The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the way college football operates. That includes recruiting, which has changed how Nebraska can operate. Coach Scott Frost recently talked about how the Huskers have to recruit players from all over the country.
“We’re typically as far away from our average scholarship student-athlete as anybody in the country,” Frost said last week. “We have to go all over to get them. We do really well when kids get to Lincoln and see what it’s all about and get to come here and experience it. It’s hard to recruit out of state when kids never have an opportunity to come see campus or come see our facilities and visit with us in person.”
One of the most popular states for Nebraska to recruit is Florida. Nebraska had three players—defensive backs Henry Gray and Jaiden Francois, as well as linebacker Keyshawn Greene—all leave the program before ever taking a snap in a game. Each was a 4-star defender from Florida.
Gray was one of Nebraska’s most vocal peer recruiters during the 2020 cycle. He helped recruit many of the other Floridians to the program. Francois was a last-second coup by the team on signing day. He wavered during his commitment ceremony but stuck with his pledge to Nebraska. Greene was the most highly-touted of the bunch. The U.S. Army All-American was tabbed to be a true sideline-to-sideline linebacker.
Their departures were described as “unfortunate” by defensive backs coach Travis Fisher on Tuesday. He was the main recruiter for each. Fisher did his best to explain the reality of why on Tuesday, saying a lot of it had to do with how different things are on campuses due to COVID-19.
It’s always tough for kids to leave home because of homesickness. That is a reality college programs have to navigate even in the best of years, but that is especially true now. The last several months in Lincoln have been very different for student-athletes. Things look much different today than when they took their official visits and felt the excitement of game day. Walking around campus looks different now too, and it’s hard to truly get a sense of Lincoln right now.
Added to all of that is the unknown of what their football futures would hold.
“It’s the fear of not knowing anything,” Fisher said. “At that time, you didn’t know anything and if there would be a football season. It was tough for those kids. That’s why we talk about the culture. Some of the older guys were able to save the rest. It’s not about the kids that aren’t with us anymore. It’s some older ones that were struggling as well. There were coaches struggling when things changed up.”
Fisher acknowledged that the challenges go far beyond the team. Adults in the workforce, for example, are also having a difficult time adjusting to the changes brought forth by the pandemic.
In relation to Nebraska football, Fisher feels the players have to stick together the best they can. That also comes with help from the coaching staff.
“It was tough,” Fisher said. “It still is tough and that’s why we have a football team that is willing to sacrifice a lot to put our arms around these kids and try to help them as much as we can to stay here in Lincoln and ride the wave.”
The fear of the unknown may have cost the Huskers a trio of prized recruits, but Fisher—like Frost—is focused on what remains. For the players still in Lincoln, this is another hurdle to overcome as a group while trying to push the program forward.
Greg is the Recruiting Analyst for Hail Varsity and has covered Husker athletics since 2013. He has always had a passion for sports while growing up in the Chicago area. As he got older and had to hang up his cleats and sneakers, he realized his passion for sports went beyond just watching and attending games. He has covered many events from the Rose Bowl to championship boxing matches. If he’s not talking sports, he’s hovering over his grill. He is married to an amazing woman, Kim, and they have a dog that barks when Greg yells at the TV during games.