Isaac-Gifford
Photo Credit: Greg Smith

Huskers Taking Advantage of Every Path to Build Up Walk-On Program

July 01, 2020

Building up the walk-on program has been a theme at Nebraska since Scott Frost took over as head coach. Athletic Director Bill Moos has mentioned it on numerous occasions, and Frost addressed it during his introductory press conference.

“That’s one of the things I talked to Bill and Coach Osborne about,” Frost said. “When we were here we had a lot of players, and a lot of players were working hard at practice and nobody was sitting on a knee. We had a lot of kids from Gothenburg and from Minden and from Scottsbluff and from Wood River and from Columbus, could go on and on. But this place needs that. I’m looking forward to trying to build the walk-on program and make it what it was before. “

Including commits that haven’t yet arrived or been added to the roster page on Huskers.com, Nebraska has nearly as many walk-ons (75) as scholarship players. Including transfers, Nebraska has added 29 new walk-ons (though one of them has already transferred after enrolling early).

This year’s class of walk-ons includes players from Beatrice, Aurora, Grand Island, Wahoo, Fremont, West Point, Johnson, Roca, Wymore, Waverly Lincoln and Omaha. But Nebraska isn’t limiting itself to in-state walk-ons alone. The Huskers have also added walk-ons from Michigan, Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Minnesota, Arizona, Ohio and Florida.

Nebraska’s coaches have cast their net far and wide in search of talent for the walk-on program, and they’re getting creative in other ways as well. The latest example of this happened on Wednesday when Nebraska added offensive lineman Ezra Miller, a transfer from Iowa, to the program as a walk-on. Miller was a 4-star recruit coming out of high school, but he redshirted as a freshman before leaving the program, later citing mental health issues. If Miller is healthy, both physically and mentally, he could be a big get for the offensive line room, and it didn’t even cost the Nebraska coaches their final scholarship for this cycle.

Miller wasn’t the only former scholarship lineman to join Nebraska since the end of the 2019 season. Norris graduate and German native Nouredin Nouili started seven games at guard for Colorado State as a freshman, but he entered the transfer portal after the season and chose to return to Nebraska to walk on in Lincoln.

Nebraska picked up a graduate transfer walk-on as well in Levi Falck, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound wideout from South Dakota. He caught 70 passes for 774 yards and two touchdowns in 24 games during his three seasons with the Coyotes, making him the career leader in receiving production in that wideout room once he sets foot on campus. Falck and Kade Warner give the Huskers an experienced pair of walk-ons to bolster the young scholarship talent in Matt Lubick’s room.

Nebraska added an unconventional walk-on to Ryan Held’s running back room as well in John Bivens. A 2019 graduate, Bivens was once a highly-sought after recruit before a serious injury and academic issues led to him taking this past year off. Now he joins a young but crowded backfield, and with Bivens and Ronald Thompkins, Nebraska has two talented backs that could contribute down the line if they can bounce back from their injuries and return to form.

Then of course we have the walk-ons who won’t be paying their way for long, which was a new development with this last cycle.

Ty Hahn, the wide receiver from Johnson-Brock, had a prolific eight-man career with the Eagles. Nebraska wasn’t quite ready to offer him as a scholarship recruit considering the size of its 2020 recruiting class and the number of receivers the Huskers landed, but they liked him enough to do what they needed to in order to get him in the program. Hahn committed with the understanding that he’d be placed on scholarship after a year or two in the program.

And finally, we have Isaac Gifford, the Lincoln Southeast product who committed to the Huskers as a blueshirt, which is something I had never heard of. Similar to Hahn, the Huskers really wanted Gifford in the program. He’s a Husker legacy as the younger brother of Luke Gifford and certainly has the athleticism to play at the power-five level. However, Travis Fisher landed another class of talented defensive backs in 2020 and I’m not sure the coaches could pin down where exactly Gifford would play for them.

By offering him a blueshirt — bringing him into the program and having him pay his way for the spring and summer terms before receiving a scholarship — allowed them to get him in the program without counting him towards the 2020 scholarship limit.
Kenny Wilhite, Barrett Ruud and the rest of the staff did a lot of their work early with the walk-on class, but they’ve continued to keep an eye out for talent as the Huskers recently landed a Husker legacy in Barron Miles Jr. and an Iowa Western Community College transfer in Darius Moore as walk-ons.

Besides Warner, I haven’t even mentioned the walk-ons that have already made an impact in Frost’s program. Luke Reimer, who decommitted from South Dakota State to walk on at Nebraska, is on the fast track to a scholarship after making an impact as a true freshman. Wyatt Mazour earned the coaches trust enough to be placed on scholarship multiple times, and Brody Belt appears poised to follow in his footsteps in that backfield. Eli Sullivan worked his way up the depth chart at safety and played ahead of a lot of scholarship guys, earning a role in Nebraska’s defensive sub-packages.

Isaiah Stalbird played a bit as a redshirt freshman too, though he decided to transfer to South Dakota State after the season. The Huskers lost interior offensive lineman AJ Forbes to the transfer portal as well, and he’ll continue his career at Montana. That’s the downside of a strong walk-on program — it can be hard to keep some of those guys in the program when they know they can make a bigger impact elsewhere.

Bill Moos and Scott Frost talked a big game in regards to the walk-on program, and they’ve certainly backed up that talk with their actions. Moos empowered Frost to grow the roster and Frost’s staff has taken advantage of every way possible to add non-scholarship talent to the roster.

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