Nebraska Football Team on the Field of Memorial Stadium
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Nebraska Needs Big Impact from 2020 JUCO Commits

December 19, 2019

With ace recruiter Ryan Held on staff with his many connections in the junior college ranks, Nebraska has not been shy about going that route to acquire talent.

On Wednesday, five more junior college players signed their letters of intent to play at Nebraska, boosting the three-year total under Scott Frost to 13, which doesn’t include the sixth junior college commit in this year’s class in Junior Aho, who will not sign until February.

However, the results have been about as mixed as one could imagine.

In 2018, the transition class, Frost signed six junior college recruits: running back Greg Bell, inside linebacker Will Honas, cornerback Will Jackson, safety Deontai Williams, wide receiver Mike Williams and wide receiver Jaron Woodyard.

Bell opened the season as the starter before getting passed up and then transferring. Mike Williams got a couple starts but he only managed to record 12 caches in 12 games. Deontai Williams and Honas were both important players off the bench, but Honas suffered a knee injury just four games into the season and took a redshirt. Woodyard managed just one catch in eight games and Jackson transferred out before the season even began.

This season, Honas was back at full strength and played in a three-man rotation inside, but Deontai Williams suffered a season-ending injury in the first game after getting the start. Mike Williams played quite a bit of football but produced even less than last year with five catches in 12 games. Woodyard saw his role reduced even further as he only played in three games and he plans to use 2019 as a redshirt year and transfer elsewhere for a second crack at his senior season.

Nebraska only added two junior college players in the 2019 class in running back Dedrick Mills and defensive lineman Keem Green. Mills’ usage was inconsistent, but he closed out the season strong and ended up leading the team in rushing. Green arrived during the second week of fall camp and ended up only appearing in three games, maintaining his redshirt.

“The tough thing about the first recruiting class is we had about three weeks to recruit it,” Coach Scott Frost said during his National Signing Day press conference. “I think we did really well in some areas and missed on some other things and did the best. We did the best we could in the short amount of time. This is really the second class we’ve had where we had a full year to work and make sure we’re getting the right guys and make sure we get people that fit us. I think between guys we got in that first class and these last two classes we put together, it's starting to look like it needs to look from a talent perspective.”

On Wednesday, wide receiver Omar Manning, inside linebacker Eteva Mauga-Clements, outside linebacker Niko Cooper and defensive linemen Jordon Riley and Pheldarius Payne all signed with Nebraska on Wednesday. 

“We’re going to get to a point in this program where we’re not probably going to look to sign very many,” Frost said. “We’ll look to sign a junior college player if they’re a great player and if we have a need at the position. We kind of felt like we needed a little immediate help at certain spots, receiver being one and maybe pass-rusher, so we went out and got some guys. I think that the lesson we’ve learned over time as coaches is we have to make sure we’re getting the right guys from the junior college ranks too. I love the character and the personality of the kids we got. Deontai Williams is an example of a kid we got from a junior college that is the right kind of guy on top of being the right kind of player, and those are the types of guys we want.”

The biggest get in the class was probably Manning, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound wide receiver from Kilgore Community College. He caught 35 passes for 727 yards (20.8 yards per reception) and six touchdowns in 10 games this season at Kilgore.

“Omar I’m really excited about,” Frost said. “All year, we kind of wished we were a little more productive at our outside receiver spot and that’s one place where we thought we wanted a kind of guy that could come in and potentially help us right away. There wasn’t a better guy in the country in my opinion for what we were looking for than him. He looks different than anybody I’ve ever coached and has the tape to match. I’m really excited to get him. He’s got a little work to do yet before he gets to campus but I think he has a chance to change our offense.”

Nebraska will need a lot more out of Manning than it got from the two junior college wideouts from the 2018 class, but he appears equipped with the talent and physical tools to make that happen.

Mauga-Clements is a player the staff identified later in the process but went hard after and sealed the deal. The Huskers used a three-man rotation at inside linebacker last year and only two of those guys are set to return for 2020. Mauga-Clements’ addition is big because it means Nebraska won’t have to rely on freshmen and redshirt freshmen at that position unless those guys prove ready to make an impact.

“We got Va from California,” Frost said. “I felt we needed to add a little depth to the inside linebacker room. He’s really a run-and-hit guy that we’re excited about. I have no doubt he’s going to help our football team.”

The Huskers needed some bodies on the defensive line after graduating all three starters and Riley and Payne will help there as will Green if he’s caught up in the playbook and adjusted to the Division I level following is redshirt season. Cooper provides another option at outside linebacker as Nebraska continues to search for a consistent pass rush. Nebraska also landed a junior college walk-on in kicker Chase Contreraz that will likely compete for the starting job after an all-American season at Iowa Western. 

Nebraska’s two biggest hits from the junior college ranks to this point are probably Honas and Deontai Williams, and both of them lost a season to injury in Lincoln. Mills is in that mix as well but needs to show more consistency. Mike Williams got on the field but  didn’t produce much. The other three were complete misses. 

Nebraska will need a better hit rate with the 2020 junior college class in order to make a big leap next season.

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