Photo Credit: Nebraska Athletics

Nebraska Recruiting: On ‘Freaks’ and a Recruiting Approach Maybe on the Edge of Distinction

July 18, 2022

Recruiting never stops and it’s easy to miss the top stories day-to-day. Hail Varsity recaps all things Nebraska recruiting news, analysis and more so you never miss a thing.

“Jalil Martin is a freak,” the man who recruited him to Nebraska, Travis Fisher, said in an interview with Sports Nightly last week and thus it was an easy night for the headline writers of Husker Nation. “Freak” always plays, and that word came up more than once.

But using it to label Martin may have qualified as a surprise. While the Huskers have to replace three starters in the secondary, they didn’t need necessarily have to look to the 2022 recruiting class to do that. Quinton Newsome proved himself at cornerback last year. Safety Myles Farmer has done the same when given the opportunity. That’s half the secondary right there.

At the other corner spot, Nebraska left the spring game with Braxton Clark, a veteran at this point who should be feeling a sense of urgency, and Tommi Hill, a newcomer, battling for a spot. “He’s going to be an NFL player if he doesn’t mess it up,” Fisher said of Hill, and Fisher spent nine years in the NFL.

The “open” safety spot—quotes here because all spots are always open with Fisher running the group—probably “belongs” to sophomore Marques Buford Jr. for now based on the spring, though Northern Iowa transfer Omar Brown, the FCS Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2019, is working at that spot. Fisher also likes junior college transfer DeShon Singleton at safety, and Jalil Morton, another 2022 signee from the Kansas JUCO ranks, got the “freak” label from Fisher as well.

To recap, that alone gives us three top contenders for two cornerback spots and at least four for two safety spots, none of which are coming straight from high school. There’s also the nickel spot to consider, probably headlined by Isaac Gifford at this point with Chris Kolarevic, another FCS star, in the mix.

So, how does Martin enter the mix? If we’re to take Fisher at his word, maybe in the old-school way—a freshman you just have a hard time keeping off the field.

Martin, a Chicago native, had 15 scholarship offers when he committed to Nebraska in November of 2021. His final four were Nebraska, Illinois, Colorado and Ole Miss, a solid group of Power 5 offers, but the best-recruiting Big Ten schools—Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan—had all skipped over him. Iowa and Wisconsin, two programs that have to recruit like Nebraska and do it better than Nebraska has of late, did too.

If Martin reaches the potential Fisher sees for him, it could be a recruiting story that’s on the edge of distinction in the transfer portal era. Everything happens so quickly now. Programs have the ability to upgrade immediately via the transfer portal, and it changes the math for coaching staffs throughout the sport, even if they’d prefer the old way where players were identified and developed. In the past, Nebraska had a chance to identify a sleeper. Now, based on the calendar, that sleeper might be destined for, I don’t know, Central Michigan where he can prove his value and then be a hot commodity in the transfer portal. The opportunity to get “proven” players, or at least those who had previous Power 5 offers, might carry more weight than even a coach’s deepest set, “I know this kid can play,” beliefs.

Martin, though, falls in the transition between past and future.

“I told people this when I recruited him, I knew when I recruited him––just watching him move [and] being able to do some things with him––he can play both positions,” Fisher said last week. “He’s going to be a player for a long time here. And I think he’s the next huge NFL player that’s going to have the chance to play on Sundays just by the things he can do with the kind of length that he has.”

High praise from a guy who did it himself. Martin—6-2, 165 pounds on the roster—might still end up on the outside looking in when the games begin in six weeks, but he’s at least forced the issue.

From a recruiting perspective, Nebraska didn’t beat out Alabama and Ohio State and Clemson for a no-brainer prospect. That rarely happens. But if Fisher’s words are accurate, it may have happened for a player who develops more organically, which is probably always how Nebraska will have to do it. Maybe, even during the height of its powers, how Nebraska always did it.

Recruit Watch

>>2023 cornerback Braeden Marshall, with nearly 30 offers, tweeted this in response to Nebraska fans today.

>> Beni Ngoyi, a 2023 wide receiver from Lincoln High, announced his commitment date on Monday with Nebraska, Iowa State and Washington in the mix.


>>As mentioned above, Erin Sorensen and I spoke about the shortening calendar for recruits in this week’s video.

>>Jacob Padilla takes a look at Nebraska basketball’s objectives this summer.

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