Photo by Greg Smith
Nebraska Football

'Step Brothers' Lines, Group Chats and the Art of Peer Recruiting

July 30, 2020

I’m Dale but you have to call me Dragon. … Dane Cook, pay-per-view, 20 minutes, let’s go. … One time I wrestled a giraffe to the ground with my bare hands. … Your voice is like a combination of Fergie and Jesus. … So many activities. … Do you wanna go do karate in the garage?

Imagine setting your phone down for a half-hour, walking away to do something, and then coming back to half the script of the 2008 film “Step Brothers” written out in one of the strangest group chats you’ve been in. 

"I think most of the guys just swipe over and swipe back because they don’t feel like reading the whole thing,” 2021 quarterback commit Heinrich Haarberg‍ told me. 

It’s a unique group. 

Step Brothers is fitting, though. The most famous line to come out of the movie serves the class well. Haarberg has met only two of his classmates in person so far—Henry Lutovsky‍, an offensive lineman from Iowa, and Teddy Prochazka‍, another lineman from Elkhorn whom Haarberg played once on the basketball court as a freshman. 

But this group, now 14-deep, has a bond before ever stepping on campus. 

In an era of social media, peer recruiting is all the rage nowadays. 

“Really, (it’s) just building a bond between guys who may one day be your teammates or one day you might be playing against them,” Haarberg said when asked what the phrase “peer recruiter” means to him. The tail end of his comment is key. This isn’t a transactional relationship. “At least not the way we do it.” 

Everyone sees the stuff on Twitter. Husker wideout commit Latrell Neville‍ in the mentions of 5-star Florida linebacker Terrence Lewis‍. Lutovsky and Prochazka and Haarberg interacting with 4-star tight end Thomas Fidone‍. 

“You can put a bunch of stuff out on Twitter and get the fans involved, which is what we do, but when it comes down to it, it’s just talking to them constantly and building a friendship with them,” Lutovsky said. 

The guys FaceTime with each other on occasion. Haarberg, for weeks, has been trying to set up a Call of Duty session with his classmates and Fidone, but the Council Bluffs star would rather play Black Ops 3 than Modern Warfare. 

There’s a group Snapchat of just the committed guys. There’s a few with the 14 currently-committed players and then a Husker target. There’s one that includes Fidone.

Fidone isn’t peppered to join the class. That’s not the group chat’s function. 

Instead, you get Step Brothers quotes. (That was a real thing that happened.)

Instead, you get one unnamed commit sending regularly scheduled videos of himself making eggs each morning at 4:30 a.m.

Instead, you get guys laughing over something dumb they saw on social media. 

Instead, you get “screaming matches” about whether ketchup on eggs is good or not. 

When someone commits to the Huskers, they get added to the “committed” group. At that point, the Husker coaching staff gives them the rundown of the top targets left on the board. Sometimes it’s just a nudge in a specific direction and not much more. 

Direction is what the staff provides, more than anything else. The creative team within the athletic department will work up a graphic of Haarberg and Fidone for the quarterback to share with a guy he may one day be throwing to, but it’s on him to build the relationship so that duo holds value beyond the aesthetic. 

They took the same approach with Haarberg, a local Nebraska kid, and Texas wideout Latrell Neville. 

“I listen to Coach Frost and Coach Lubick on who they really want me to focus in on. It was, say, Latrell a couple weeks ago. So I hit up Latrell and I just started communicating with him,” Haarberg said. “I think being from Nebraska I have a unique viewpoint. I told Latrell, ‘Look, literally the state shuts down on game days. It’s not like Texas where some people go watch this or some people are Cowboys fans. The state of Nebraska shuts down on game days.’

Haarberg doesn’t put the hard sell on guys, he just answers questions and offers his input. 

In a lot of ways, some a little more ineffable than you’d expect, a peer can sell you on a place in a way a coach can’t.

“They’re looking for the same thing as you are, and if they’re a top recruit and have all those other offers, why did they go to a smaller school that might not be a blue blood?” Fidone said. 

Fidone and Haarberg met last winter through 7-on-7 football at the Warren Academy in Omaha.

“Once I committed, I didn’t go right away and start pestering him with (saying), ‘You gotta come to Nebraska,’” Haarberg said. It was more about making Fidone feel like he was comfortable with the class, comfortable with the group of guys he’d be going to battle with. 

“We just want him to be around us and see, like, ‘Hey, these are guys I want to play with, this seems like the best fit for me,’” Lutovsky added.

The fishing competitions on Twitter become dunking competitions because the 6-foot-5 Fidone doesn’t really fish. 

“We’re all kind of weird,” Fidone says, and that might be the unifying factor of the group. “But we all have a lot of the same interests. It’s hard to explain, but we’re all different and weird, which is good. It separates us from everybody else.

“On social media, it might look like they’re recruiting you, which they are, but then they’re going to text you like 10 seconds later as a friend, not as a recruit. So, it’s more of a relationship as friends than it is as peer recruiters.”

Lutovsky says there’s competition driving everyone at the heart of it. 

Competition is the reason Fidone was out at the Warren Academy Showcase in Omaha last weekend when he by no means needed to be. 

“Whether it’s fishing or dunking or whatever we do, it’s always like, ‘I gotta be better than this guy,’” Lutovsky said. “And at the end of the day that helps build your relationship.”

And this Husker coaching staff emboldens the committed crop of players to build relationships with guys even if they might end up having to play against them. 

“They tell us who their top guys are and who we should be talking to and all that, but they don’t really tell us how to do it,” Lutovsky said. “They leave that up to us on how to get it done. I think we’ve been doing a great job at it.”

Haarberg bonded with Jaylin Noel, the Missouri wideout who chose Iowa State over Nebraska. The Huskers wanted Noel, but it was clear to Haarberg he preferred elsewhere. No hard feelings. They still talk and interact on social media. 

Lutovsky had Marcus Mbow, a Wisconsin lineman Nebraska was after, over to his house for a couple of days several weeks before Mbow committed to Arizona State.

“We were peer recruiting for a long time, me and Teddy were, and once he decided Arizona State was the best fit, we wished him the best,” Lutovsky said. “We’d love it if he came and played with us but at the end of the day we’re still friends and that’s not going to change just because he picked a school.”

Fidone has offers to play everywhere. He’s the kind of talent most anyone would make room in their class for. He’s already visited Nebraska and Iowa, and he very much wants to visit LSU if the NCAA will let him. 

He’s the top target on Nebraska’s board, for obvious reasons, but it’s not an easy decision for him.

“I’m friends with Heinrich, I play 7-on-7 with him,” Fidone said. “I think he’d understand 100% if I went to LSU or Iowa or somewhere like that.”

If it’s Nebraska, he’s already comfortable with the guys before he even sets foot on campus. 

“I think it just makes that bond so much stronger,” Lutovsky said. “Like, look at the offensive line. They’re going to have you rooming with the offensive line, eating dinner with the offensive line. You’re not only just practicing with them because they want you to get closer as a group of guys and have trust with them.”

Added Haarberg: “I think having those relationships built before you get there is just really important to meshing together as a team. … Just being part of the family with the guys you’re in a class with.”

Much more than tweets and dunks.

“I think our class does it better than any other team of commits,” Haarberg says.

Did we just become best friends?

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