Chris Hickman, Garrett Nelson and Nick Henrich walk arm and arm on sidelines of football game
Photo Credit: Greg Smith

Huskers Take Care of Business on First Day of Early Signing

December 20, 2018

Wednesday marked the start of the early signing period (if you’ve missed any of Hail Varsity’s coverage, go here), a relatively drama-free day as Nebraska announced 23 scholarship signees in addition to a handful of walk-ons.

Of the 22 commitments Nebraska had entering the day, 20 of them signed on Wednesday — before 10 a.m. to boot — and Nebraska picked up three new commitments as well.

“It was a pretty drama-free signing day for us because the commitments we had were commitments, a bunch of good kids that gave us their pledge and we honored and they honored it,” Coach Scott Frost said. “There were a couple kids we were fighting for right down to the end but other than that this group committed to us and were fired up to sign and become part of our family. So it was a pretty relaxing day for us.”

Junior college offensive lineman Desmond Bland is expected to sign in February while junior college running back Dedrick Mills’ signing date is still up in the air with two more days left in the early signing period. The Huskers also picked up signing day commitments from defensive linemen Brant Banks and Ty Robinson and offensive lineman Jimmy Fritszche.

“I feel great about the guys we signed,” Frost said. “You’ll probably get tired of hearing me say this, but I not only feel good about the type of player we brought in, I feel great about the type of kid that we’re bringing in in this class. I had the privilege of going around and stopping at all these guys’ homes and meeting their families and talking to the kids through December. What kept making an impression on me is the type of character kid that has chosen to come be part of our family at Nebraska. I think this is a pretty special group in a lot of ways, but the type of individuals that they are was really impressive to me.”

Frost isn’t satisfied just yet, however.

“Hopefully we’re not done today,” Frost said. “I don’t know how much more we’ll be able to announce, but hopefully there’s a couple more signatures the will get announced eventually. With our roster turnover this year, I think we can sign up to 30. So I think we’ll have probably around four spots left to look for guys in January and on.”

One area in which the Huskers can look to add to the roster moving forward is the graduate transfer market. The Huskers have already been linked to potential Oklahoma State graduate transfer defensive lineman Darrion Daniels, the older brother of current Huskers nose tackle Damion Daniels.

“We’re definitely going to keep our eyes open,” Frost said. “There’s a couple positions where I think we could benefit from having a guy that’s ready to come in and play right now, and if we find the right guy — particularly at the right position — we’ll take a hard look at that. So with three, four, five spots, whatever’s going to be left, we certainly aren’t going to be hunting for every one of those but if it’s the right guy, we’re going to be open to it.”

With Bland expected to sign in February, he won’t be able to enroll early and participate in spring ball. Frost said he expects Nebraska’s need to bring in junior college players to go down each year as the program progresses, but the coaches are still willing to bring the right junior college players in, regardless of when they’re able to enroll.

“We’re still willing to take those guys,” Frost said. “At certain positions it probably matters more than others to get in here for spring ball, but if it’s the right kid we’ll bring him after May, too. Again, if we have spots after today it’s going to be the best we can get, guys that fit us the best whether it’s a grad transfer, a junior college kid or a high school kid.”

One potential source of attrition could come from the quarterback room. With Adrian Martinez entrenched as the starter, Noah Vedral on scholarship and Luke McCaffrey on the way, walk-on Andrew Bunch could potentially look elsewhere for an opportunity to get on the field.

“I don’t want to get into Andrew’s business too much,” Frost said. “I really like the kid, and I want what’s best for him. I think after talking to him he just wants to explore his options and see if there’s a place out there where he can get out on the field and play or have a better chance to get on the field and play. If he doesn’t find that then we’ll welcome him back here with open arms. He’s been a great teammate and a great part of our team. I want what’s best for him no matter what he decides.”

Other Notes:

>> Nebraska went 5-for-5 on in-state scholarship targets this cycle and Frost gave credit to inside linebackers coach and lead in-state recruiter Barrett Ruud for that success.

“I knew Barrett was big in Nebraska, but I remember being at a basketball game last winter and they introduced all of the assistant coaches; everybody else got a nice round of applause, and the whole Pinnacle Bank Arena erupted with the Ruud chant when he came out,” Frost said. “He’s the right guy to have at Nebraska. I thought it was a good year in Nebraska talent-wise. If we can sign five scholarship-quality players from that state every year, that will be a good start for us. There were some special players in the state this year. All five of them, I think Nebraska people know them pretty well, but those guys are going to be huge for us and I think they’ll help be the backbone of the program we’re building.”

Norfolk Catholic defensive lineman Ethan Piper, Scottsbluff outside linebacker Garrett Nelson and York athlete Garrett Snodgrass are all talented players in their own right, but landing the duo of linebacker Nick Henrich and tight end Chris Hickman out of Omaha Burke — two recruits with big-time offers from around the country — was a big-time coup for the Huskers.

“Those guys were keys for us,” Frost said. “We can’t let in-state talent get away. We’ve got to win in Nebraska and start going across borders and getting other kids. I think this staff getting in here had a lot to do with Nick and Chris both deciding to come. I think the relationships they developed with Barrett and Coach [Sean] Beckton really helped with those two guys. Those two guys had a great high school career. A lot of the guys — in-state recruits, I think every one of our guys either played in the championship game or the semifinals and if you go across our recruiting class, that’s kind of a recurring thread is these guys are coming from winning programs. They were winners in high school. Nick and Chris certainly were winners in high school and are going to be great for us to have on the team.”

>> Frost also talked about Nebraska landing offensive weapon Wandale Robinson after he had initially committed to Kentucky, and once again gave credit to his assistants.

“I sure am glad we have Wandale,” Frost said. “I really like him as a young man. That’s not even to speak of the things that he can do on a football field, which I can’t wait to get my hands on that and start working with him. I have to give some credit to Troy Walters and Ryan Held with Wandale because when he committed somewhere else, I gave up. I wasn’t going to spend any more time on him and those guys kind of kept with it. We knew all along that this was kind of where his heart was and I think there’s a lot of pressure in recruiting that goes on, particularly if a kid is going to leave a school that’s closer to home. I sure am glad that Wandale followed his heart and came here. We’re going to get started with him real quick. He’s going to enroll early and he’ll be here for spring ball. We’ve got a new toy for our offense.”

>> Robinson was a do-it-all threat in high school and will be that at the next level as well, and when you add in wideouts Jamie Nance (Blanchard, Oklahoma) and Darien Chase (Camas, Washington), the Huskers brought in a talented group of pass-catchers in this class.

“Those two added with Wandale, who’s going to be kind of a hybrid for us, I think is a really good start to adding to our receiver talent and depth,” Frost said. “Jamie had a great year down in Oklahoma. He can really run. I mean, he can go. I’m anxious to see what he can run a 40-yard dash in when he gets here because his 100 time is really good. He had kick returns in high school, played defense, did a lot for his high school football team — great kid. We’re excited to have him. Darien, we kind of got in on late. My first conversation was with his father who is a special forces military guy and we hit it off right away. Darien’s team won a state championship; I was actually at the high school the day they were having the get-together to celebrate it. He’s a winner. He’s playing basketball. He’s an athlete. Tremendous ball skills, great kid. We needed to definitely add to the talent and depth in our receiver room and I think we had a really good start with that today.”

>> Right behind Nebraska in terms of states with the most recruits in this cycle is Georgia with safeties Quinton Newsome (Suwanee) and Myles Farmer (Atlanta), running back Ronald Thompkins (Loganville) signing on Wednesday and Mills, originally from Waycross, Georgia, still committed.

“Giving credit where it’s due, I think Coach Beckon did an unbelievable job down there,” Frost said. “That’s one of his areas. I think our coaching staff’s credibility in Florida and Georgia is kind of still carrying some weight. It just happened to be more in Georgia this year than it was in Florida. But I love the guys we got out of there. I think we went down there and got the right kind of kids with a ton of talent. Those four kids are going to have a chance to be special around here.”

>> Speaking of Thompkins, Frost addressed his situation as well. The 4-star running back tore his ACL early in his senior season but Nebraska stuck with him and now he’ll arrive in Lincoln in June.

“Ronald’s a guy that other people tried to come in on here late,” Frost said. “I think if Ronald would have stayed healthy this year it might have been tough to hold onto him with all the people that would have come after him. One thing I take pride in with our staff in recruiting is we’re as honest as we can be, and when we give people our word or say something, we mean it. When a kid’s committed to us, we’re committed to them. Even if somebody gets hurt, we’re going to see them through that injury and bring them here even if they can’t play. I think that means a lot to kids, means a lot to parents. Ronald went down early on in the season. If you watch his highlights from this year before he got hurt. I think he has a chance to be special and I think he’s doing well in his rehab process. We’ll see how healthy he is when he gets here but I know I expect great things from him.”

>> Finally, Frost shared his message for the team as the players head off for their winter break. 

“I think they know what they’re in for when they get back, but I think they’re looking forward to it,” Frost said. “I just got done with an interview at HuskerVision and I said I can’t remember a season when I just got done with season and I was so quickly excited about getting started next year. I think a lot of people in our building, from our coaches to our players have that feeling. I want the guys to get away and go enjoy Christmas with their families, and when they come back we’ve got to get to work. Our team is going to be in a lot better shape this year than it was last year. We had to start from ground zero from a strength and conditioning standpoint with the guys. With a year under their belt with Zach [Duval], we’re way ahead of where we were a year ago, and I can’t wait to get started with them.”

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