When Scott Frost called to offer Heinrich Haarberg a scholarship, the response took the head football coach at Nebraska by surprise. Haarberg was thrilled, but inquisitive. He peppered Frost with questions a coach doesn’t normally expect to hear on this particular phone call.
“He quizzed coaches as much as they quizzed him,” said Haarberg’s coach at Kearney Catholic, Rashawn Harvey. “We always said you’ve got to investigate schools as much as they’re investigating you, and he actually did that.”
He had a whiteboard in his room this year on which he’d write a daily schedule. Class, practice, homework, Zoom calls with coaches.
“He’d call me every day or every other day and we’d talk about who called him,” Harvey said. “We’d talk about conversations I’d have with coaches that were calling from all across the country. To watch him grow and develop through that process, his ability to analyze the conversation, his ability to think ahead. He’d go and look at their rosters, know what their depth looked like at the quarterback position.
“That showed a young man that just wasn’t enjoying the process but he was deep into the process and able to understand that, ‘Hey, this isn’t just everybody calling about me, I have to go do my own research and my due diligence to figure out what’s the best spot for me.’ He would have tons of information. He would ask challenging questions of coaches. He didn’t just soak it in and say, ‘Hey, look at me, I’m getting recruited.’”
Teammates this season always offered the same evaluation of the senior quarterback: it wasn’t so much a process Haarberg was just happy to be part of, it wasn’t a status thing, it was a real search for him to find the next home.
Four years earlier, that search landed Haarberg at Kearney Catholic. He was smaller, shyer. One of Harvey’s favorite memories is of a first-year Haarberg looking like a deer caught in headlights when asked to go deep as a receiver late into the fourth quarter of a game.
“Really? I’m going in right now?” Harvey remembers the look and laughs.
He’s come a long way.
On Wednesday, Haarberg will sign with Nebraska. Next month, he’ll early-enroll and join a quarterback room that could very well be in a state of flux.
Quarterback play this season for Nebraska has been a problem spot, and with eligibility frozen, Haarberg will join a room that will feature two other freshmen by eligibility and a junior. What exactly will the spot look like in a year’s time?
Will the 6-foot-6 thrower be a competitor for the starting job at some point down the line or fill a scholarship as a feel-good local story? I’ve gotten that question a few times. Maybe his numbers play into the narrative? Make no mistake, Haarberg has the goods to be a major college quarterback with the right tutelage.
As a senior, Haarberg threw for 1,857 yards at a 54.8% clip with 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Other quarterbacks in the state had more touchdowns.Haarberg had Cale Conrad, though. The senior tailback ran for 1,295 yards and 14 scores in 10 games. (Haarberg had 556 yards and 10 scores himself.) Kearney Catholic fell five points short of a state title appearance with its approach.
“When he played for us, he did a great job of buying into what we needed him to do for our team. We didn’t need him to throw the ball 50, 60 times a game or to put up big numbers. We needed him to do what was best for our program,” Harvey said. “You got a kid that’s going to do what’s best for the team and not himself.
“Does he have the ability to do that? Absolutely, but it’s bigger than your numbers. The biggest part I believe is what kind of young man are you gonna get and is he gonna buy into what’s needed for that team. I think that’s what they’re gonna get with that young man.”
And that’s what Harvey told Husker quarterback coach Mario Verduzco when he first showed up at the school asking about Haarberg.
“I remember telling him, ‘The kid is an athletic kid, he’s got a high ceiling, but he is a smart kid,’” Harvey said. “That’s one of the first things I wanted them to know, that yeah he’s an athlete, but he’s got the part upstairs that’s needed to play quarterback at the Division I level.”
Before Haarberg, Nebraska hadn’t offered an in-state quarterback since 2001.
When Harvey turns on the TV on Saturdays and sees guys dropping balls into a bucket on a corner route, he sees the same attributes he sees in his own quarterback.
“I see a guy that’s a big, strong kid, I see a young man that can sit in the pocket, I see a young man that can take off and run and get some yards, I see a young man that’s got a strong arm who will be developed as he gets into the system there at UNL,” Harvey says.
The thing I’ve come to appreciate about the Kearney Catholic head coach is that he doesn’t sugarcoat things or get overly hyperbolic. He’s a straight shooter. No grandiose statements or proclamations. He’ll praise his guys, as any coach should, and he’ll offer words of advice on what needs work.
“The part, like every young quarterback’s going to work on, you’ve got to be able to throw a guy open,” he said. “When you get to the college level, he’s got to figure out the speed. There’s going to be a speed difference from the receivers he was throwing to at Kearney Catholic and when he gets to his first spring practice.
“As soon as he can figure out that speed difference … he’s gonna have no problem with that because he’s got the arm strength to do it.”
Haarberg’s greatest attribute as a quarterback, Harvey says, is his ability to learn.
“His cerebral ability is gonna be a great attribute to him getting into that program,” Harvey said. “Obviously he’s got all the physical tools, but you can have all the physical tools you want, if you can’t understand, it’s not going to help you. He’s a great guy mentally.”
The expectation is that Nebraska will want to get him up to around 225, 230 pounds. Add some weight to the frame and some strength so Haarberg can handle the quarterback run element of Nebraska’s offense without putting him at risk. The Stars’ roster lists him at 200 pounds currently.
Balance will be important there. Nebraska won’t want to add weight at the expense of his quickness; Haarberg was a gunner on punt coverage for the Stars as well as a track star.
Lots of interesting tools for Nebraska to mold. Haarberg believes in Frost and Verduzco’s ability to do that. Harvey seems excited to watch the process.