Co-Authored by Brian Towle and Brandon Cavanaugh
Looking at modern day FBS recruiting, a common theme among recruiting coordinators is locking down the area surrounding their school. This is especially important for the Cornhuskers, as most prospects inside a close radius hold the Big Red in high regard.
While it’s important for schools like Nebraska to land upper-echelon talent from across the country, they must also lock up local talent. Usually the Huskers do well well with this. However, there have been many times in the Bo Pelini era that nearby talent hasn’t stayed put.
The amount of elite athletic ability that hasn’t signed with the Huskers within only a 250-mile radius, specifically from Iowa, Kansas and Missouri, is astounding . We’ll be reviewing the first three years of recruiting in this region under Bo Pelini while using Rivals.com’s rating of 5.7 or better (“deemed to have pro potential and ability to make an impact on college team”).
QB Blaine Gabbert: For those that don’t remember Blaine’s tale, he decommitted from Nebraska following the dismissal of Bill Callahan, but wanted to return when Bo Pelini got the job. Pelini refused his request.
Admittedly, he didn’t completely flourish in Missouri’s pass-happy offense before the Jacksonville Jaguars picked him up. However, one has to wonder if he would have helped the 2009 Nebraska offense enough to give the Huskers a legitimate shot at a Big 12 title, if not a national title.
DE Aldon Smith: Last year’s seventh pick overall in the NFL Draft, Smith just finished a monster rookie year with the San Francisco 49ers. Redshirted in 2008, one might salivate over how he and Ndamukong Suh would have fed off of each other on the defensive line. Even though Nebraska offered Smith, he never visited.
OL Dan Hoch: Another Nebraska commit that left once Callahan was dismissed. If Pelini had spent more time trying to salvage the class, it’s very possible that Hoch may have reaffirmed his original commitment. He went on to become a three-time letter winner at Missouri and was voted second team All-Big 12 in 2010 along with being named honorable mention in 2009 and 2011.
LB Arthur Brown: Hailing from Wichita, Kansas, Brown originally signed with Miami (FL) before transferring closer to home at Kansas State. In 2011, Brown had 101 tackles, 9.5 TFL, two sacks and an interception. Imagine this talent paired with Lavonte David.
QB Nathan Scheelhaase: The dual-threat from Kansas City redshirted in 2009, then became a two-year starter for Illinois. He ranked seventh in the Big Ten in total offense as a freshman. Scheelhaase also battled eventual Husker Cody Green for that year’s quarterback spot in the class.
RB Montee Ball: A 2011 Heisman trophy finalist, Ball tallied a Big Ten record 38 touchdowns last season and rushed for over 1,750 yards. While Rex Burkhead is the stallion in Lincoln, it’s hard to wonder if the combination of Ball and Burkhead would’ve definitively brought the title of “I-Back U” back to Lincoln. Nebraska never offered Ball out of high school.
WR Marcus Lewis: This 6’5” sophomore finished fourth in receptions for Missouri in 2011. A four-star prospect from Liberty, Missouri, Lewis would have been a great possession receiver for the Huskers, but the staff was unable to convince him to visit.
S Keeston Terry: Originally committed to Nebraska before being lost to Turner Gill and Kansas, Terry became a very serviceable safety with 66 tackles and one interception in 2011.
He also played in three games as a true freshman before a season-ending injury. With the current lack of depth at safety in Lincoln, Terry would be in his third year as a member of Pelini’s system, likely moving someone like Damian Stafford into the Peso role.
FB Trey Millard: Originally a high school tight end, Millard has become a valuable fullback for Bob Stoops at Oklahoma. He was a four-star prospect out of Columbia, Missouri that didn’t even get an offer from Lincoln.
LB James Morris: The Solon, Iowa native was the Hawkeye’s leading tackler last year with 110 stops, 3.5 TFL and an interception. A two-year starter for Iowa, he had 70 stops as a freshman. Morris only had two offers – Iowa and Stanford.
CB EJ Gaines: With all the issues Nebraska had at the cornerback position last season (and may have in 2012), Gaines would have been a good get. He was voted second team All-Big 12 with 69 tackles, 16 pass breakups and two interceptions in 2011. Missouri supplied his only offer.
QB/RB Blake Bell: Wichita, Kansas’ “Belldozer” redshirted in 2010 and carved himself a nice niche as a short yardage/goal line monster. He had 44 carries for 171 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2011. He was offered by Shawn Watson, but Nebraska never got him on campus.
RB Joseph Randle: Another Wichita native, Randle was Oklahoma State’s leading rusher in 2011, rushing for 1,218 yards at over five yards per carry. As a freshman, he was second on the team in rushing and fourth in receiving during current West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen’s lone year in Stillwater. Nebraska never offered.
Apparently, only one player the state of Iowa had the credentials necessary to be a Cornhusker. That was tight end Ben Cotton, son of associate head coach/offensive line coach Barney Cotton.
The only two players that have signed with the Big Red from Missouri while Pelini has been head coach are defensive tackle Chase Rome and linebacker Will Compton.
Some local talent will go to schools like Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Iowa and Iowa State, but Nebraska must go all-out for recruits near them considered elite talent while making time for up-and-coming players within a day’s drive of Nebraska’s capital city.
Every five-star prospect won’t pan out and sometimes three-star athletes blossom, Bo Pelini and staff would be wise to give every effort to lock down studs in their own backyard.
Granted, this year’s walk-on class is impressive, but a nucleus of local scholarship athletes, elite national talent and kids who dream of wearing scarlet and cream across the Cornhusker State will yield positive results more times than not. Nebraska simply cannot afford to have this lackadaisical effort close to home continue.
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