Both Evan Cooper and E.J. Barthel hit the ground running on Matt Rhule’s staff. They were among the first hires Rhule made when he took the Nebraska job and their first priority came along the recruiting trail.
Rhule’s vision has long been documented, and it somewhat mirrors Nebraska’s legacy. Take the undervalued, high-ceiling players and develop them into exceptional players. Cooper and Barthel align with Rhule’s recruiting vision.
Cooper was, among many titles, the recruiting coordinator at Baylor for Rhule. At one point, Cooper said in an interview that if their staff was going to miss on the evaluation of a player, they’d miss fast. The new secondary coach expanded on his recruiting mindset on the sixth floor at Memorial Stadium on Thursday.
First, Cooper and Rhule look for the same things. They want that speed, determination, a drive, even a pop on film. They’re also recruiting the person under the pads to make sure they’re a good fit for Nebraska. And they started in their own stomping yards because it would eat them up to see an All-American from Florida or Pennsylvania, or New Jersey, playing somewhere else when they could have been playing at Nebraska.
“The worst thing is when you see all these All-Americans, all-conference guys, NFL guys from your own backyard,” Cooper said. “Or you missed them or you didn’t do your homework or you got out-recruited sometimes. That’s the worst thing.”
They started at home and worked their way out. Of course, that home now includes the state of Nebraska. They already secured the most in-state signings to this recruiting class in over two decades.
Barthel’s backyard is the northeast. He left his recruiting coordinator spot at Penn State for positional coaching at Howard. The former Rutgers and UMass running back/fullback was once offered a tryout with the New York Giants. He sees Nebraska returning to its glory days of recruiting out of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and far beyond. Barthel suggested that because Nebraska is so centrally located, it’s not too far from anywhere.
“We can put on our hands on pretty much every part of the country and tap on those original resources that Nebraska is familiar with,” Barthel said. “The West Coast, Texas, the northeast and obviously, me being from the northeast, there’s a lot of pride in PA kids coming here on a regular basis.”
He took it as a challenge to create the pipeline again for this coaching staff and this program.
Nebraska’s latest scholarship offers span the entire country. The Huskers recently offered Noah Mikhail out of La Verne, California, the No. 3-ranked linebacker in the 2025 recruiting class and a composite 5-star recruit. Multiple prestigue schools already extended scholarship offers to him and national scouts marvel at his intelligence and athleticism packed in his imposing 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame.
The Huskers also offered junior defensive lineman Nigel Smith from Melissa, Texas. He’s a composite 4-star recruit and the son of a former SMU basketball player. Nebraska offered composite 4-star athlete Nate Frazier from perennial power Mater Dei in California.
And in a late offer, Nebraska extended a scholarship to senior tight end Ismael Flores from Arlington Martin in Texas. That’s the same school new tight ends coach Bob Wager just coached at.
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