What are coaches looking for in recruits? That is a question you could ask each person on the Nebraska coaching staff and get different answers from each one. For this particular staff, the question becomes even more intriguing because the staff talks a great deal about “fit” and “culture.”
Fostering that fit and culture on the roster becomes a bit easier when a coach has specific intangibles he is searching for on the recruiting trail. If this staff were to talk directly about "its type” of players, I believe the coaches would list some intangible qualities first.
Outside of wanting speed of course.
Remember when Travis Fisher said he was “looking for that dog” last week? I believe he laid out the basic premise of what this staff looks for when recruiting and it has nothing to do with how many stars a player has next to his name. Fisher, in part, said this about what he looks for when recruiting a player.
"With the resources we have, the training table, we can put 20 pounds on a kid in a month. The, 'you don’t have to teach the heart,' he’s already got it. That’s one of the problems. You can teach the technique, but you can’t teach the heart. The guys I brought in (in the 2018 recruiting class), have the heart. They definitely have that.”
So, toughness and heart. That’s a must for this staff. Getting the pipeline rebuilt is a tall task that offensive line coach Greg Austin is trying to tackle. What type of intangibles does Austin look for?
“I could give you a whole bunch of dimensions, but intangibly they have to be tough, they have to be competitive and they have to be ready to frickin’ fight. That’s it. If you have that, and you have some size to you, you’ll be a good offensive lineman. If you’re a passive guy, I don’t know how good of an offensive lineman you can be. You’ve got to have grit.”
Sticking with the competitiveness theme, offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Troy Walters echoed the sentiments of Austin but elaborated. He has an entire process of being able to evaluate how a student-athlete stacks up with traits that have nothing to do with how skilled he might be.
“I talk to coaches as much as I can," Walters said. "I talk to the people around the student-athlete in the school. I like to see work ethic. I like to see how much they truly love football. Some guys love recruiting. Some guys are just more talented than everyone else, so they get by with being talented. Those guys, when they get to college it’s going to catch up. So, if I can find a young man that loves the game, not necessarily recruiting, but loves football.
"I also put a big emphasis on academics too. To me, if a young man is successful in the classroom, that means it matters. A lot of time with those kids, it matters all across the board. The guys I want to coach, I want them to be great in whatever they do. Academics, PlayStation, shooting pool, pickup basketball. I want the mindset of 'I want to be great in whatever I do.' A lot of time, the guys that are great academically, it carries over to football and even aspects off the field.”
A lot has been and will be (rightfully) said about this staff’s efforts to change the culture of the team they inherited. They 4-8 mindset change is already underway and in many ways is more difficult to overcome than whatever talent deficiencies there may be in Lincoln. The cohesion of this staff in regards to what intangibles they look for in prospects should not be overlooked.
That cohesion will play a key role in flipping the culture as the roster gets turned over.
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.