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Nebraska Recruiting: Early Playing Time Historically a Factor in Matt Rhule Recruiting?

August 15, 2023

Nebraska head coach Matt Rhule told reporters on Tuesday that he didn’t feel the need to play young receivers. They’ve got enough established, veteran pass catchers to play in the season opener later this month. Offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield explained earlier this week that, with the sheer volume of the playbook, they won’t force a young player in the game if they aren’t ready. So how have freshmen faired in Rhule’s system and how did that impact recruiting?

At Temple, the Owls went 2-10 and tied for a conference-worst 1-7 record in Rhule’s first season. P.J. Walker emerged the starting quarterback as a freshman, throwing for over 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. He eventually reunited with Rhule in the NFL. Freshman running back Zaire Williams split carries and effectively finished the Owls’ No. 2 back with 101 carries. Two other freshmen running back, including eventual NFL back Avery Williams, did not play. NFL-bound receiver Nathan Hairston made seven catches in his freshman season while only one other freshman receiver logged stats (Tyler Karpinski, four catches for 22 yards). On defense, Haason Reddick played in eight games, Stephaun Marshall played nine, Kiser Terry played in five and Averee Robinson played in six.

Freshman quarterback Charlie Brewer emerged a starter in Rhule’s first year at Baylor. Freshman running back John Lovett led the team with 98 carries and 445 yards. Eventual NFL back Trestan Ebner tallied 23 carries as a freshman. Gavin Holmes became the team’s second-leading receiver as a freshman and multiple offensive linemen were forced to play right away because of scholarship limitations imposed by the NCAA. Current NFL standouts Jalen Pitre and Terrel Bernard both played significant minutes as freshmen that season. So did defensive tackle James Lynch and cornerback Harrison Hand, both also in the NFL.

Temple named Rhule head coach in December of 2012. Rhule and his staff took over and pushed to close that recruiting class, which included 4-star linebacker Buddy Brown. While the class finished outside the top 70, many members played right away. NCAA sanctions at Baylor caused all but one recruit to leave the Bears’. 2017 class. Rhule and his staff took over and signed 27 recruits. That class finished No. 40 in the composite rankings. Again, multiple members of that class saw immediate playing time because of the roster limitations.

Rhule and this staff closed the 2023 recruiting class with a massive swath of athleticism, talent and speed. He once again reiterated that he won’t play any of those young men until they’re ready for Big Ten football. For some, that could be August 31. For others, it might be Week 6. While Rhule’s previous two coaching stops involved different circumstances upon arrival, his first season at Nebraska could also be heavily influenced by youth development.

Rhule went to former Baylor standout JT Woods and laid out their plan for him. They did that for every recruit then and continue to do so now. And with the 2024 recruiting class at 24 commits with potential growth nearby, it’s clear this vision is appealing on the recruiting trail. Maybe recruits play right away in college, maybe they don’t. What the head coach has shown so far is that they won’t do anything to hinder youth development.

Recruit Watch

Lee’s Summit North, Missouri, standout Williams Nwaneri committed to Missouri on Monday. He is the top defensive recruit in the country who visited Nebraska during the high-profile VIP Junior Day in March. Nwaneri included Nebraska among his final 10 but did not return for a summer visit.

The Huskers are still trending for two possible commits in the 2024 class. One is Kansas City-area standout Jayshawn Ross. The 4-star athlete was linked with Oklahoma before but the recruiting winds have since blown him towards Lincoln. Then there’s 4-star offensive lineman Grant Brix at Logan-Magnolia in Iowa. Brix’s decision essentially comes down between Nebraska and Kansas State. He could take that into football season.

While there isn’t an impending commitment, 5-star offensive tackle Brandon Baker of Mater Dei, California, is still scheduled to visit Nebraska during the Huskers’ home opener next month.


>> Hail Varsity continues to get you prepared for volleyball season. In the most recent Husker volleyball position preview, staff writer Jacob Padilla breaks down the competition among defensive specialists.

>> It’s time for a different kind of season preview. There will be time later to look at each Husker football opponent, so now Hail Varsity gives you a breakdown of each team as laid out in the stars.

>> Hail Varsity has plenty of video content for you over at our YouTube page. There you can watch episodes of Hail Varsity Radio, Coffee and Cream, and press conferences from various Husker sports.

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