Pernell: 2019 Recruiting Class Position Spotlight: Wide Receiver and Tight End
Blanchard (OK) High School standout Jamie Nance graduated early and enrolled in January, giving him a leg-up towards playing this fall. The 6-foot, 160-pound Nance was named first-team All-Oklahoma as a defensive back by USA Today and first-team all-state by The Oklahoman as a return specialist. He brings the kind of speed the staff covets. In fact, the moment he stepped foot on campus he was arguably the fastest player on the Husker roster. Nance is one of the nation’s top high school sprinters.
According to the Chickasaw Express-Star, Nance was clocked at a 10.49 wind-aided 100 meter dash last April and recorded a top electronic time of 10.66, while hitting 21.62 in the 200. His time in the 100 was just outside the nation’s top ten for last year. Nance wound up finishing 2nd in both the 100 (10.99) and 200 (21.87) at the Oklahoma Class 4A track meet. He also won the long jump title (23 feet) in his first year of competing in the event. As a sophomore, Nance finished 5th in the 200 meters and 6th in the 100 meters.
He’ll take the top off of defenses, but Nance is much more than just a track guy moonlighting as a football player. A Rivals four-star recruit, Nance is a two-way standout for Blanchard where he also excels as a cornerback, finishing his career with 10 interceptions. His versatility is evident by his recruiting rankings, where he is regarded as one of the top 40 wide receivers in the country by Rivals and one of the top 25 athletes in the 247 Sports Composite rankings. Some teams, in fact, recruited him to play defense and he could have a bright future at corner if he or Frost preferred. But the Huskers want to put his speed and playmaking on offense. Nance’s skillset is a nice fit for several concepts of Frost’s offense. He has the versatility to play out wide and also operate between the hashes from the slot. He has impressive burst and is able to change direction nicely for a receiver. Frost will be able to use him in several ways in order to create mismatches. Nance is also a big weapon on special teams and is particularly dangerous as a punt returner, where he could see the field immediately.
Nebraska offered Nance on April 18 and he made an unofficial visit for the second Friday Night Lights on June 22, a week after taking an official visit to TCU. Soon after, Nance announced a top seven list that included Nebraska, TCU, Missouri, Baylor, Notre Dame, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State. He committed 36 hours later on June 29.
Things moved rather quickly between Darien Chase and Nebraska. He received his offer on October 5 and started hearing daily from offensive coordinator Troy Walters. The two sides quickly set up an official visit and Chase was on campus when the Huskers got their first win of the season October 20 against Minnesota. Chase loved his visit and decided to commit to the Huskers a few days later on October 25.
A few different factors went in to this quick marriage. First off, Chase has family on his mom’s side that went to Nebraska, as well as his mom’s best friend. Second, he saw the fit he would be in the offense, as well as the teams need for wide receivers. Chase’s head coach at Union High School in Vancouver (WA) is an Oregon grad who was greatly influenced by what Chip Kelly did at his alma mater. His offensive system mirrors a lot of the same elements that Scott Frost has brought to Lincoln. Chase should have a short learning curve.
Chase is arguably the top overall 2019 prospect in the Pacific Northwest. He recorded a 94.95 SPARQ score at The Nike Opening Regional in Los Angeles this past March. He ran a 4.74 in the 40-yard dash, posted 4.31 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle and recorded a 34.3-inch vertical jump. One of the top all-around athletes on the West Coast, Chase played receiver, cornerback and safety while also returning kicks and punts. He was recruited to play each of those positions by several Power 5 schools. Teams like Washington liked him as a safety, while Oregon wanted him as a corner. But Chase preferred offense, where finalists Nebraska, Boise State and Utah planned to play him.
It’s easy to see why there is so much debate on where to use him. He could be an ideal corner in the Big Ten. He shows great coverage ability and pairs that with size, length, physicality and elite ball skills. As a safety, he isn’t afraid to come down in run support and closes well coming from centerfield. As a receiver, he’s a superb route runner who consistently gets open. He’s physical and has excellent body control. He won’t wow you with his top-end speed, but he has short area burst that gets him separation. Chase plays with a high football IQ and just knows how to get open. He finds the soft spot in zones and his strength and precise route running make him hard to cover man-to-man. He also has some of the best hands in this class.
Chase was named Washington Offensive Player of the Year by USA Today and the Seattle Times Co-Player of the Year as a senior after helping Union to a Class 4A state title and a 14-0 record. He finished with 1,368 all-purpose yards in 14 games and scored 16 touchdowns, totals which included 65 catches for 1,004 yards. He also picked off a pair of passes, knocked down 10 and logged 39 tackles. Chase was also a first-team All-Washington pick by the Associated Press as a junior. He was ranked as a four-star prospect and the nation’s No. 200 overall player by 247 Sports. He’s considered the top prospect in Washington by 247 Sports, which also listed him as the nation’s No. 11 athlete. Rivals also ranked the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder among the top 45 athletes in the country.
The only player to sign with Nebraska in February was Millwood (OK) High School standout De’Mariyon Houston. The Huskers offered Houston back on March 5, but the 6-foot, 165-pounder was further along with a few other schools. He ended up committing to Texas last July over Oklahoma State and fellow finalists Alabama, Auburn, Oregon, Minnesota and Ole Miss. The speedster collected almost 30 offers in all, including Florida, Notre Dame, Penn State, Tennessee, TCU, Arizona State, Colorado and Missouri.
In December, Houston and the Longhorns mutually parted ways. The staff never severed ties with him and the Huskers were one of the first teams to ramp up their pursuit of Houston once he decommitted. Penn State quickly offered while Alabama circled back – as did Colorado and Minnesota. Houston visited the Gophers December 7 but decided to continue to look at his options after the early signing period. Meanwhile, the Husker staff visited him weekly leading up to his official visit January 18-20. Houston had additional visits planned for Penn State and Colorado, but an in-home visit from Scott Frost, Ryan Held and Troy Walters on January 24 convinced him those weren’t necessary. Houston publicly committed and signed with Nebraska on February 6.
Houston is a four-year starter who has been a mainstay since the second game of his freshman year. Millwood is consistently one of the best high school teams in the state, winning the 2A state championship in 2016 and 2017. Houston helped the Falcons to a 39-game winning streak, the fifth-longest winning streak in 11-man football in Oklahoma history. As a sophomore, Houston caught 32 passes for 942 yards (29.4 avg.) and 13 touchdowns. A game-breaker with elite speed, Houston won a state championship in both the 100 meters and 200 meters as a sophomore, where he posted times of 10.71 (100m) and 21.42 (200m). That summer (2017), Millwood wide receivers coach Nick Henderson claims Houston ran a 4.31 digital 40-yard dash in front of Oregon’s coaches. Unfortunately, as a junior, Houston was limited by injuries that cut his season basically in half. He finished with 20 catches for 534 yards (26.7 avg.) and seven touchdowns. Houston ended up skipping his junior year of track so that he could be completely healthy for his senior season.
He bounced back nicely this past season, catching 35 passes for 772 yards (22 avg.) and 11 touchdowns. He was named a first-team All-Oklahoma selection by USA Today in addition to being named 2A all-state by the Oklahoma Coaches Association as well as all-class and all-district. Houston was regarded as a four-star prospect by 247Sports and ESPN. His career ypc of 25.8 and touchdown per reception ratio of 1:2.8 reflect how productive and explosive he was throughout his high school career.
Houston has great burst off the line of scrimmage which allows him to rapidly eat up cushion. He’s a natural vertical threat who reaches top speed quickly. He displays tremendous balance, body control and change of direction. Houston has good vision and instincts after the catch which helps him to turn shorter routes into big plays with his ability to make defenders miss in the open field. He’s a natural pass catcher who excels at finding the soft spot in zones. On film, you can see how good Houston is at tracking and adjusting to deep balls. Like Jamie Nance, Houston will need to add bulk and strength, but he has a frame that should allow him to do so. Despite his slight stature, he plays bigger than his current size. He’s a willing blocker and thanks to an impressive wingspan and strong leaping ability, Houston has been effective at making catches in crowds and high-pointing the football.
Houston is a great fit for this offense. He played outside, in the slot and even some wildcat quarterback for the Falcons. He also returned kicks and punts. The staff will be able to use him all over the field, but it’s unclear whether he will eventually concentrate on playing the Z (inside) or X (outside) for the Huskers. Texas liked him on the outside, but I think he would be best used out of the slot where he can attack the seams.
I debated where to put Wandale Robinson in this review. He looks to be tailor-made to play the Duck-R position in Scott Frost’s offense. He will primarily line up as a slot receiver, but will also be featured in the backfield as a running back as well. The consensus four-star recruit had been a high priority target since the staff offered him last February 28. The Frankfort (KY) Western Hills star took an official visit to Lincoln on September 1, and began to trend heavily towards the Huskers. He was a silent commit to Nebraska for a few weeks leading up to his original commitment announcement on November 1. Reportedly, a phone conversation the night before between his trainer/mentor Chris Vaughn and Scott Frost resulted in a “miscommunication.” According to Robinson it centered around how Frost planned to use him with JD Spielman also playing a similar role in the offense.
As a result of that conversation and tons of outside pressure to play in-state, Robinson committed to Kentucky over Nebraska and fellow finalists Ohio State, Alabama, Michigan and Purdue. The Huskers never stopped recruiting Robinson, however. Ryan Held (Nov. 27) and Troy Walters (Dec. 2) conducted separate in-home visits during the contact period, laying out their plans on how they would use the versatile back. The fact is, Robinson never stopped considering Nebraska. He continued to watch Husker games and envision how he could be featured in Frost’s offense. His recruitment came full circle when he decommitted from Kentucky on December 5 and went public with his decision to play for the Huskers the following day.
Robinson is one of the best high school football players to ever come out of Kentucky. As a senior, he won the Paul Hornung Award in addition to being named Kentucky’s Mr. Football by the Associated Press and the Kentucky Football Coaches Association as well as its Gatorade Player of the Year. He was also named second-team All-American by MaxPreps and the Kentucky Offensive Player of the Year by USA Today. Additionally, he was named one of six finalists for the 2019 All-American Bowl Player of the Year award, which is presented annually to the nation’s most outstanding high school senior. In his prep career, Robinson racked up 10,454 all-purpose yards including 6,795 rushing, 1,787 receiving, 1,198 on kick returns, 388 on punt returns and 286 on interceptions returns for an average of 237.6 per game. In 44 career games he scored 131 touchdowns, which ranks second all-time in Kentucky High School history. Robinson is ranked the nation’s No. 40 player overall and the No. 1 all-purpose back by 247 Sports, while being ranked the No. 61 player and No. 6 athlete by Rivals. He has the distinction of being the program’s first ever scholarship player from the state of Kentucky.
The 5-foot-10, 180-pounder is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the entire 2019 class and was the top skill position target on Nebraska’s board. He’s dangerous in all three facets of the game and is a threat to score whenever he touches the ball. Robinson has tremendous instincts as a runner and displays breakaway speed – he was clocked by hand at 4.22 and 4.41 on two runs of the 40-yard dash at the Best of the Midwest camp last February. His quickness, elusiveness and short-area burst is truly special. He has impressive balance, change of direction and his ability to cut and move laterally without losing top speed puts him in select company. Robinson explodes out of his breaks as a receiver and has very good hands. As elusive as he is, he’s also very strong for his size and plays with a physicality.
Robinson worked a lot out of the slot in high school, so the transition into Frost’s offense should be smooth. He is expected to have a rather large role from Day 1. Robinson was able to graduate early and enrolled in January, a few days after participating in the All-American Bowl. He was quite impressive during the week of practices leading up to the all-star game. Steve Wiltfong, Director of Football Recruiting for 247 Sports and Adam Gorney, National Recruiting Analyst for Rivals both called him the most dynamic player on either roster. Robinson actually celebrated his 18th birthday the day the game was played (Jan. 5). He finished with three catches for 88 yards, a 36-yard kick return and one carry for 6 yards, good for 130 all-purpose yards for his East squad against some of the best high school talent in the country.
Nebraska didn’t have a big need for a tight end in this class, but a talent like Chris Hickman is too good to ignore. Hickman is one of five in-state signees, the largest group of in-state scholarship signees since 2008. He was originally offered by the previous staff on September 23, 2017 during an unofficial visit for the Rutgers game. He then became a priority for Frost and his staff as they put a renewed emphasis on local talent. Area recruiter Barrett Ruud dropped by his school several times during the winter of 2017, helping to build a strong relationship. Hickman had been to Lincoln several times, but made his first unofficial visit since the coaching change on April 5 for a spring practice.
Coming out of summer, Hickman had 14 offers but narrowed his focus to five: Nebraska, Oregon, LSU, Iowa and Ole Miss. He took his official visit to Nebraska on September 8 for the Colorado game and then returned for an unofficial visit the following Saturday when he officially committed.
Hickman is a talented athlete that Nebraska could use at a few different spots, but Frost likes him on offense. The 6-foot-6, 210-pounder should be a matchup nightmare in this system. He’s too fast for most linebackers and his size will be difficult for defensive backs to deal with. He has drawn comparisons to fellow Omaha native and Iowa standout Noah Fant. As high school seniors, the pair have similar frames and the sort of athleticism to pair with it that make them unique prospects. Hickman has outstanding burst, natural hands, and the versatility to play off the line or flexed out in the slot or out wide as a flanker. He needs to fill out and add good weight, much like Fant, but has already shown to be a willing blocker and is strong and physical with the ball in his hands.
He was named first-team All-Nebraska by USA Today as a tight end this past season, but like several recruits in this class Hickman comes with positional versatility. His size and athleticism could also be used at outside linebacker. As a junior and senior, Hickman earned Omaha World-Herald All-Nebraska and Lincoln Journal Star Super State honors as a defensive lineman. During that span, he totaled 85 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, six interceptions, nine pass breakups and caused six fumbles. As a sophomore in 2016, Hickman earned honorable-mention all-state recognition as a tight end. He helped lead Omaha Burke to the Class A state championship this past season. Hickman is ranked as a four-star prospect and the No. 6 H-back in the class by ESPN, while 247 Sports ranks him the classes No. 21 tight end. Hickman enrolled in January and will participate in spring ball. Grade: A
Prior to contributing to HuskerMax, Jeremy Pernell co-founded the all-football website N2FL.com. From 2002-2014, he served as the editor in chief of the college football portion of the website which focused heavily on talent evaluation, which included NCAA recruiting and the NFL Draft. He has analyzed and covered the NCAA and NFL for 25-years. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.