Tom's Time
Photo Credit: Nebraska Athletics

Tom’s Time: A ‘Difficult’ Recruiting Year in 1994 Still Proved Fruitful for Nebraska

December 17, 2020

On letter-of-intent-signing day in early February of 1994, SuperPrep Magazine’s Allen Wallace indicated Nebraska’s 1994 recruiting class was top-20 caliber, despite the Huskers’ having gone through “one of the most difficult recruiting years we’ve had,” Tom Osborne said.

“I don’t know why.”

Dave Gillespie, Nebraska’s recruiting coordinator, said the Huskers’ focus and preparation for a national title match-up in the Orange Bowl had diverted attention from recruiting.

All’s well that ends well, though, and things ended well for Nebraska, except for the fact it signed only one quarterback: Jon Elder from Sioux City, Iowa.

“We had hoped to get two if we could,” said Osborne.

Ben Rutz had transferred to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. If he had stayed, “we’d be fine,” Osborne said. But Brook Berringer was dealing with some elbow issues; if he and two-year starter Tommie Frazier remained healthy, with walk-on Matt Turman behind them, the plan would be to redshirt Elder.

As it turned out, Elder would leave school.

Elder was among six in the class of 19 announced on signing day to leave without earning at least one letter. Another was running back Brian Knuckles, a two-time junior college All-American at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, the school from which 1983 Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier had come.

Knuckles would soon transfer again and play at Western Illinois.

Seven of the remaining 13 recruits announced on signing day earned four letters, three earned three.

Grant Wistrom, an outside linebacker from Webb City, Missouri, was among the most prominent in the recruiting class, picking Nebraska over the likes of Miami, Michigan and Oklahoma. He and Octavious McFarlin, who was from Bastrop, Texas, played as true freshmen.

McFarlin was listed as a safety on the signees list. But he would become a linebacker.

Both he and Wistrom contributed on three national championship teams. McFarlin was a starter as a senior in 1997. Wistrom was in the regular rotation as a freshman, then started 35 consecutive games, earning consensus All-America recognition twice and the Lombardi Award in 1997.

Wistrom opted to return for his senior season, in which he was chosen a co-captain, rather than leave for the NFL, despite being projected as a first-round draft pick.

Jay Foreman, from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, was listed as a wingback-defensive back, at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds. “He’s pretty skinny right now,” Osborne said, indicating he would probably play defense.

Foreman did, starting at Mike linebacker as a redshirt freshman, then moving to Sam backer, where he started in 1997 and 1998—when he was a co-captain and second-team All-Big 12 for a second time. Foreman was listed at 6-foot-1 and 240 pounds as a senior.

Another member of the 1994 recruiting class wouldn’t decide until later. Kenny Cheatham, a receiver from Phoenix, was considering other schools for basketball or track instead of football.

In addition, Michael Booker from El Camino, California, and Jamelle Williams from Merrillville, Indiana, would count against Nebraska’s 1994 recruiting class’s scholarship limit after originally signing in 1993. Both sat out a season while meeting eligibility requirements.

They were not included on the 1994 signing-day list.

Darin Erstad and John Livingston were included, but as footnotes to the 17 signees. Erstad, a Husker baseball player, joined the football team as a punter-placekicker. Livingston, a wide receiver from San Marcos, California, had previously been at Arizona State and Palomar (Calif.) Community College. His eligibility was in question on signing day.

Erstad, of course, played on the 1994 national championship team, his only season of football.

The most prominent high school players the Huskers recruited who went elsewhere were Amp Campbell, a running back from Sarasota, Florida, and Hines Ward, a quarterback from Edison, Georgia. Campbell committed to Nebraska but didn’t sign a letter of intent. He had to become academically eligible. When he did, however, he went to Florida State. Ward dropped the Huskers from consideration before signing day and stayed close to home, going to Georgia.

In addition to Livingston, the class included four others from California. It included only three from Nebraska: Ted Butler from Lincoln Southeast, an offensive lineman; Travis Toline from Wahoo, an outside linebacker; and Brandt Wade from Springfield-Platteview, also an offensive lineman.

Butler’s teammate at Southeast, Ty Goode, signed with Notre Dame.

Over the previous 10 years, Nebraska had signed fewer than five in-state athletes only twice, in 1988 (four) and 1989 (three). The previous year, the Huskers’ scholarship recruiting class had included seven in-state athletes. A prominent one had gotten away, though—Wood River quarterback Scott Frost, who signed with Stanford.

Besides Nebraska and California, the Husker recruiting class, counting Cheatham but not Erstad (from Jamestown, North Dakota) included athletes from 10 other states. “We finished strong the last week, and that was unnerving when you’re dealing with players from considerable distance,” Osborne said.

In addition, negative recruiting was widespread, according to Osborne.

“You always want to take a shower when it’s over,” he said.

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