff that we did? Absolutely not. It might not be a 30-yard gain; it might be a 10-yard gain, but we’ll take that. So I think it puts unique pressure on the defense. We’ll select some things that we want to make go and make it part of our identity. Frankly, these guys have all done that in some fashion, some time in their career; they’ve done a little bit of it in some way.”
Riley also talked about the three wide receivers he signed in this cycle.
“We’ve got Jaevon McQuitty who is a playmaker, a tough kid; he’s a perfect fit for us right now,” Riley said. “Jaevon’s been committed for quite a while and is in school … You’ve got Keyshawn Johnson; his recruitment and his then commitment and then him being here already, I think when you go back to that that sparked a lot of momentum for the Huskers with this recruiting class. I think that Keyshawn Jr. is somewhat of a magnet and the other guy that’s a magnet with him at his high school is [Tristan] Gebbia … The other receiver that is a really, really dynamic player is Tyjon Lindsey. I love that group.”
Riley also shed some light one one wide receiver who committed to Nebraska — more than once — but signed elsewhere: Jamire Calvin.
“It can be, in this day and age, very, very confusing, to give the kids a little benefit of the doubt,” Riley said. “None of us like that; when we hear that we’d like to say ‘OK, we can count on it and that’s going to be done.’ That’s not necessarily reality. I hope it gets back to that; I hope that there’s more training about that … It does make you wonder about more information earlier might have helped you know what was kind of in the works here … That particular case you’re talking about was a little bit over the top. We got three commitments form the guy so that might be a record.”
Riley offered his thoughts on the defensive recruits as a whole as the Huskers are set to transition to a 3-4 scheme.
“I think that when you look at it from the front first, it’s outstanding, and I think the four guys there is good with the 3-4 defense,” Riley said. “A guy like Guy Thomas might be that short side of the field outside ‘backer that is kind of that tweener guy between a 4-3 defensive end and an outside linebacker that can rush the passer and do a little bit of pass coverage. Lots of length, lots of athletic ability, speed … Then you get into the true ‘backers, Andrew Ward and Avery Roberts, those are good football players. Just getting [cornerback] Elijah [Blades] in this group really helped everybody feel good about what we added, even though it wasn’t really deep in the secondary the quality was really good.”
Riley also discussed the job that new defensive backs coach Donte Williams did after joining the Huskers late in the process.
“Donte I think is one of those guys that builds a relationship and trust with guys that travels, obviously,” Riley said. “I think it’s hard for guys to change jobs and then just pull guys with him because it creates some doubt in there, but there were a number of these guys very loyal to him and appreciated that relationship. He stayed with it. He’s a connector; there’s no doubt about it. Elijah Blades is not here without Donte Williams.”
The Huskers also welcomed nine preferred walk-ons into the program on Wednesday.
“We had all the walk-ons that you’ve heard about, we had them in on Sunday for a visitation,” Riley said. “We put them and their families kind of through all the steps of going to college and getting enrolled and doing the tours, all that. I spoke to them about the commitment to the program, how excited we are about having them in the program. What we’ve created for them is an opportunity and what they’ve gathered is a responsibility to be a Nebraska football player at the highest level. They create the story as they go … This is not just the normal walk-on situation; these guys have been selected. It’s actually hard to get to this number because the number of kids that are interested in walking on. So this means a lot to us and we’re excited about this group that’s coming in.”
Riley also announced the departure of a walk-on wide receiver from the team.
“Christian Bailey is not going to play next year,” Riley said. “He is graduating and is going to go on with pursuing the next step in his life and we appreciate him a ton. He’s been fun to work with.”
Riley said the staff had a long meeting on Tuesday already to plan for where coaches will recruit and what positions they will go after in the 2018 class. However, they have a few other things to address before they can fully dive into the recruiting again.
“The next order of business for us will be the hiring of our next coach and then getting ready for spring practice, which will be fun to do with this group,” Riley said.
Former Nebraska cornerback Daniel Bullocks was on campus Wednesday, sparking discussion about the Huskers’ plans to fill the coaching position left vacant by Brian Stewart’s departure.
“[We’re] not close [to hiring someone],” Riley said. “We have started the process, interviewing a guy today, the first one. I don’t want to put anybody on edge by saying this is going to be the day we’re going to announce but we have started it and I will add to that the sooner the better for everybody. But I’m not going to hurry to the point where I don’t feel comfortable. We have to pick the right guy.”