New Nebraska football coach Matt Rhule returns to college football in a different age. He didn’t have to navigate the transfer portal or the burgeoning name, image and likeness sector at Baylor or Temple. But he is familiar with recruiting and we already have some idea how he’ll approach roster building.
Rhule looked at speed, length, size and explosiveness to bridge the star-gap between Temple and geographic rival Penn State. He knew, back then, he couldn’t attract the caliber of athlete as Penn State. So he looked for upside. From 2016-19, 11 Temple players were drafted — most recruited by Rhule. He wants to develop talent, speed and size into realized potential. Those traits became common at Temple, and then Baylor.
Evan Cooper, Rhule’s recruiting coordinator and cornerbacks coach at Baylor, spoke to 247Sports in 2019 about the staff’s approach.
“We’re a big, big believer in development,” Cooper said. “Sometimes you get kids who are maxed out whose ceiling might not be as high. We take the approach of what they’ll look like in five years. If he has the requisite size, speed and strength we feel like we can turn them into good football players.
“In recruiting you miss. You’re going to miss. So, we figure: If you’re going to miss, miss fast.”
That philosophy is evident in the first two scholarship offers from Matt Rhule at Nebraska. Within about 10 hours on the job, Rhule offered 3-star senior cornerback Dante Lovett of DeMartha High School in Maryland. Lovett is a two-time All-America relay runner with a posted 10.83 100 time. On Sunday, Rhule offered Omaha Westside speedster Jaylen Lloyd, a 12-time track and field All-American in addition to receiver. Lloyd was scheduled to announce his track commitment on Saturday between Florida, Georgia, Texas Tech and Illinois but postponed because of illness. Lloyd scored five touchdowns on 44 catches for the state champion Warriors.
“We never sit there on defense and go: ’Oh no, how are we going to cover this guy? He’s got such good change of direction.’ We say, ‘This guy scares us because he might run past us,'” Rhule told 247Sports.
Nebraska’s new head coach recruited Jullian Taylor, Kalon Barnes, Nate Hairston and Derrick Thomas based upon their speed and physical frames in high school. All four developed in his systems at Baylor and Temple before NFL careers.
The offer to Lovett also showcases Rhule’s intentions to offer recruits regardless of commitment. In 2018, Rhule got Byron Hanspard to flip from Arkansas to Baylor and Tyquan Thornton to flip from Florida. Lovett, the recipient of Rhule’s first scholarship offer at Nebraska, is currently committed to Virginia Tech.
In the trenches, it’s less about pure speed but still about development. Cooper and Rhule determined through research that most linemen drafted tend to be undersized athletes that grow into their roles. Take offensive tackle Connor Galvin for example. He was a 4-star recruit out of high school but at just 260 pounds most Power 5 schools overlooked him. Rhule’s staff saw his potential. Galvin is now 6-foot-7, up to 310 pounds, an All-American lineman and the 2021 Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year.
Rhule has said linebacker, running back and quarterback require in-person evaluation. Simply put, he wants to pursue the best players. His recruiting staff targeted physically gifted talent with the intention of developing them. It’s partially why different NFL franchises contacted him about coaching positions for two years. He developed NFL draft picks at Temple and Baylor. What could he do with more?
Nebraska senior commit Riley Van Poppel affirmed his decision amid Rhule’s arrival. He tweeted his support for the new hire after it was announced. Van Poppel, who commited to Nebraska back in June, has 64 tackles and eight sacks this season, including a seven-tackle playoff performance on Friday.
— Riley Van Poppel (@Riley_VanPoppel) November 26, 2022
Recruits also voiced their support for Mickey Joseph, hoping Rhule is able to keep the former Husker quarterback on staff. Malachi Coleman retweeted an account urging Nebraska maintain Joseph. Nebraska’s latest commit, Arnold Barnes, tweeted “Keep Mickey!” as national recruiting writer Adam Gorney reported most Husker targets want Joseph to remain on staff.
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