Ochaun Mathis
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

With an Eye Toward Next Year’s NFL Draft, Ochaun Mathis Picked Nebraska Over Texas

May 01, 2022

The conditions in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Saturday were nasty. Under 50 degrees with a constant wind and spitting rain. It was enough to postpone Nebraska’s baseball game with Iowa, forcing a doubleheader on Sunday.

While it wasn’t pleasant outside, there was likely a different vibe inside the walls of Memorial Stadium, or wherever Scott Frost and Nebraska’s assistants were when Ochaun Mathis committed to the Huskers. Just before 3 p.m., Mathis, a former TCU Horned Frog and one of the most coveted edge rushers in the transfer portal, live-streamed an old-fashioned hat ceremony on social media.

On Mathis’ right was a red Nebraska lid. To his left, the burnt orange of Texas, where his former head coach at TCU, Gary Patterson, is now an assistant to Steve Sarkisian, the head coach of the Longhorns.

“I want to say thank you to my day-one supporters,” Mathis, a native Texan, said before making his selection. “They’ve had a huge impact on me and my career from the very get-go. And with all that being said, I would like to announce my school.”

Mathis, wearing a black Chicago White Sox jersey, said he was nervous during the whole presentation, which included a short appearance from his dog, named Yoda, who he later said would live with him in Lincoln. The nerves disappeared when he asked for a drumroll, which he got from those behind the camera.

After a brief look at the Texas hat, the 6-foot-5, 257-pounder grabbed the Nebraska hat and put it on while a large backdrop featuring himself in a Husker uniform was unveiled behind him.

Mathis’ commitment is a massive recruiting win for everyone in Nebraska’s program, to the coaches, current Huskers who peer recruited him and support staff. Everyone put a lot of effort into the recruitment. Frost, who rarely does social media recruiting antics like others in the profession, even did a photoshoot with Mathis during his visit:

Lucrative name, image and likeness deals can matter more to some than others. But money talks, and it’s safe to say Mathis was going to get a hefty deal wherever he went.

NIL and the business of throwing money at players to attend programs has always been going on in college football. Instead of under the table, it’s right in front of everyones’ faces. Whether fans and coaches like it or not, it’s here to stay. But with Mathis, NIL might not have been the biggest reason be picked Nebraska.

“I appreciate all of the support from both sides. But at this point, I’m ready for my next journey preparing me for the next level. Right there is what I’m seeking for, right there,” Mathis said, pointing to an NFL Draft logo that was on a corner of the backdrop behind him.

NIL deals will catch players’ attention. But NFL futures will, too.

Mathis plays one of the premier positions in all of football: edge rusher. As passing offenses continue to evolve and grow in popularity, NFL franchises and college programs are paying top dollar for those who are good at getting to quarterbacks.

Mathis seems smart and detailed. He knows which conference would be better to play in if he wants to be a first-round draft pick. Take one look at where most of the draft selections from this weekend came from, and you will, too. Sixty-five players from the SEC were drafted while 48 came from the Big Ten. The Big 12 was tied with the Pac-12 with 25 players.

Seven outside linebackers and defensive ends from the Big Ten were drafted. Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson was the second overall pick while Purdue’s George Karlaftis was a first-round pick, too, at No. 30 overall. Only three d-linemen and outside ‘backers from the Big 12 were drafted.

Playing against Big Ten offensive linemen prepares players like Mathis for the NFL better than the Big 12.

Will Mathis’ commitment automatically produce Husker wins? Of course not. There are still plenty of questions surrounding the team, and Mathis doesn’t need to look far to find the most glaring—right next to where he plays at the interior defensive line.

Nebraska needs to replace two offseason departures who were going to play in 2022—Casey Rogers and Jordon Riley. Both entered the transfer portal, with Riley following former Husker d-line coach Tony Tuioti to Oregon. Rogers, the projected starter next to Ty Robinson, was in Los Angeles last week to visit USC during its spring game.

The transfer portal could produce replacements. One might be Devin Drew, who spent the past two seasons at Texas Tech and two at Iowa Western Community College, where he was a first-team National Junior College Athletic Association All-American in 2019. The 6-2, 280-pounder would bring much-needed Power Five playing experience to a position that badly needs it.

Even if Drew commits to Nebraska, more big bodies are needed, though. Young interior d-linemen already in the program will need to emerge, like Nash Hutmacher, walk-on Colton Feist, Mosai Newsom, Ru’Quan Buckley, Jailen Weaver and Marquis Black.

With Mathis in the fold, Nebraska now has three experienced outside linebacker/edge rushers who, depending on how defensive coordinator Erik Chinander attacks it, could be on the field at the same time.

“That’s always the fun thing for me, is figuring out who’s the best 11 and getting them on the field and finding a position for those guys,” Chinander said on Feb. 28.

Mathis was a second-team All-Big 12 selection in 2021 and 2020 and recorded a combined 74 tackles, 26 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks in his career at TCU. It remains to be seen if Mathis will make the kind of impact in Lincoln as he did in Fort Worth. He’s only played a Big Ten team once in his four years playing college football, and it came against Purdue in 2019 as a redshirt freshman. That day he recorded one tackle.

“The defense fits me well,” Mathis said during a quick Q&A livestream after his announcement. “They’re saying they’re going to do a lot of good things with me on one-on-ones and all that good stuff, so looking forward to it.”

Husker fans are looking forward to it, too.

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