One of Matt Rhule’s first phone calls as Nebraska head football coach stayed within the athletic department. He’d barely made it into his office off One Memorial Lane and reached out to Justin St. Clair and Brenton Emanuel.
Vince Guinta gave Emanuel a heads up when he heard Rhule might become the new head coach. Guinta, the senior director of personnel and recruiting at Nebraska, just returned to Lincoln earlier this year after a two-season stint at Baylor. While all of those came after Rhule left Waco, he knew the kind of football players Rhule liked. And he knew they’d be fast.
St. Clair, Nebraska’s head track coach, considered this a unique opportunity. A relationship with the football program could not only benefit both programs but the athletes themselves. St. Clair checked with Baylor track coach Michael Ford to see if this was normal. Everything he heard from Ford has already rung true.
“It was a full green light,” St. Clair said. “So now we knew this was going to be an option.”
Rhule engineered new eras at Temple and Baylor by starting with blistering speed and athleticism. This staff could take an exceptional athlete and make football players out of them. He explained as much during his introduction to Nebraska.
“We have a certain profile that we like to recruit to, big, fast guys even if they’re a little bit developmental,” Rhule said in his introductory press conference. “We want to get as much speed as we can get anytime we can get it, so we’ve gotten started with that.”
The first person he offered a scholarship to at Nebraska was a Virginia Tech commit from Maryland. Omaha Westside senior Jaylen Lloyd was the second. Lloyd has that blistering speed Rhule and track coaches covet. Actually, the Nebraska track coaches started recruiting Lloyd over a year ago. If Lloyd was going to run and jump at Nebraska, he wanted to play football too. The track coaches were fine with it but the deal hit a snag. The previous football coaching staff wasn’t interested. So Lloyd’s recruitment seemingly ended in August. Fast-forward to Rhule’s arrival and the subsequent call to the track coaches.
“From Day One it’s been night-and-day difference from the previous staff,” Emanuel said. “No offense to them, by any means, it’s just that you can tell there’s an emphasis on speed and dual-sport athletes.”
Lloyd was ready to commit to Florida a few weeks ago. He postponed his decision because he was ill and couldn’t speak. That same weekend he received a dual football-track offer from Nebraska. He took an official visit last weekend and Lloyd committed to Nebraska on Saturday.
That commitment helped Rhule’s goal to keep Nebraska’s best talent in state. It bolstered the Nebraska track team’s sprinters and jumpers group. Lloyd’s now able to chase two dreams just down Interstate 80.
“At one point, at Baylor, Coach Rhule had six starters out there running track,” Emanuel said. “From a track and field standpoint, this is probably one of the best relationships I’ve ever had with the football staff.”
Emanuel, who specializes in sprints, now gets tagged or tweeted at by recruits thinking he’s a football coach. He estimated 75 in the first week of track and football’s working agreement. He looks but he doesn’t pass along every recruit and waste time. Because this football staff knows big-time speed.
“That helps us because they understand our sport,” he said. “That works vice-versa. Most of our staff has played football to some degree and we understand their sport. I think that’s been really helpful building this relationship.
“When we talk about training we’re not having an ego fight. We’re talking about sensible things and have an honest conversation. This staff has been really honest with the student-athletes and they’re really honest with us.”
New Nebraska football strength and conditioning coach Corey Campbell met with track staffers already. Track coaches wanted to make sure they were on the same page. They were. They discussed workouts and that a dual-sport athlete is devoted to that sport during the season. The lone exception to that being if the athlete is in competition for a starting position in spring football, they’d focus on football.
Their relationship involves constant communications. If Rhule and the football team likes a recruit that’s interested in also running track, they’ll relay a name and some tape over to the track coaches. St. Clair said he’s a thorough guy when recruiting. He wants to talk with school counselors, principles and lunch ladies, if possible. Also, what’s their social media look like? These are all things St. Clair considers before checking marks, records, tape or an athlete in person. Rhule and his staff look for similar character traits in their prospective football players. Once again, they’re all on the same page and working towards a common goal.
“For us that’s a part of this process, there’s no ego involved, we’re doing what’s best for the student-athlete, what’s best for the university, what’s best for both programs,” Emanuel said. “And I think that’s very rare that you find at any level, even at the Big Ten.”
Their relationship is in its infancy but it’s already brought results for incoming athletes. Nebraska’s sprints coach said there’s no current Husker that would be an appealing add to his track roster. There was one this past season and Emanuel inquired about him. He asked if Trey Palmer was interested in running track. Coaches said no—he’s going pro.