Peaks and Valleys: Remembering a Wild 2017 Recruiting Cycle
Photo Credit: Paul Gero

Peaks and Valleys: Remembering a Wild 2017 Recruiting Cycle

February 03, 2017

Peak: Landing Johnson and Gebbia and starting the “Calibraska” movement

Nebraska needed a spark to begin the 2017 class, as Nebraska was coming off of a 6-7 season and a disappointing end to the 2016 recruiting cycle. Coach Mike Riley and his staff received a much-needed boost by attacking Pac-12 country and offering 40 prospects from the state of California.

The efforts in the Golden State paid off early and the Huskers landed Keyshawn Johnson Jr. and Tristan Gebbia during the spring. Johnson was the first California prospect to commit to Nebraska, choosing Nebraska over offers from USC, Alabama, Clemson and Oregon. This gave Nebraska its third commit in the 2017 class while also giving the Huskers national publicity due to his commitment announcement video.

Just 12 days later, Johnson was joined by his teammate Gebbia. Gebbia was in the midst of a record-setting high school career in which he finished second all-time in career passing yards in the CIF while also helping turn Calabasas into a football powerhouse. These two commitments got Nebraska off to a tremendous start, as the Huskers landed two 4-star prospects that were coveted by teams across the country. Gebbia and Johnson’s connections also led to Nebraska becoming a trendy school to visit during the summer camp circuit, as the Huskers hosted their finest crop of unofficial visitors in recent memory.

Valley: Losing Porcher and Leitao back-to-back

Nebraska was looking pretty smart entering December, having gone all in on two under the radar prospects and been rewarded by them blowing up during their senior seasons. These two prospects, Robert Porcher IV and Reese Leitao, had committed to Nebraska over the spring and remained solid throughout the fall. Unfortunately, their commitments didn’t stick, leaving the Huskers high and dry entering the dead period.

Leitao, a tight end prospect out of Oklahoma, had initially committed to Nebraska over offers from Oklahoma State and Penn State, but the talented tight end flipped from Nebraska to Texas just weeks after receiving an offer from Tom Herman.

Porcher’s decommitment was even stranger, as the defensive end prospect appeared set on joining Nebraska throughout the fall. Porcher shocked everyone on Dec. 18, abruptly decommitting from Nebraska and citing that Nebraska was too far away for his parents to come watch him play. Porcher ended up committing to Virginia Tech on Jan. 23. If you’re keeping count at home, Blacksburg is 11 hours away from Orlando, cutting five hours off the commute to Lincoln.

Nebraska rebounded by landing Kurt Rafdal at tight end, but no viable defensive end prospects emerged for Nebraska to replace Porcher. It’s always tough losing out on commits, but it had to be gut wrenching for Nebraska’s coaches to see two commits they found relatively under the radar emerge into 4-star recruits, only to jump ship to another school.

Peak: All the visits in September

Over the course of three home games, Nebraska hosted an incredible 25 prospects on official visits. To put that into perspective, Michigan and Ohio State combined to host only two prospects during September. Mike Riley and his staff realized that Nebraska needed to get their top prospects on campus if they wanted to have a shot to land them by signing day, so they took an aggressive early season approach on the recruiting trail.

Of the 25 official visitors, 13 ended up verbally committing to Nebraska at some point, with 11 eventually signing with Nebraska. Riley will take those odds any day of the week, so don’t be too surprised if Nebraska has huge visitor lists for their home games against Arkansas State, Northern Illinois and Rutgers next season.

Valley: The Army Bowl 0-fer

No one likes finishing second for recruits and Nebraska had to experience life as the runner-up four separate times during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. The rough day started with Jamire Calvin, who had been considered a Nebraska lock since September but surprised many by instead committing to Oregon State. (We’ll get to his full story later on.)

After Calvin’s surprising decision to commit to Oregon State, Nebraska finished second again for Chuck Filiaga, a massive offensive tackle out of Aledo, Texas. The Huskers made a late charge for Filiaga, but was unable to overcome the early lead that Michigan had built earlier in the fall.

Then came the gloriously bizarre Darnay Holmes decision. Holmes had been the golden goose for Nebraska in 2017, as the Huskers were hoping he would make the trek to Lincoln along with his teammates Keyshawn Johnson and Tristan Gebbia. Holmes released a video of him walking a red carpet that most interpreted as him planning to commit to USC, but then he shocked people by committing to UCLA instead. It eventually came out that Holmes had been a “silent commit” to multiple schools during the recruiting process.

Finally, Nebraska watched as Foster Sarell, the top offensive tackle prospect and arguably the top prospect in the nation, made his decision. Nebraska was the first school to host Sarell, as he visited for Nebraska’s season opener against Fresno State. Cavanaugh hoped to use his longstanding connection with Sarell to pluck the most talented lineman in the country out of the northwest. Once again though, the Huskers finished second behind Stanford.

Nebraska swung big on four prospects that would have been game changers at the time, but the Huskers whiffed on all four, giving Husker fans a big gut punch to deal with entering the final month.

Peak: Tyjon Lindsey flipping to Nebraska

The hunt for top-tier wide receivers was a major news point for Nebraska entering the 2017 class, as Keith Williams was looking to land between three and five top wide receiver prospects. Arguably the most coveted of all of Nebraska’s targets was Tyjon Lindsey, a dynamic receiver out of Las Vegas, Nevada. Despite a hard push from Nebraska, Lindsey committed to Ohio State over the summer, which resulted in Ohio State’s wide receiver coach Zach Smith delivering a few subtle jabs at Keith Williams over Twitter. Williams didn’t let the early loss affect him however and he continued to recruit Lindsey tirelessly throughout the fall and winter. His efforts paid off when Lindsey decommitted from Ohio State and committed to Nebraska on Jan. 14 over offers from Alabama, Washington and Penn State. Lindsey also immediately took it upon himself to recruit for the Huskers, as he was extremely active on social media over the final three weeks of the recruiting cycle.

Valley: The entire Jamire Calvin Saga

Where to begin with this bizarre story? During his hunt for top receivers, Williams quickly zeroed in on Calvin as one of the receivers he wanted to land in 2017. Nebraska’s timing couldn’t have been better, as the Huskers began seriously Calvin right before he burst onto the scene with a tremendous summer camp performance. Calvin eventually became a silent commit to Nebraska following his official visit to Nebraska for the Fresno State game. All seemed well, but Calvin still maintained that he was planning to wait until Jan. 7 to announce his commitment. A little strange, but Husker fans rolled with it. Then the Army Bowl happened and things got weird.

Calvin committed to Oregon State over Nebraska at the Army Bowl, stating his desire to play with his best friend in high school. A tough blow for Nebraska, especially considering that they more or less told Isiah Hodgins “thanks but no thanks” earlier in the recruiting process, leading to the talented receiver committing to Oregon State. Calvin appeared to have second thoughts almost immediately after landing back in Los Angeles, taking down all of his Oregon State information from his Twitter page and decommitting from the Beavers just 10 days after committing to them on national television.

Nebraska quickly jumped back in front for Calvin, eventually landing a verbal commitment from him on Jan. 27, five days before national signing day. All seemed right in the world with Calvin picking the school he liked from the start. Happy ending, right? Not so fast. In the final days before signing day, Calvin suddenly began hinting at signing with Washington State. When Feb. 1 came, Calvin signed with the Cougars.

What exactly was the deal with Calvin’s recruitment? Was he getting pressure from family members to stay on the west coast? Did he get cold feet at the thought of flying to Lincoln for four years? Did he just really like all the commit edits people made him, so he decided to use all of them in the final three weeks? Unfortunately we will likely never know, as the Calvin saga will fall into the Floyd Raven and Tre’vell Dixon category of bizarre recruiting stories.

When asked about the situation, Riley appeared just as confused.

“That was a little bit over the top,” Riley said. “I got three different commitments from the kid. That might be a record.”

Peak: Parrella’s big signing day

John Parrella deserves some major props. The first year defensive line coach worked his butt off in 2017, getting Nebraska in the mix for several defensive line targets after the Huskers struggled to get on the radar for prospects in 2016. Parrella entered signing day with three commits, but it was believed that Guy Thomas was considering a flip to Louisville or Pitt. Thomas quickly quelled that rumor, signing with Nebraska to officially become a member of the Huskers’ class.

Parrella didn’t rest on his laurels following Thomas though, as he also received the commitment from Damion Daniels, a massive nose guard out of Dallas, Texas. Daniels had first visited Nebraska for the Fresno State game and the Huskers had been leading for him ever since. Despite a strong push from Colorado, the Huskers landed Daniels, giving Bob Diaco a true nose guard to build his 3-4 scheme around. Parrella finished his commitments with four, all of whom chose the Huskers over offers from several Power 5 schools. All in all, it was a brilliant debut for Parrella on the recruiting trail and a welcome change from the less than stellar efforts seen under John Papuchis and Hank Hughes.

Peak: Landing Blades to cap the class

Nebraska didn’t really need a defensive back in the 2017 class, as they were only graduating one defensive back from their 2016 team. That meant that new cornerbacks coach Donte Williams could put his full effort on landing a player with star potential in the 2017 class, and he did just that by landing Pasadena prospect Elijah Blades. The 6-3, 180 pound Blades was one of the fastest rising cornerbacks in the country during the summer, rising up to the No. 3 cornerback prospect in the country prior to his commitment to Florida. Nebraska appeared to be falling out of the race for Blades as the fall progressed, but the hiring of Williams put Nebraska right back into the mix. Blades eventually committed to Nebraska over USC and Florida, giving Nebraska its second huge signing day victory in a row.

Peak: Taking care of the backyard

Nebraska didn’t do a great job of protecting its home state in the past two classes, letting multiple top prospects leave the state (most notably when Noah Fant shunned Nebraska for Iowa). Nebraska set out to change that in 2017, landing four prospects from the Cornhusker State and beating some tough teams in order to do so.

The first prospect Nebraska landed was Austin Allen, a massive tight end prospect from Aurora who committed to Nebraska over offers from UCLA and UCF. Allen missed the majority of his senior football season with a knee injury, but has demonstrated his impressive athleticism on the basketball court, helping lead the Huskies to an 8-3 record.

The second in-state prospect to join Nebraska was Broc Bando, an imposing guard prospect from Lincoln that had spent his senior season at the prestigious IMG Academy. Bando’s time in Bradenton, Florida, was successful as he received offers from Mississippi State and Georgia prior to committing to Nebraska.

The third in-state prospect to commit was Jaylin Bradley. Bradley spent his senior season starring at running back for Bellevue West, scoring 50 touchdowns and leading the Thunderbirds to a state title. His stellar senior season, combined with some hard work in the classroom, resulted in Bradley receiving and accepting a Nebraska offer on Jan. 5

The final in-state prospect to commit to Nebraska was Chris Walker, a physical specimen from Lincoln that could project to both offensive and defensive lines. Walker was initially committed to Wyoming, but began reconsidering his recruitment after he received an offer from Nebraska on Jan. 6. Walker eventually committed to Nebraska following his official visit to Lincoln on Jan. 13.

All told, Nebraska landed every in-state prospect that received a committable offer from a Power 5 program, a marked improvement from 2016 when they allowed Fant, Jared Bubak and Nick Lenners to leave the state.

Peak: Winning the west on the recruiting front

When the dust settled, Nebraska finished with the fifth highest rated class in the Big Ten, trailing only Maryland, Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State. Nebraska clearly finished 2017 with the best class in the Big Ten West, stocking more highly touted prospects at greater positions of need. From a national perspective, Nebraska finished in the low 20 range with its class, as the group was headlined by five 4-star recruits and 15 3-star recruits.

Wisconsin, which finished with a class in the low 40s range, completed its class with two 4-star recruits, 14 3-star recruits and two 2-star recruits. Iowa finished with a class in the mid-40s after ranking in the low teens during the spring of 2016, seeing several top prospects jump ship as signing day approached. Iowa finished its class with one 5-star recruit, one 4-star recruit, 17 3-star recruits and three 2-star recruits.

The road back to the Big Ten title game starts with consistently adding more talent than their competitors, and the Huskers took a great step in that direction in 2017.

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