Photo Credit: John S. Peterson.

Oltmans: Recruiting Dylan Raiola Becoming About More Than The Wunderkind

February 27, 2023

It’s not just Dylan Raiola.

The No. 1 recruit in the country, bookended by his Hall of Fame father and freshman brother, flew into Omaha late Friday night. Hours later he stepped into the spotlight. The 17-year-old urged Pinnacle Bank Arena to its collective feet and threw the bones during the Nebraska men’s basketball team’s win over Minnesota on Saturday. A sellout crowd of basketball fans—15,489 announced—roaring in a fervor of hope.

Nebraska’s recruitment of Raiola has become more than a typical recruitment. If the actions of head coach Matt Rhule and his coaching staff rekindled the flame of hope for Husker football fans, their recruitment of Raiola following his decommitment from Ohio State doused the house in gasoline and left the burners on. In the history of modern recruiting rankings, Nebraska’s only signed two 5-star recruits. Neither of them (Marlon Lucky and Chris Septak) make the same grades as Raiola. He’s the son of a Husker great, a College Football Hall of Famer. A student of Nebraska’s former greatness and a projection of its future success. That’s what the high school junior is becoming in the eyes of Husker fans—a turning point for the program.

A quarter century removed from the program’s last national championship, the football program hasn’t made a bowl game since its last winning season—7 years ago. Husker fans then gritted their teeth through tough losses in big games before close-but-not-close-enough outcomes on a regular basis. The “best three-win team in the country” jokes held the legitimacy of close close loses against ranked teams. Then came Ireland. The first three quarters against North Dakota. And, ultimately, Georgia Southern. Husker fans eagerly followed the coaching search and Rhule rewarded their patience with words of change. Then actions of change. He said that hard work wasn’t special. Special teams coordinator Ed Foley’s travels across Nebraska wasn’t a PR stunt. It was the standard, the bare minimum.

Almost instantaneous with the public announcement of Raiola’s decommitment from Ohio State, Rhule tweeted. Not in cryptic emoji verse but with a gif. Professional wrestler The Undertaker sitting up. WWE lore states The Undertaker is not of this Earth. A being unable to stay in his grave. He’d return more powerful, capable of summoning lightning and conquering death. If Nebraska’s longest bowl drought in 60 years meant the program was 6 feet deep in modern college football then Rhule’s arrival became the metaphorical hand rising from the soil. Even the most skeptical of Husker fans stirred with promise. So much so that a teased announcement last night built Husker fans into a fervor—that announcement was a posted list of schools who have offered Raiola.

Raiola’s recruitment isn’t accompanied only by hope. There’s a potential windfall of recruits to follow. One of my calls with a Texas high school coach started with small talk about ball and and one of his players Nebraska recently offered. It ended with that central Texas coach talking about Raiola. “If they can get Raiola,” he said, “that changes everything.”

Other prominent recruits see the No. 1 overall recruit seriously considering, visiting, a heartland program that just won four games. Why is this program right there with two-time defending national champion Georgia and Heisman-developing USC? Perhaps, they wonder, maybe I should see what this is about. Raiola is scheduled to visit Nebraska on March 25, a week after his visit to Georgia. Nearly a dozen recruits, most either 5 or 4 stars, will also attend Nebraska’s VIP Junior Day. This puts Nebraska into a recruiting situation it’s never seen before. A potential all-time recruiting class hovers on the horizon. It’s not a promise but within sight and attainable with enough steps into a pointed direction.

It’s a unique situation. He’s the most sought-after recruit in the country and firmly in the college football spotlight. He was once again in the spotlight on Saturday when he threw the bones for a sold out Pinnacle Bank Arena. The young quarterback seemed to enjoy that moment, reveling in the applause and returning the kindness. He’s already beloved by Husker fans who see the 5-star quarterback as tangible evidence Nebraska is back. Other recruits could follow and find a home at Nebraska.

Rhule told Husker fans they’ll do it. They’ll turn the program around. The biggest recruit in program history would no doubt play a part in that. Yes, he’s a highly rated quarterback and he’d change national perception of the program. But it’s about more than just Dylan Raiola—it’s about the dominos that fall after.

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