Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Recruiting Thoughts, Subdued but Still Impressive Start for Haarberg

September 21, 2020

Splitting the column up into a few different thoughts this week. There’s enough going on.

A step too far

Early enrollees can practice, but they can’t play.

The NCAA football oversight committee is recommending early enrolling freshman football players be prohibited from playing games for teams conducting winter or spring seasons. West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons, who chairs that committee, told the Associated Press as much this week.

This was an idea that was previously floated out there by Ohio State head coach Ryan Day when discussing a potential January restart. It makes sense for the Buckeyes, who would either be able to add what are traditionally blue-chip, ready-to-roll first-year players to its two-deep or help mitigate the loss of opt-outs from players with an eye toward the NFL Draft with those same kinds of talented freshmen.

For a program like Nebraska, it would have aided in the team’s overall development. Add some depth it would have otherwise been without. Four-star tight end Thomas Fidone is a mid-year enrollee; think Nebraska could have used him right away?

But with the freeze on eligibility, perhaps this created a competitive advantage for the conferences sitting out that the Power … 3 (maybe?) conferences weren’t cool rolling along with.

Maybe there’s something there; Lyons is West Virginia’s AD after all. SEC, ACC, and Big 12 schools would have all played a 2020 season without the 2021 class of recruits, like normal, while the Big Ten and Pac-12 would have played their 2020 campaigns with 2021 kids. That wouldn’t just impact development in the short term, it’d be a multi-year advantage for a kid like Fidone.

And no one could really get upset with any of those three leagues for feeling some kind of way about that.

Maybe it was a step too far for the NCAA, who was looking like that overbearing parent that suddenly becomes super chill once you turn like 17. The eligibility freeze for everyone was the right move, but the NCAA hasn’t always made the right move when it comes to its athletes.

Lyons said the committee will send a report with its recommendation to the Division I Council for approval by next week. While it would have been cool to see mid-year guys compete early for free, I can certainly understand why that was a move the NCAA didn’t want to and won’t make.

From a practice standpoint, though, it will be interesting to see how those first-years fit into teams’ plans. Let’s say Nebraska is playing in a season that starts in January, so Fidone is on campus. What kind of role would a first-year player have in practice during the week when the coaching staff knows he can’t play that same role come gameday?

Nebraska needs its crucial reps for the guys who will play. Husker head coach Scott Frost told the World-Herald’s Tom Shatel his Huskers haven’t had a padded practice since November of 2019. (That piece from Tom was really good, by the way, take some time and give it a read.)

In all likelihood, his role might just look like that of a sit-out transfer their first year on their new campus—embrace the scout team. In-season practices are going to be valuable to the first-year kid regardless.

Recruiting woes

Another set of recommendations the football oversight committee will be submitting for approval: extending the dead period in recruiting through Oct. 31 and eliminating the evaluation period for the fall.

The plan is to let teams competing in a winter/spring season have a “fall ball” akin to what spring practices would be under normal circumstances. If a team uses that period, though, they can’t have a spring period in 2021 regardless of when their fall 2020 season happens.

But here’s a thought: if Nebraska had a fall ball period, would it have a spring game equivalent in November?

“That’s one of the first things I thought of, ‘Let’s have our spring football in October,’ if we’re going to have our season in January,” Moos said on Sports Nightly a few weeks ago. “We’re going to have to wait and see if indeed we can have, and we’re at a point to announce a scheduled season.”

A fall spring game isn’t off the table, but one of the biggest benefits of the annual spring game for Nebraska is the role it plays as a recruiting tool.

If recruiting is in a dead period now through Oct. 31, what are the odds that dead period gets extended again? Probably pretty likely considering we’ve been in one for months and the can keeps getting kicked down the road. A ban on evaluating would seem to signal more of the same for visits.

And if Nebraska goes an entire fall without having an official visitor, it feels likely it would then turn around and play whatever kind of winter/spring season the Big Ten settles on without an official visitor. Again, if the SEC and ACC can’t have visitors on campus for game days in the fall, it doesn’t make any sense to allow other leagues to do it a few months later.

That could put Nebraska in a position where it doesn’t have an official visitor view a gameday environment at Nebraska in nearly two calendar years. The last official visitors came for the Iowa game on Nov. 29, 2019. If NU does indeed play that 2021 season-opener in Ireland, its first game back in Memorial Stadium for the 2021 season would be Sept. 11, 2021.

Twenty-one months and a few weeks change.

That’s an awful long time to not have your biggest sales pitch in recruiting.

Nebraska is still fighting a perception battle that it has nothing to offer but corn over here in the heartland. Columns about tractors don’t help. Neither do three Florida kids from the 2020 class deciding to transfer away from the program before even playing a game.

That’s not to say any of the three elected to put their names in the portal because they were sold a bowl of lies about what Nebraska was, that’s likely not the case at all, but it’s also likely that programs recruiting against Nebraska will use half-truths to negatively recruit the Huskers.

Not like something similar hasn’t already happened to NU fairly recently.

There aren’t many gameday atmospheres better than fall Saturdays in Lincoln. Nebraska needs to be able to show kids that.

Heinrich Haarberg‍’s start to the season

Through two games, the Husker quarterback commit is 20-for-33 for 273 yards and four scores through the air. It has been a somewhat subdued start.

Though don’t let the numbers alone tell the entire story. Haarberg played just a half against Wood River-Shelton in the opener two Fridays ago. His Stars were up 52-0 at the break. This past week against Gothenburg presented his first true test of the season, and Haarberg made plays that mattered when they mattered most.

Friday night, he threw back-to-back balls toward the back of the end zone to wideout Brett Mahony. Mahony had a smaller guy on him, one-on-one, on both throws and Haarberg put both balls up and away from the defender. The first came from two yards out, and a questionable offensive pass interference call on Mahony negated what would have been a score. The next came from the 17, and Haarberg put the ball in nearly the exact same spot in the back right corner of the end zone. A second OPI call (again pretty questionable) negated another touchdown.

Haarberg also had a phenomenal third-down conversion in the second half where he escaped right from a collapsing pocket and found a receiver beyond the sticks downfield. He fit a ball into as tight a window as he saw all night.

Then there was the 42-yard touchdown toss he threw on a rope in his first game.

Haarberg has some poise when he drops back to pass. A pretty stroke, he can really sling it. In practice, he goes from one side of the field to the other with ease, on time and on target. He’s got shiftiness to him when he runs, and catches guys off guard with his athleticism; he’s a 6-foot-5 guy who makes himself smaller when he runs and has pretty decent change-of-direction speed considering that height.

Nebraska has a hidden gem in the quarterback two hours from campus, but it knew that well before anyone outside Kearney knew the name Haarberg.

The thing that has impressed me most, though, is the personality. No one is jealous of the attention Haarberg gets because never does Haarberg make a teammate feel like he’s more than. He doesn’t boast. How often will you find a star D1-bound quarterback at a C1 school not just playing special teams but embracing it?

This isn’t a team that’s going to ask its quarterback to win a bunch of 42-35 games on the strength of his performances alone. And the quarterback doesn’t seem to mind.

The numbers will come in time; he looks the part. This is shaping up to be a fun year.

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