The quarterback race — featuring four players with a combined 30 pass attempts at the Division I level — has gotten a lot of the attention, but there is a position on Nebraska’s football team with even less experience returning, and it will be an important one for the Huskers next year.
After four years of the steady, reliable Drew Brown, Nebraska needs a new kicker.
Brown went 24-for-28 on field goals and 75-for-75 on extra points over the last two years and was 59-of-76 on field goals and 178-of-180 on extra points for his career.
With Brown gone, Nebraska only has two kickers left on the roster and neither of them have attempted so much as an extra point or a kickoff at the college level.
Barret Pickering was one of the members of Mike Riley’s 2018 recruiting class who stuck with his pledge to Nebraska through the coaching change. Cole Frahm redshirted last year after turning down scholarship offers from South Dakota State and Augustana to walk on at Nebraska out of Omaha Burke.
“I may know more about hockey slap shots than I do kicking to be honest with you,” Coach Scott Frost said when asked about the kicker position at his spring preview press conference. “Barret Pickering is a kid that was committed to Nebraska before we got here from Hoover, Alabama. Hopefully he can do the job and we’re looking forward to giving him that chance. Like I said, I couldn’t kick a ball from me to you. Well, I probably could do that. That’s one area of football I don’t know much about. So, usually when a guy goes out to kick a football, I stay as far away as I possibly can.”
The man who will be in charge of that competition is Jovan Dewitt, Nebraska’s outside linebackers coach who will also coordinate special teams.
“That’s not fun,” Dewitt said about replacing a kicker. “We’ve got a good one that’s here in Barret; he’s going to be really good for us. There will be some interesting kids coming in. Specialists are really different in recruiting. There’s always that can’t-miss, no-problem recruit that you get — I’m not saying that’s Barret or not — and then all of a sudden they get there and you’re like, ‘Oh, well that wasn’t very good.’”
Pickering is a 6-foot, 180-pound kicker out of Birmingham, Alabama who was rated among the top five at his position in the 2018 class by one service. Pickering helped Hoover to back-to-back Class 7A state championships in 2016 and 2017 and earned all-state honors as a junior in 2016.
As for Frahm, he is a 6-foot-5, 200-pound kicker probably most known for his trick kicks (found on his Twitter page.)
“There’s always going to be those guys who are like walk-ons,” Dewitt said. “It’s really one of the few spots left in football where the walk-on kid really gets a true, honest chance to come in and be the starter right off the bat.”
Nebraska has had quite a bit of success with walk-on kickers who go on to earn scholarships later in their careers, most notably another Omaha Burke alumnus, Alex Henery.
Both players should get plenty of reps in practice, but ultimately, the winner is going to have to get it done when the games truly begin.
“It’s such a different skill set; you never know how kids are going to handle it when they come in as 17- and 18-year-old kids in front of 90,000 people for the first time,” Dewitt said. “That’s just a different animal. It’s not like you’re playing at Palm Beach Dwyer and all of a sudden there’s 50 people in the stands; it’s a different animal. We just have to see how those guys handle it. We’ll try to put them in some pressure situations early on in spring ball; maybe put team conditioning on the line for those guys to make a kick or not make a kick. Those guys sometimes will handle the pressure or not.”
Whether it’s a few sprints or a Big Ten game on the line, Nebraska’s kicker has to be able to handle the pressure and deliver.
The search for that kicker begins on Tuesday.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.