Zavier Betts couldn’t hear his future coach all that well. It wasn’t Coach Scott Frost’s fault. The hallways of Bellevue West (Neb.) High School, for whatever reason, were interrupting the service on Betts’ cell phone.
So he roamed, looking for a better spot to hear what the Nebraska coach had to say. It’s unclear if Betts found improved service—he never said—but it didn’t matter. He heard Frost’s question on the other end of the line regardless of interrupted service: Would Betts like to sign his letter of intent now?
“When he asked me that question, I just stopped and froze because I just didn't believe it's actually happening this early,” Betts told reporters following his signing ceremony on Friday, Dec. 20.
Betts had expected to sign in February or May once his grades were finalized. He had been working to improve his academic situation through the fall alongside Bellevue West counselors, coaches and teachers, but he figured he’d need to wait until everything was finalized in the spring. What Betts didn’t know was that the Nebraska coaches had been monitoring his situation closely and had determined things were on the right path to have confidence in him signing early.
“It's a great feeling just because the last three years I haven't been doing that good in school,” Betts said. “And then this year to turn it around, being able to complete this and get to go to Nebraska in a couple of months, it's unbelievable.
“It's unforgettable honestly.”
Adversity reveals character, or so Bellevue West football coach Michael Huffman believes.
“People say it creates it, no, it doesn't,” he said. “It reveals that you already are who you are. When hard times come you either fold or you buckle down and go harder.”
Huffman always knew Betts’ character. He knew what the 4-star wide receiver was capable of both on and off the field. Yet, it was the “the evolution between your ears” that made Huffman the most proud, as he told Betts at his signing ceremony.
The academic piece of his future didn’t always take top priority for Betts. He remembers something switching for him after an October conversation with Jennie Benning, a resource teacher at Bellevue West. Something was going to have to give for Betts if he wanted to become academically eligible to play at Nebraska and he was running out of time.
"I said, 'Yeah, I really want to do this. I really want to get this done and I really want to play for Nebraska,'" Betts said. "After that, something clicked in my head and I started doing really good in school.”
Huffman also started to see a young man taking ownership of his mistakes. When Betts turned an assignement in late this fall, it frustrated his head football coach. But Betts did something he’d never done before.
“He goes, ‘Coach, that's on me man, I screwed that up,’” Huffman said. “That wasn't what it used to be like and so when he started owning himself, I'm like, ‘OK, we got a shot.’”
Betts ranked among the best wide receives in the country following his Bellevue West career. He boasts 3,330 receiving yards over his four seasons, which includes 1,185 on 64 catches as a senior. He also contributed heavily in the Thunderbirds’ run to the Class A state title in 2019.
None of Betts’ on-field accomplishments came as much of a surprise to Huffman though. He’d been hearing about Betts since the receiver was in eighth grade, being coached by former Husker Clester Johnson. Huffman had even received a call one day from Johnson saying that Betts just might be better than his own son CJ Johnson, a former Bellevue West wide receiver who played for Wyoming.
Huffman wasn’t sure if he believed it.
“I go down there and this kid was amazing,” Huffman said. “And then here he comes as a freshman, he was starting by the end of the season. He looked like a baby giraffe but he was faster than everybody even then, and then athletically he did it as a sophomore.”
That meant opposing teams started double-teaming Betts by the time he was a junior at Bellevue West. It wasn’t always easy for Betts—he just wanted the ball—but it ended up being a blessing in disguise in his development.
“When things weren't going well, he would focus on this block and his favorite thing in the game wasn't a touchdown. It was a pancake block,” Huffman said. “He would come running off the field, ‘Did you see that coach? Did you see?’ That's fun seeing and that's big for Nebraska because they have the whole 'No Block, No Rock' thing.’”
And in some ways, Huffman believes that mental maturation Betts faced on the field helped when he needed it in the classroom.
Betts had already signed his letter of intent and sent it off to Nebraska by the time he located Huffman Thursday afternoon. The smile that accompanied Betts? It’s one Huffman will never forget. It was the culmination of a lot of hard work and the appreciation of that all paying off.
Huffman called Frost’s phone call “genius.” Betts doesn’t like to let people down, so the confidence from Nebraska will only motivate him further this spring.
“It does feel like a little bit of pressure but at the same time, it's kind of relieving the pressure knowing that they trust me so much and believe that I can get it done,” Betts said. “I'm going to show them that I can.”
It also solidifies Betts’ place going forward.
“By Scott Frost calling and doing that, what he has said is, ‘Now we believe in you, you're now our guy,’” Huffman said.
That’s a message Betts heard loud and clear.
“I thought I was going to miss out a little bit because I was planning on signing later,” Betts said. “But when I got that call, I was like, ‘Well, I’m a part of this now and it’s going to be awesome.’”
Erin is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist for Hail Varsity. She has covered Nebraska athletics since 2012, which has included stops at Bleacher Report, Cox Media Group’s Land of 10, and even Hail Varsity (previously from 2012-2017). She has also been featured on the Big Ten Network, NET’s Big Red Wrap-Up, and a varsity of radio shows nationwide. When not covering the Huskers, Erin is probably at Chipotle.