Pernell: Frost, Nebraska Trying to Finish Strong Class

It’s official, Nebraska will not play in a bowl game for the third consecutive season, something that hasn’t happened since the 1955-1961 seasons. The Huskers finished 5-7, with a dreadful 1-5 stretch to end the season. In the midst of that skid, Frost ruffled a few of his players’ feathers with some of his public comments. In particular were comments he made following Nebraska’s loss to Indiana on Oct. 26. Frost was candid during his post game press conference. “We have some guys on this team that are tough and dedicated enough. We don’t have enough of them.” That was a pretty blunt statement by Frost. One that was certainly fueled by the culminating disappointment that the 2019 season was turning into. In fact, he realized it was a bit too harsh and actually apologized to the team two days later.

There’s a large contingency of fans who are getting a bit tired of the “Blame Riley” narrative that Frost seems to hint towards with comments like the one above. It’s an interesting angle to use on his part, considering the massive roster overhaul he has conducted. Looking at the numbers, 39 of 83 scholarship players (47%) and 85 of 154 players overall (55%) are in their first or second years. Those are Frost’s guys. With the graduation of “Riley Guys” like Lamar Jackson, Mohamed Barry, Carlos Davis, Khalil Davis, Alex Davis and Eric Lee, there won’t be many guys left contributing who aren’t Frost recruits. Heading into Year 3, I would think Frost will stop referencing the team’s lack of by-in, because at that point, it’ll be a direct reflection of his own leadership.

Scott Frost’s 2019 team was 2-4 in games decided by one possession. This after going 1-5 in the same scenario last season. Depending on your point of view, you can look at that from two different vantage points. Glass half-full guy might say, “Hey, they were one play here, one stop there from being 8-4.” The flip side of that coin is Nebraska keeps finding ways to shoot themselves in the foot and give games away.

There can certainly be a debate on whether or not Frost needs to make staff changes. Arguments can also be made for whether or not the Huskers have a quarterback controversy heading into winter conditioning. It’s going to be (another) long offseason, so don’t be surprised if I comment on those topics in a future column. But instead of rubbing salt in the wound too early, I decided to focus on the next step for this staff: Recruiting.

Following Nebraska’s loss to Wisconsin on Nov. 16, Frost gave an honest assessment regarding his roster during his postgame press conference. “We’ve got to keep bringing more talent into this program so that we are going into gun fights with fully loaded guns, and we’ve got some really good bullets on this team. We have some really good pieces, some really good weapons, but we need more.”

Well, Scott, you’re up. With the season now over, complete focus now turns to a recruiting class that has 11 possible spots remaining. Frost and his staff immediately hit the road Sunday – the start of a 14-day contact period – and will be covering a lot of ground in the weeks ahead. These will be crucial in-home visits as the Huskers try to keep their 15 verbal commitments locked in, while also trying to convince top targets to come to Lincoln for one of the two official visit weekends left before the early signing period (Dec. 18-20). Several top targets who have already taken their official visits to Lincoln are still in play as well. Frost and his staff will be making final pitches to kids and their families, trying to jockey themselves into position for those of them who will be signing on the 18th.

Nebraska started November by hitting the junior college ranks – hard. The staff made several offers to positions of need. Not surprisingly, linebacker was a huge focus. Among the known offers made were to outside linebackers Junior Aho (New Mexico Military Institute), Maureese Wren (Tyler J.C.), Niko Cooper (Hutchinson C.C.), Kevontae’ Ruggs (East Mississippi C.C.), DeVere Levelston (Tyler J.C.), Joren Dickey (Trinity Valley C.C.) and Tyren Irby (Northwest Mississippi C.C. / Oklahoma State commit). Inside linebackers included Jamoi Hodge (Independence C.C.), Tyrus Wheat (Copiah-Lincoln C.C. / Mississippi State commit), Eteva Mauga-Clements (Diablo Valley C.C.) and Lavar Gardner (Hutchinson C.C. / Illinois commit). The staff would like to add a defensive lineman or two from the juco ranks who could come in and push for immediate time in the rotation. They targeted defensive ends Julius Coates (East Mississippi C.C. / Colorado commit) and Pheldarius Payne (Lackawanna C.C. / NC State commit), while recently offering mammoth nose guard Jordon Riley (Garden City C.C.). They also made an offer to defensive back Jakorian Bennett (Hutchinson C.C.), but they’ve since positioned themselves nicely with a handful of 4-star high school kids, thus Bennett is probably a Plan B option at this point.

The push netted them arguably their top juco targets at outside (Junior Aho) and inside (Jamoi Hodge) linebacker. Both of them have four years to play three seasons, a factor that went into their recruitments. The two of them publicly announced their commitments on Twitter within 20 minutes of each other on Nov. 26. Junior Aho committed sight unseen and plans to visit officially sometime in January. Hodge, on the other hand, was one of seven official visitors in Lincoln for the game against Wisconsin. He was joined by 4-star defensive back Kendall Dennis, 4-star defensive back Darion Green-Warren, 4-star defensive back Jaiden Francois, 4-star wide receiver Marcus Fleming, 4-star wide receiver Bryan Robinson and junior college wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson.

Underclassmen who were also in town for the Wisconsin game included 4-star tight end Thomas Fidone, who has become one of the top targets for the 2021 class. Also in town was offensive lineman Henry Lutovsky, who committed on Nov. 17, becoming the third commitment of the 2021 class. Additional 2021 offered targets were wide receiver Jaylin Noel, inside linebacker Christopher Paul Jr. and defensive tackle Michael Mokofisi. Nebraska also welcomed in-state outside linebacker Devon Jackson out of Omaha Burke. Jackson is the only known in-state offer from the 2022 class. Nebraska extended the offer on Oct. 5.

The only official visitor in town for Nebraska’s Black Friday game against Iowa was junior college defensive end Julius Coates. Uncommitted underclassmen also in town included Thomas Fidone (again), in-state athlete AJ Rollins, outside linebacker Jeffrey Bowie, outside linebacker Tobechi Okoli and offensive tackle Tyler Maro from the 2021 class, along with 2022 prospects wide receiver Quinton Conley and in-state offensive lineman DeShawn Woods.

Nebraska has spent the first few days of the contact period focusing largely on linebackers, wide receivers, defensive backs and defensive linemen. This is the time of year when teams have their recruiting board shuffled on a regular basis. Kids start to commit, taking them off the board. Coaches get fired, resign, or take new jobs, making more kids willing to listen. Things get pretty hectic and new names jump on the radar. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how the staff would like to fill out their class and the (current) names to keep an eye on:

Wide Receivers (2-3). The top target on the board is juco standout Omar Manning. The former High School All-American signed with TCU in 2017, but after redshirting, Manning transferred to Kilgore Junior College. Manning is regarded as the best receiver and arguably the best overall player in the juco ranks. He is considered a Husker lean at this point.

Other top targets are 4-star Justin Robinson, 4-star Marcus Fleming, 4-star Javian Hester, 4-star Alante Brown and 4-star LV Bunkley-Shelton. Robinson, who is high school teammates with defensive line commit Marquis Black, is committed to in-state Georgia. But following his official visit for the Northwestern game in October, the Huskers put themselves in position to have a punchers chance at a flip. More likely to join the class could be Fleming, who decommitted from in-state Miami two days after he visited for the Wisconsin game. Things are looking good for Nebraska on this one. Hester is close friends with fellow Oklahoman and Husker running back commit Sevion Morrison. Morrison is peer recruiting his buddy, who recently decommitted from Missouri following the firing of Barry Odom. Nebraska has reached out to gauge his interest in joining his friend in Lincoln. Bunkley-Shelton is someone the staff has tried to get to Lincoln a couple times already. He originally planned on visiting with his cousin Darion Green-Warren for the Ohio State game in September, but they had transportation issues. The Huskers remain in his top six, along with USC, Texas, Ohio State, Washington and Arizona State. Can they get him to campus this month? Alante Brown is a new name that popped on the radar this week. Walters visited Brown on Sunday and it appears he will visit Nebraska sometime next week. Brown signed with Texas Tech last February, but never made it to campus. Instead, he enrolled at a Prep School in Connecticut.

Linebackers (2-3). Nebraska would like to add at least one more guy at the inside and outside spots. The top target here is outside linebacker Kaden Johnson. The Minnesota native has been the staffs top linebacker target since being offered back in May of 2018. The consensus 4-star recruit, who has a top three of Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin, recently started to trend towards the Huskers. Outside linebacker is a massive need in this class, and frankly has been for several years. Johnson is someone who could come in and push for a starting spot immediately. Johnson and Manning are 1A and 1B on the wish list for this staff.

Other top targets are outside linebacker Jared Ivey, outside linebacker Jimari Butler, 4-star outside linebacker Keyshawn Greene, 4-star linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II, 4-star inside linebacker Desmond Tisdol, 4-star inside linebacker Devyn Curtis, inside linebacker Mister Williams, 4-star inside linebacker Brennon Scott, inside linebacker Rodney Groce Jr., juco outside linebacker Niko Cooper, juco outside linebacker Maureese Wren and juco inside linebacker Eteva Mauga-Clements.

Ivey visited Lincoln for the Ohio State game and still has the Huskers in his final group along with Georgia Tech, Colorado, Duke and Stanford. Butler is committed to Tennessee but has publicly stated that Nebraska was his runner-up. He has stayed in contact with the staff and plans to visit this weekend. Greene is a long-time Florida State commit who is keeping his options open while he waits to see who gets the job in Tallahassee. The staff would love to get a visit from him in the meantime. Hyppolite is committed to Maryland, but is intrigued by the Huskers. He’s being peer recruited by his good friend and Husker defensive back commit Ronald Delancy. Groce was committed to Nebraska from Oct. 4th thru the 23rd. He eventually decommitted and verbaled with Mississippi State, but the staff continues to work to get him back into the fold. Tisdol, Curtis, Scott and Williams are long-time targets Nebraska continues to work on, while the staff is also keeping tabs on junior college talent like Cooper, Wren and Mauga-Clements.

Defensive Backs (1-2). The top target is All-American Darion Green-Warren. Nebraska is recruiting the California native extremely hard, and there’s some who think Green-Warren has been the top guy on Travis Fisher’s board for this cycle. Green-Warren has a top six that includes Nebraska, USC, Penn State, Georgia, Michigan and Michigan State. He’s considered a USC lean, but with Clay Helton’s job status uncertain, Nebraska could be in play. He loved his visit during the Wisconsin game.

Other top targets are 4-star Jaiden Francois and 4-star Kendall Dennis. Francois and Dennis are both Floridians that visited along with Green-Warren for the Wisconsin game. Both are still extremely high on the Huskers. Francois has actually committed to and decommitted from Miami twice. He’s still looking at the Hurricanes and will visit them the last weekend before the early signing period. He’s got a top three of Miami, Nebraska and Indiana. He’s probably the most likely to join this class. Dennis is going to be a tough pull, but not impossible. Auburn is considered his leader at the moment but Florida State, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Nebraska are also pushing hard and have his interest. Florida, Miami and Georgia are also involved.

Defensive Line (1-2). The Huskers want at least one more guy here and wouldn’t turn down a second if he’s someone they like. Junior college defensive end Julius Coates is currently committed to Colorado, but Nebraska and Oregon both received official visits recently and have made strong pushes. Both programs are confident they can flip him. Coates is from Rockford, Illinois, so you can believe Husker coaches are pushing the location angle. California native Tuli Tuipulotu is a long-time target of Tony Tuioti, dating back to his days at Cal. Tuipulotu visited for the Northern Illinois game back in mid-September and continues to consider Nebraska, along with USC (where his brother Marlon plays), Utah, UCLA, Cal and Stanford. Alex Harrison is an offensive/defensive lineman who visited for the Northwestern game in October. Most schools like Harrison on offense, but Nebraska is one of the few teams who like him as a nose guard in their 3-4. Harrison is scheduled to announce his commitment on Dec. 12, with Utah, USC, Utah State, Oregon and Nebraska being his finalists. He’s expected to choose the hometown Utes. Also on the radar are 4-star defensive end DeShawn Lynch, defensive end Nusi Malani, juco defensive lineman Deandre Butler and juco nose guard Jordon Riley.

Also keep an eye on running back Jo’Quavious Marks. He’s currently committed to Mississippi State, but the consensus 4-star recruit is considering a visit to Nebraska at some point before the early signing period. With Mo Washington’s status with the team in doubt, Frost is considering taking another running back in this class. Marks is too good to pass up and would be a huge addition to the room. Wisconsin, Florida and Louisville are also making a hard push for the Atlanta native.

 

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 jgpernell@comcast.net.