Published Monday, June 17, 2013 AT 9:15 AM / Updated at 5:30 PM
Big, Fat, Recruiting Update: Patience (and scouting) pays off
Sam McKewon Omaha World-Herald

A quiet spring for Nebraska’s recruiting made for a deluge of a summer, a rash of seven commits in eight days, culminating what I suspect was a wildly successful Big Red Weekend. We’ll get to that in a minute, but first a few thoughts on why fans who panicked or grew inpatient weren’t paying close enough attention, and how NU stayed true to its plan for 2014.

The two commits heading into June were never a particular concern, in part because:

>> The coaches only had to offer kicker Drew Brown – the younger brother of former Husker Kris Brown and a lifelong NU fans – to land him. NU’s built a relationship over four years with Drew Brown.

>> Several in-state prospects (including new commits Mick Stoltenberg and D.J. Foster) were heavy Husker leans.

>> Tim Beck’s established himself as a skilled quarterback recruiter already, so he wasn’t going to strike out, and didn’t, coaxing Zack Darlington to pledge before the kid ever visited Ohio State. (And, yes, I think Buckeyes would have taken the commit.)

>> Nebraska had always intended on using the April-May evaluation period to discover prospects, scout them hard, and get them here in the summer. Before the spring game, Ross Els described the more rigorous method NU would use to smoke out potential targets. The spring game, I suspect, was moved up to strategically take advantage of the full recruiting period. NU hit the ground running and picked up several commits from players they, in the long run, just plain out-scouted opponents to get.

NU offered Demornay Pierson-El and Tanner Farmer in early and late May, respectively. Trai Mosley got offered Friday at camp, but the Huskers had to want him at camp in the first place, and had to take two scouting trips to Texas in order to cement their interest. Nebraska didn’t wait for Texas and Oklahoma to validate their interest in Jason Hall; NU offered in late April, got the commit and now has a real chance of holding on to one of Texas’ best defensive backs prospects as a result.

Nebraska has always intended on finding and offering prospects – under-the-radar or off-the-radar guys – in the spring period, stuck to that plan, and got their foot in the door as a result. And since NU has stated, more than once, that it plans from here to evaluate senior film so it can offer kids who blossomed in their final high school season, look for several spots to be held open for late December/early January commits. It’s labor-intensive, but if deep scouting in April and December is how NU intends to attack some of its disadvantages in recruiting – I don’t think there are that many, given the Huskers’ history, but I acknowledge that it can be a pain to find flights here – then so be it. As a beat writer, you have to gauge success, to some extent, on the plan put forth by the staff paid millions to draw it up.

Does it look like Michigan’s class? No. Michigan is recruiting this year at an elite level so far. (The lauded 2013 class is, in my mind, overrated). None of the Huskers’ current commits have particularly flashy ratings. While I expect a few – like Farmer, Pierson-El and Mosley – to rise a bit, these players aren’t going to deliver, in the recruiting services’ eyes, a powerhouse class. Once kids get star ratings, they’re often locked into them; Nate Gerry could have beaten Tyson Gay in the 100 meters, and he was staying a three-star prospect.

Can I always explain how ratings work? No. An example: Penn State running back commit Mark Allen is 5-foot-7, 185 pounds. DC-area kid who played for DeMatha. He had an offer from Temple. He ran for 682 yards and four touchdowns last year. He’s rated an 87 by 247Sports. Pierson-El is 5-9/170, ran for 1,652 yards and 26 touchdowns in the DC area, and has a 82 rating. I watched both highlght tapes. Pierson-El is the better – and faster – player on tape. So what accounts for the 5-point difference? I couldn’t tell you. That Allen committed to Penn State last October? That recruiting guys are excited by Bill O’Brien? That DeMatha is a traditionally strong powerhouse in Maryland?

At any rate, Nebraska vigorously courted and examined Pierson-El and Mosley. As my story Monday about Mosley shows, schools in Texas were attempting to slow-play the 5-foot-10, 172-pounder; two pounced the second, you sense, they knew Nebraska offered. Rating kids in Texas is about as tough a job as any; there are a ton of players, a ton of big, point-producing offenses, and a ton of good high school coaches looking for a promotion to college and knowing how to sell their athletes to services in the process.

What I prefer to do is watch the tape, talk to coaches, talk to sources I’ve developed where I have them (and since NU recruits nationally, that’s not close to everywhere) and get some sense of the recruiting process. You like some guys more than others. Me? I like corners who hit and can squeeze into the path of a pass without committing pass interference – read: guys like Alfonzo Dennard or Barron Miles or even Courtney Grixby – so I’m more inclined to like an aggressive, compact guy like Mosley. Others will be more impressed with certain NU commits than I would be. The proof doesn’t bear out, usually, for three or four years.

But the Huskers planned on gaining momentum in June, did gain it, and have Darlington – a bright, smooth talker – on board to help put together the class from here. And count on Darlington – the highest-profile quarterback in the state of Florida – to do just that. Further, NU coaches have developed a meme – never underestimate the meme, we sportswriters excel at developing them, along with tropes – for exciting Husker fans on Twitter with the “Boom!” lines. I’m not sure if they derived that from the Nike commercial featuring Ndamukong Suh and Tim Tebow or the Black Eyed Peas song or the old Fred Couples driver from Lynx or what, but it connects with the Internet Illuminati (a term I used three years ago) who tend to double as the Pelini Administration’s toughest critics.

I don’t think NU’s done this summer. Look for three to five more commits before the season starts, varying in ratings.

On with the update.

The prospects are listed with name, height/weight, position, town/school and top schools involved.

After each recruiting service’s designation (247: 247Sports; 247C: 247Sports Composite ranking; R: Rivals; S: Scout; E: ESPN), you’ll see numbers. Here’s the key for those: Star ranking/National ranking/Position Ranking.

An “NR” means they’re not ranked at this time. A bolded ranking denotes the prospect’s highest evaluation. An italicized ranking denotes the prospect’s lowest evaluation.

Enjoy!

Peyton Newell, 6-3/280, DT, Hiawatha (Kan.): NU, S. Car, USC, Georgia, KSU, KU

247: 4/234/19

247C: 3/316 /26

ESPN: 3/NR/40

Rivals: 3/NR/11

Scout: 4//NR/20

Newell made the visit as planned for Big Red Weekend, and now intends to make a final announcement Aug. 30 at his school. One day before the Huskers’ season opener. NU’s in very good shape here. Newell’s a dynamic edge rusher who looks to slide inside and be a fun player to follow wherever he goes.

“I got a chance to hang out with D.J. Foster, Luke Gifford and Mick Stoltenberg for a couple of hours yesterday,” Newell told Big Red Report. “That is something that is going to be in the back of my mind up to my decision because I can really see all of us getting along really well together.”

T.V. Williams, 5-9/160, WR, McKinney (Texas): NU, Kentucky, Iowa

247: 3/NR/65

247C: 3/825/104

ESPN: NR/NR/NR

Rivals: 3/NR/NR

Scout: 3/NR/124

Williams hit the visit circuit hard for the last month or so, which he culminated by spending two days at Nebraska, with one day at Iowa in between. He’s set an announcement date of July 9 at his high school, with a trip to Nike/ESPN’s The Opening camp.

NU and offensive coordinator Tim Beck – who spent a good chunk of the day Thursday with Williams – made their best case for Williams’ commit.

“When you tell people about Nebraska all you hear is ‘Oh you’re a receiver so you don’t want to go there. All they do is run the ball,’” Williams told Huskers Illustrated. “You keep hearing that. Then when I’m sitting there and watching film I was like ‘Wow.’ That offense really opened my eyes. I’m able to see what Nebraska is all about.”

To Husker Online: “I’ve probably never spent that much time with a coach on any visit. To have that one-on-one time is really valuable and I really appreciate what Coach (Tim) Beck and Coach (Rich) Fisher did to make me feel comfortable. They really rolled out the red carpet for me and I enjoyed that.”

This is a guy without the flashiest ratings, but Nebraska’s made him a priority since the 2014 cycle began. He’s a top target at the slot receiver spot.

Brian Wallace, 6-6/300, OT, St. Louis Christian Brothers: NU, Bama, Iowa, Ohio State, Ark.

247: 4/NR/25

247C: 3/524/39

ESPN: 4/NR/16

Rivals: 3/NR/54

Scout: 3/NR/40

Wallace – who may be NU’s top tackle target at this point – named his top five, and Nebraska made the cut along with the above four schools. Missouri didn’t.

“I want a good education – because I want to major in psychology – and I want a football program I can fit into,” he told Scout. He’s heading to Ohio State’s camp, then he’ll visit Alabama for an unofficial visit. He will not decide before the season, so NU will get its chance to make an impression.

Harrison Phillips, 6-4/245, DE/TE, Millard West: Kansas State, Iowa, Duke, NU, Stanford

247: NR/NR/NR

247C: 3/718/31

ESPN: NR/NR/NR

Rivals: 3/NR/30

Scout: 3/NR/98

Phillips showed well at Nebraska’s camp last week. He understands leverage, and he’s strong enough to get good push on bigger frames. Ultimately, if Nebraska offers him, I suspect it’ll be at center. And Phillips, a bright, well-spoken, friendly kid, would make a good center. But he got more offers last week from Western Michigan and Toledo as a defensive lineman, and now he’ll head to Stanford for a week to camp there and try and earn a scholarship on The Farm.

Stanford matters to Phillips. If the Cardinal offers, Nebraska will have to decide what it wants to do, and fast.

Tony James, 5-9/170, ATH, Gainesville (Fla.): Fla, OSU, UK, Ole Miss, NU, Oregon

247: 3/NR/15

247: 3/337/7

ESPN: 4/NR/13

Rivals: 4/162/3

Scout: 3/NR/43

The superb athlete from Gainesville didn’t make the Big Red Weekend trip as planned, but he told several recruiting sites he plans to take an official visit to Lincoln this fall. James is tailor-made for NU’s offense. Look for Darlington to work hard on making sure that visit takes place.

Freedom Akinmoladun, 6-5/240, TE, Grandview (Mo.): NU, Ark, Mizzou, Ill, KSU, KU

247: 3/NR/31

247C: 3/623/23

ESPN: NR/NR/NR

Rivals: NR/NR/NR

Scout: NR/NR/NR

The tight end end offer made his scheduled trip for Big Red Weekend with his mom, brother and grandmother. He nearly committed, but held off, pending more visits.

“My coach told me not to commit yet, but (Nebraska) legitimately showed me everything I need to know,” Akinmoladun told Husker Online. “They showed me a bunch of real nice stuff that other colleges haven’t done. The highlight of the day was when I talked to the physics teacher.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m ready to commit, but they are real high on my list. My coach said that we need to sit down and talk about all the colleges and see if I want to take official visits. I think I could decide in early August, and no later than September.”

Akinmoladun’s mom is from Omaha and his cousin runs track at NU, so there’s some built-in advantages. Look for Missouri, Kansas State and Iowa to put in their two cents here. The Tigers – who now better appreciate the value of top athletes in the SEC – won’t let this one go without a tussle.

Nick Gates, 6-4/270, OT, Las Vegas (Bishop Gorman): Bama, NU, USC, UCLA

247: 4/NR/22

247C: 3/558/29

ESPN: NR/NR/NR

Rivals: 3/NR/53

Scout: 3/NR/63

Gates took part in one day of NU’s football camp, then stuck around for the Big Red Weekend. The three days made a considerable impression.

“Nebraska really set the bar for everything,” he told Huskers Illustrated. “I don’t know who else is going to be able to top that.”

One more intriguing quote from Gates. It appears he talked to some current Huskers: “One of the running backs said ‘You’ve got to find out who is honest,’” he said. “That’s going to be a big thing to me. All of these coaches are going to be talking to me and telling me that they like me, but I need to figure out which ones are honest. That really had a big impact on me.”

The Crimson Tide offer appears to be legit, but remember: Alabama wanted David Knevel, too. He committed to Nebraska instead.

Quinton Flowers, 6-0/210, ATH, Miami (Jackson): USF (soft)

247: 4/NR/9

247C: 4/197/2

ESPN: 3/NR/52

Rivals: 2/NR/NR

Scout: 4/NR/10

Committed to South Florida this weekend, then backed off 24 hours later. At any rate, he’s not coming to Nebraska with Darlington committing.

Brandon Powell, 5-9/185, ATH, Deerfield Beach, (Fla.): Tennessee

247: 3/NR/63

247C: 3/493/50

ESPN: 4/NR/35

Rivals 3/NR/24

Scout: 3/NR/64

Powell’s a Vol as of last weekend.

Josh Kalu, 6-1/170, DB, Houston Alief Taylor: CU, Duke, Houston, NU, Rice

247: 3/NR/100

247C:3/NR/100

ESPN: NR/NR/NR

Rivals: 3/NR/NR

Scout: 3/NR/73

Kalu didn’t make the Big Red Weekend trip. He still likely has an actionable offer after Trai Mosley’s commit, however, so look for a visit later this summer or fall.

Easton Stick, 6-2/205, QB, Omaha Creighton Prep: Akron, Nebraska, Iowa

247: NR/NR/NR

247C: 2/NR/47

ESPN: NR/NR/NR

Rivals: 2/NR/NR

Scout: NR/NR/NR

Stick worked out two different times for Nebraska last week, including a call-back on Friday at Pelini’s request.

“They’ve got a couple offers out right now and they’re waiting for those to see what happens there,” Stick told Huskers Illustrated. “After that, I think I’m the next guy. Things are in a good position right now. We’ll see what happens, but from our conversations, I’m the next guy on the list. It’s a pretty short list of two or three guys. I’m on it, and there’s talk of maybe taking two quarterbacks, but we’ll see how things work out over the next couple months and into the fall. I think I’m in good standing with the coaches down there.”

Stick’s bound to get more FBS offers, perhaps even a BCS one. Iowa could pull the trigger.

Julian Hylton, 6-1/190, DB, Chicago Area (Lincoln-Way North): Illinois, NU, NW, Iowa

247: NR/NR/NR

247C: 3/NR/93 (as a RB)

ESPN: NR/NR/NR

Rivals: 3/NR/NR

Scout: NR/NR/NR

Watched him at camp Tuesday. He looked the part and ran a 4.4-second 40-yard dash, but still needs to refine his technique. To Hylton’s credit, he’s hitting every camp he can in search of an offer – Northwestern and Illinois are chewing on potential offers, too.

“The coaches thought I did very well,” Hylton told HO about his Nebraska camping trip. “They were impressed with my athletic ability and how big I was and my size,” Hylton said. “They were impressed with that and how well I can move. They know I’m learning different positions and how quickly I picked those things up impressed them. They said I’m on their list now.”

To HI: “I talked to coach (Terry) Joseph and he said that he liked my size and my agility and my athletic ability and he thought that I would be a great corner. He told me to keep working and told me that I’ve got my name out there. He said now I’m on the list and he knows who I am and what school I go to and now I’m a guy he has to think about.”

Taven Bryan, 6-5/250, DE, Casper (Wyo.) Natrona County: Florida

247: 3/NR/41

247C: 3/689/53

ESPN: NR/NR/NR

Rivals: 3/NR/NR

Scout: 3/NR/49

He’s a Gator. NU got there first, perhaps didn’t quite ask for the commit fast enough, and Florida took notice of the prospect. Bryan will now surely see an improvement in his ratings because of his UF affiliation.

Gaelin Elmore, 6-5/240, TE, Somerset (Wis.): Minnesota

247: NR/NR/NR

247C: 3/710/28

ESPN: NR/NR/NR

Rivals: 3/NR/22

Scout: 3/NR/37

He’s off the board, committing to Minnesota Sunday.

Bubba Starling, 6-4/180, QB, Gardner (Kan.): Kansas City Royals (baseball)

ESPN: 4/115/7

Rivals: 4/119/6

Scout: 4/NR/10

Still struggling in Low A ball. He’s hitting .213 with 71 strikeouts in 242 plate appearances. The Lasik surgery hasn’t appeared to help much. Just an update. Football’s always out there.

About Sam McKewon

Sam McKewon covers Nebraska football for The World-Herald. Got a tip, question or rant? Good. Email him at sam.mckewon@owh.com. And follow him on Twitter at @swmckewonOWH. And call him at 402.219.3790.