Walk-On Process a Vital Step to Huskers' In-State Recruiting
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Walk-On Process a Vital Step to Huskers’ In-State Recruiting

October 17, 2016

College football recruiting is a world of all-gas and no-brakes. That is no exception when it comes to the walk-on process. Nebraska used to be able to wait until after its season was over—sometimes as late as January—before sending out its preferred walk-on offers to prospects around the state. That is no longer the case for the Huskers, as shown by defensive line coach John Parrella’s recent preferred walk-on offer to Central City defensive end Jordan Paup.

Paup, a 6-3, 230-pound athlete, confirmed to Hail Varsity that Parrella made the offer early last week. He currently holds three scholarship offers from South Dakota, South Dakota State and Northern Iowa, with Wyoming also showing significant interest. Paup is currently the only in-state prospect to receive a walk-on offer to date. He called the offer an “honor” and said it “feels good to receive the offer so early” from Nebraska.

Paup’s offer is an interesting new development, as it is rare for a prospect to receive a preferred walk-on offer this early in the process. In recent years, Nebraska has typically waited until the final two months of
the recruiting cycle to send out walk-on invitations, allowing plenty of time to watch and evaluate senior film from in-state
prospects. Nebraska was allowed to do this mainly because it was the
only show in town. In-state prospects would often choose walking on at Nebraska over taking a scholarship
offer from a smaller school like Northern Iowa, South Dakota State or
Wyoming.

Things have changed. As time moved Nebraska further from its championships of the 1990s, the draw for kids around the state has become less alluring. Additionally, the exposure and increased appeal of non-Power Five and FCS level football has increased. Power Five programs used to control the TV audiences in the fall, forcing smaller conferences and divisions to play games on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in order to get airtime. With the increase in broadcast outlets, more programs are able to get airtime without resorting to an less than ideal day and time.

FCS programs have also seen their exposure rise due timely upsets of FBS programs, as well as the continued excellence of North Dakota State. The success of key FCS programs has brought a new level of respect to smaller universities and their football programs, something they have taken full advantage of when recruiting underrated prospects from Nebraska.

Two perfect examples of this are South Dakota State, which beat North Dakota State last Saturday, and Wyoming. The Jackrabbits have signed 10 Nebraska natives in their past two recruiting classes and currently hold three commitments from Nebraska in 2017. With 15 offers currently out to in-state prospects, it is very likely that South Dakota State will add a couple more Nebraska athletes before signing day. Wyoming, under former North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl, has been aggressive in recruiting Nebraska since Bohl arrived in 2014. Wyoming has offered 12 Nebraska prospects since then, landing four of them as commits.

Nebraska prospects are traditionally late bloomers, which is apparent from the traditional success of Nebraska’s walk-on program. Prospects that may be a 1- or 2-star recruits as 18-year-olds can be molded into very effective, Big Ten-caliber players by their third year in the program. Both Bryan Reimers and Cole Conrad have proven that this season. The issue for Nebraska is that smaller schools have figured that out and are willing to offer these prospects and play the waiting game. In doing so, they build their roster while weakening Nebraska’s.

In order to counter these smaller programs from stealing its targets, Nebraska had to start accelerating the timeline on its walk-on decisions, starting with Paup. Offering walk-ons this early in the process allows both the prospect and Nebraska to know where they stand, meaning that the recruit will not be in limbo as signing day approaches. It also gives Nebraska a recruiting tool, similar to Nebraska’s “golden ticket” method of offering scholarships. If used properly, the Huskers can develop another campaign that sells the opportunity of becoming a walk on. This won’t land all talented Nebraska prospects, but it may help keep a couple in-state.

Paup was the first in-state prospect to receive a Nebraska walk-on offer, but he won’t be the last. You can expect prospects like Chris Walker (Lincoln East), Trent Hixson (Skutt Catholic), Jaylin Bradley (Bellevue West) and Jack Begley (Millard North) to receive walk-on offers in the near future.

Nebraska has been able to take things slow in this area for a long time, but the world of walk-on recruiting is joining the rest of the recruiting world now. Things are about to move a whole lot faster.

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