Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

A Deeper Look Into Matt Rhule’s Blueprint for Development Success

December 11, 2022

Matt Rhule is a builder. He builds programs and players. That’s largely why Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts chose him as candidate 1A for the Nebraska head coach job.

Alberts and Rhule both referenced the Go Big Project, the state-of-the-art $165 million developmental facility on track to open this summer, during Rhule’s introductory press conference. Alberts said that project will help Nebraska regain its identity as one of the premiere developmental football programs in the country.

“The University of Nebraska has been and always will be the premier development program in the country,” Alberts said before introducing Rhule. “That’s our DNA and that’s who we are. For those of you who drove up and you saw the Go Big Project, you can see the investment of our donors into that project. That’s the brick and mortar behind the greatest development program in college football.”

Rhule’s become a multi-million-dollar coach because of his ability to develop players and people, So it warrants looking into who he’s developed and what they’ve done.

Rhule took over as Temple head coach in 2013. No Owl was selected in the NFL Draft following his first two seasons but three were selected in each of the following two years. Five players he recruited over the next two years were also drafted.

Tavon Young was a 2-star prospect, according to 247Sports. He was 5-foot-10 and 155 pounds from Oxon Hill, Maryland, with his only other offer from Towson. But he was also a standout sprinter, who ran a leg on a state record-breaking relay team in high school. He later ran a 4.46 40 at the NFL Combine with a 3.93 20-yard shuttle. The four-year letterwinner at Temple was selected in the fourth round by his local Baltimore Ravens. Tyler Matakevich was also a 2-star prospect when he signed with Temple over Akron. His four-year impact started immediately when he became the first freshman Owl with 100 tackles. The linebacker ran a 4.81 40 at the combine with a 7.19 three-cone time. The Pittsburgh Steelers selected him in the seventh round in 2016 and he’s still in the NFL with Buffalo.

Haason Reddick wasn’t ranked at all out of high school and nobody else wanted him after he broke his femur as a senior. He walked on at Temple and played both running back and safety his freshman year. Three years later he was an all-conference linebacker with an insane burst (4.52 40, 4.37 shuttle). In Rhule’s system he went from walk on to first-round pick by the Arizona Cardinals. Offensive lineman Dion Dawkins also didn’t receive a ranking but he did turn down Cincinnati in favor for Temple. He started 41 of 44 games at Temple and finished a first team all-conference selection. He rocketed up draft boards, earned a second-round selection by the Buffalo Bills and made the Pro Bowl last year.

Matt Ioannidis was a 3-star defensive lineman from Flemington, New Jersey, whose only offer came from Temple. He arrived at college 6-foot-4, 243 pounds. He played double-digit games his final three seasons at Temple, earning all-conference honors his final two. Ioannidis ran a 5.03 40 at the combine and benched 32 reps. Washington selected him in the fifth round and kept him until he joined Rhule at the Carolina Panthers earlier this year. Nate Hairston was a 2-star athlete who ran a 5.03 40. He switched from receiver to defensive back between his sophomore and junior seasons. Indianapolis drafted him in the fifth round in 2017 and he’s spent this year on practice squads.

Two-star Jullian Taylor denied a preferred walk-on offer from Iowa to play at Temple. He signed at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds as a tight end. Coaches moved him to defensive end. He made 41 tackles, 11 sacks in his only season as a starter, added 80 pounds to his frame and San Francisco drafted him in seventh round. Jacob Martin was a 2-star defensive end from Colorado who chose Temple over Colorado State, Wyoming and Idaho. He played at least 12 games in all four seasons for Matt Rhule and worked his way to all-conference honors. Seattle drafted him in the sixth round in 2018. He now plays for the Denver Broncos.

“The standard that we believed in and that we breathed, it’s something that I truly appreciate,” Martin told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I would not have gotten this far without those lessons, without those hard times.”

Just one Baylor player was drafted in Rhule’s first two seasons in Waco. Since then, 11 Bears were selected in the draft.

Denzel Mims was a 3-star receiver who enrolled at Baylor before Rhule arrived in Waco. He played in at least 12 games each of his last three years at Baylor while developing into an all-Big 12 receiver. He finished among the top 10 on Baylor’s career receiving yard list. Mims has been with the New York Jets since his second-round selection. Three-star prospect James Lynch chose Baylor over TCU and USC. The Texas native became the Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year and All-American under Rhule. The Vikings have kept him since drafting him in the fourth round.

Bravvion Roy was a 3-star, 6-foot defensive line prospect. He added 30 pounds, worked his way to all-conference honors and a sixth-round pick by Rhule and the Panthers in 2020. Injuries impeded 3-star Texas native Clay Johnston’s Baylor career. Still, he bulked 27 pounds before the combine with 18 bench reps. The Rams drafted him in the seventh round and he now plays linebacker for Cincinnati.

Rhule’s recruiting at Baylor was finally developed this past year when six Bears were selected in the draft. Tyquan Thornton was a speedy 4-star receiver (10.50 in the 100) and played in nearly every game at Baylor. He ran 4.28 40, the fastest of that year’s combine. New England selected him in the second round. Three-star safety JT Woods chose Baylor over Houston and Ivy League schools. He added 18 pounds over his playing career and led the Big 12 in interceptions as a senior. His broad jump of 10 feet, 8 inches stood out at the combine and Los Angeles drafted him in the third round.

Terrel Bernard was a 3-star all-state linebacker who, not recruited by every university in Texas, became an all-conference selection. He ultimately became Sugar Bowl MVP and a third-round draft pick by the Buffalo Bills. Trestan Ebner was a versatile athlete out of high school. He developed into a dynamic offensive option and return specialist at Baylor. He was a repeat Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year before becoming a sixth-round pick by Chicago. Kalon Barnes became a standout cornerback and star sprinter at Baylor. He ran 4.23 at the combine, the second-fastest time in 20 years. Carolina picked him in the seventh round.

Then there’s Jalen Pitre. He was the one recruit pledged to Baylor when Rule arrived. He bought into Rhule’s vision and contributed immediately. Pitre became Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, a consensus All-American and a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s best defensive back. The Houston Texans made him a second-round pick earlier this year.

“I feel like I was a little overlooked but I was very thankful for Baylor giving me a shot,” Pitre told the Associated Press. “With that gratitude, I was sold on coming here and doing what I needed to do to become the man that I could be, and growing on and off the field.

“It’s crazy to look back and see how far I’ve come.”

Back in college football, Rhule’s ready to build again. He laid out his plan for the Nebraska fans during his induction ceremony. And he shares Alberts’ vision.

“The future of Nebraska football is not hanging on one decision,” Rhule said, “but is hanging on the accumulation of day-after-day-after-day of great recruiting, great development, great coaching, great teaching and we’ll just try to say what’s next every day.”

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