Pernell: Reviewing the 2020 Recruiting Class (Defense)

Scott Frost

Position Group Summaries (Defense)

Defensive Line (4): If anyone was a bigger target than Turner Corcoran, it might have been Nash Hutmacher. The backbone of a good 3-4 defense has always been the nose guard. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander has said that the nose guard in his system needs to be “the heavyweight champion of the world.” Defensive line coach Tony Tuioti has echoed that sentiment, saying “One thing we always try to find is a nose guard who’s a real war daddy.” The fact that Frost didn’t sign a true nose in either of his first two classes made getting Hutmacher essential.

Hutmacher had been recruited by the previous staff, but it was Frost who gave him his first Power 5 offer back on May 18, 2018, and made him a priority for 2020. The Husker staff made their way up to Hutmacher’s school pretty much every chance they could over the last two recruiting cycles. Hutmacher visited Lincoln three separate times during 2018 and took his official visit on April 5, 2019. With it being his fourth time on campus and having already seen what the university had to offer, Nebraska decided to do something different during his official visit. Scott Frost, Ryan Held, Erik Chinander and Tony Tuioti took Hutmacher and his family out fishing. It was an outside-the-box idea that was an absolute hit with Nash and his family.

Ultimately, it was the relationships he had formed with the Husker staff that earned his commitment in the first place. Virtually every single coach on staff played some role in recruiting Hutmacher. Scott Frost was heavily involved, as were Ryan Held, Erik Chinander and Tony Tuioti. Actually, a lot of credit goes to newly re-hired Husker assistant Mike Dawson. The former defensive line coach, who was recently brought back to coach outside linebackers, laid the groundwork. Dawson took the lead in his recruitment after the staff offered, and the two formed a strong relationship over the ensuing nine months before Dawson left for the New York Giants. The potential fallout with Hutmacher’s recruitment was initially a concern. When Tuioti took over, Hutmacher wondered if he would have the same relationship with his new position coach. Luckily, the two hit it off immediately on the phone and then during their first in-person meeting. Hutmacher had a final three of Nebraska, Wisconsin and Oregon, and ended up committing to the Huskers on June 29. He joined Turner Corcoran and Blaise Gunnerson as mainstays at Husker home games during the 2019 season and were active peer recruiters.

Keeping with the theme of creative visits, when Nebraska visited Hutmacher a week prior to the early signing period, Scott Frost, Erik Chinander, Tony Tuioti and Mario Verduzco accompanied him and his father pheasant hunting on a local family farm. It was an idea that the group had come up with during Hutmacher’s official visit in April.

Hutmacher is a three-sport standout for Chamberlain (S.D.) High School. In addition to being a three-time all-state football player, Hutmacher was also a three-time state champion wrestler and two-time state champion in track and field throwing the shot put and discus. Hutmacher, who has twice been named South Dakota Sportswriters Male Athlete of the Year, had a tough decision to make between football and wrestling in college. He’s an Olympic-caliber wrestling prospect who is recognized as the top overall high school heavyweight wrestler in the country regardless of age. He’ll hang up his singlet when he gets to Lincoln, however, and concentrate on football full-time.

At 6-foot-5 and 300-pounds, Hutmacher has great size and is one of the strongest players in the entire 2020 class. The ‘Polar Bear’ started lifting religiously in middle school under the tutelage of his father, Joe, who is a former competitive power lifter. Hutmacher can bench press 420 pounds, squat 610 and deadlift 600. Last summer, he Tweeted videos of himself doing sets of 10 at 425 on the squat, sets of five at 470 on the deadlift, sets of five at 225 pounds on standing shoulder press and 34-inch box jumps with 100-pounds in his hands.

Hutmacher is explosive off the line and runs very well for a 300-pounder. He also plays with a high motor and regularly chases plays down the field. He was routinely double and triple teamed during his entire high school career but still finished with nearly 300 total tackles. Hutmacher has the potential to be an absolute monster in the middle of the defense. When he gets to Nebraska and concentrates solely on football, the sky is truly the limit. He’ll be able to take the things that he learned from wrestling – leverage, hand use, balance, agility, toughness – and utilize them on the football field. Hutmacher has a tremendous work ethic and is a fierce competitor. He’s the kind of kid you want in your program. He’ll help set the standard and promote the culture Frost wants to create.

Joining Hutmacher from the high school ranks is Marquis Black. The McDonough (GA) Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy standout held over 20 offers from schools representing every Power 5 conference. The 6-foot-4, 290-pound Black did his due diligence while vetting his college options. He took numerous visits to several of the programs that extended him a scholarship.

As fate would have it, Marquis’s brother, Tyrese, was actually recruited by the staff at Central Florida and committed to the Knights after Frost left for Nebraska. The trust and familiarity built during that recruitment helped with their efforts in courting Marquis, as did their established relationship with his high school coach, Jonathan Gess. Black visited in late September for the Ohio State game and ended up committing to the Huskers on October 12. Along with Nebraska, Black also held offers from Arizona, Boston College, Georgia Tech, Kansas State, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Virginia Tech and West Virginia, among others.

Tony Tuioti likes defensive linemen that can play multiple positions and Black certainly fits the bill. He played in a 3-4 with Eagle’s Landing and comes with familiarity in the defense. He’s powerful and explosive off the ball and has impressive quickness. He also plays with a high motor and his film shows him making plays away from the line of scrimmage often. Similar to Carlos Davis, Black can be utilized as a nose guard or strong-side defense end in Nebraska’s scheme.

Black was a three-year starter and was named second-team all-state as a junior. This past season as a senior, Black collected 77 tackles, with 16.5 coming for loss and 5 sacks, earning him first-team all-district. Eagle’s Landing went 57-1 during Black’s time at the school and recently won its fifth-straight Class A Private state title, becoming the first football team in Georgia history to win five straight championships.

Nebraska graduates its entire starting defensive line. In response, the staff brought in a pair of junior college prospects. The hope is they can help bridge the gap between the youngsters signed the last two classes. Coaches anticipate both contributing immediately. The first is Jordon Riley, originally from Durham, who signed with in-state North Carolina as part of the 2017 class. Riley, who didn’t start playing organized football until his sophomore year at Riverside High School, was ranked as the No. 25 (Rivals), No. 37 (247Sports) and No. 39 (ESPN) defensive tackle in 2017. He had been considered a four-star recruit, but dropped in the rankings after missing the first five games of his senior season with a foot injury. He chose the Tar Heels over additional Power 5 offers from Auburn, Kentucky, Mississippi State, NC State, Tennessee, South Carolina and Wake Forest.

After graduating early and arriving in Chapel Hill in January, Riley played in five games as a nose tackle in 2017, totaling six tackles and a quarterback hurry. He was forced to sit out the following spring as he faced academic concerns. He was ultimately dismissed from UNC in April of 2018 for a violation of team rules.

Riley didn’t play anywhere in 2018, using his available redshirt, then enrolled at Garden City Community College in the spring of 2019. He finished with 26 tackles, 2 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss, playing for a Broncbuster defense that allowed less than 290 yards per game. Riley helped Garden City finish with a No. 9 national ranking on his way to being named second-team All-Jayhawk League. Nebraska came through with an offer in late November and brought him in for an official visit December 6. He ended up committing on December 17 and signed the following day during the early signing period.

At 6-foot-6 and 290-pounds, Riley would seem to be an ideal fit as a defensive end in the 3-4. He’s strong with long arms and should be able to set the edge nicely. Riley’s also capable of sliding inside and playing the nose tackle position. At North Carolina and Garden City, he thrived on the inside taking on double teams and clogging the middle. He’ll be a nice versatile piece that will give Tuioti some flexibility in his rotation. Riley is ranked as the No. 28 overall junior college player in the country by 247Sports. He enrolled in January and will participate in spring ball. Riley has two seasons of eligibility for Nebraska.

Nebraska has been looking for a consistent pass rush out of it’s front line since before Frost arrived. They hope they’ve found someone who can come in and provide a spark off the edge with Pheldarius Payne. Originally from Suffolk, Virginia, Payne played two seasons for Lackawanna Community College, one of the top junior college programs in the country. In his two seasons, the Falcons went 21-1, finishing No. 6 in 2018 and No. 2 this past season after losing in the juco national championship game. Payne compiled 53 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss and 9 sacks in his two seasons.

Ryan Held looked into Payne during the summer but moved on to other targets after he committed to NC State in July. The Huskers circled back in early November, coming through with an offer and making him a priority target. They were able to get him on campus for an official visit on December 6, the day after his No. 2 Lackawanna squad lost 24-13 to No. 1 Mississippi Gulf Coast in the NJCAA championship. Scott Frost, Erik Chinander and Tony Tuioti then went in-home with him December 9, immediately following his visit. Payne took an ensuing visit to NC State the following weekend, then decommitted from the Wolfpack on December 16, the day after he got home from the trip. Two days later, he announced his commitment and signed a Letter of Intent to play football for the Cornhuskers. Payne is ranked as the No. 19 overall junior college player in the country by ESPN and No. 33 by 247Sports. He’ll graduate in May and have three years to play two seasons for Nebraska.

At 6-foot-3, 275-pounds, Payne doesn’t seem to fit the mold this staff is looking for out of its defensive ends. But when you turn on Payne’s tape, you see the value he brings and why the staff coveted him so much. Payne has a quick-twitch that no other defensive end has on the roster. An impressive first step helps him get off the ball quickly, and he’s good with his hands. He moves like a 250-pounder and should contribute as a pass rushing specialist. Grade: C

Linebacker (5): Nebraska continued to build up its linebacker room with the addition of five players. Blaise Gunnerson was perhaps the top guy on the board as the staff began work on the 2020 linebacker class. Gunnerson received his Husker offer after visiting Lincoln for their game against Minnesota on October 20, 2018. He pretty quickly became a high priority target for Erik Chinander. As the staff turned its focus towards the 2020 class, they had ground to make up with Gunnerson. He had long been an Iowa State lean – a team he grew up cheering for and the school where his brother is a walk-on. The staff worked hard to make headway. They were able to get Gunnerson on campus four times last spring; March 15, April 13 (Spring Game), May 19, and June 14 (official visit). Each visit helped to chip away at the Cyclones’ lead until they emerged as his leader. Gunnerson gave Nebraska his commitment on July 2, 2019, choosing the Huskers over Iowa State.

Gunnerson flew under the radar and was a great regional evaluation by the staff. The Carroll (IA) Kuemper Catholic High School star played his sophomore year at 195-pounds and then missed his entire junior season with a torn labrum in his hip, which required surgery to fix. Despite missing the football season, Gunnerson gained over 50 pounds of muscle. Had he not missed his junior season, Gunnerson would have been a national recruit. As it was, only regional teams like Iowa, Minnesota and Kansas State joined the Huskers and Cyclones in offering.

At 6-foot-6 and 250-pounds, Gunnerson’s combination of size, strength, speed and quickness is exactly what Erik Chinander wants out of his strongside outside linebackers. Gunnerson has a really high ceiling as a pass rusher. He has great bend around the corner and uses his hands very well. Gunnerson has a great first step and can beat his opponent with several different speed and power moves in his arsenal. He’s equally dangerous with his hand in the dirt or coming off the edge from a two-point stance. Gunnerson played defensive end for Kuemper Catholic, but if there was any concern as to how he would operate in space, he squashed those in front of Husker coaches. The night before his official visit in June, Gunnerson chose to work out at Nebraska’s Friday Night Lights camp. He showed excellent movement skills and was very comfortable dropping into pass coverage.

Gunnerson is ranked as a four-star recruit by 247Sports and was selected to play in the All-American Bowl. He couldn’t participate after undergoing surgery on his other hip in October. He’s now undergone surgeries on both hips to repair a genetic overgrowth of his hip bones. It turns out Gunnerson had some extra bone growth on his hip, which was limiting his mobility. During surgery on the torn labrum, doctors shaved off the extra bone, allowing him to move more fluidly. There aren’t any long-term concerns over his hips and they aren’t expected to give him problems in the future.

The staff is extremely high on Gunnerson and feel he’s a special talent. He enrolled early in January, but it’s not known exactly how much he’ll participate in the spring. He will probably see the field early and have a chance to be a multi-year starter. Gunnerson is a very hard worker who is a team-first kind of guy. He’ll be a nice leader in the locker room.

Joining Gunnerson on the outside will be Jimari Butler. The Mobile (AL) Murphy High School product spent the first three years of high school playing his first love, basketball. It was the schools new coach, Rico Jackson, who talked him into coming out for football last spring. So for the first time since 7th grade, Butler strapped on the pads and concentrated on football. He was a virtual unknown on the recruiting scene, but got a few schools attention last summer when he ran a 40-yard dash in 4.59 seconds at a Nike regional camp.

Butler started the year at outside linebacker before moving to defensive end, where he was allowed to concentrate primarily on rushing the passer. He received his first Power 5 offer from Kansas in early September and saw a steady stream of suitors come through with offers after his senior film got out. Nebraska joined the fray on October 5. Butler committed to Tennessee on November 8, over finalists Nebraska, TCU, Maryland and Ole Miss. He was open with the Vols about his plans to take official visits to see his other finalists. Over the next month, Tennessee couldn’t change his mind about looking around. With the early signing period approaching, head coach Jeremy Pruitt and ace recruiter Tee Martin visited Butler in-home on December 4 to try and dissuade him from taking more visits. It didn’t work and he was in Lincoln a few days later on December 6. Scott Frost then used his in-home visit the day after Butler returned home on December 9. Butler decommitted from the Vols the following day, December 10, and took a trip to TCU on December 13. Butler committed to Nebraska on December 16, the day after he completed his official visit with the Horned Frogs.

The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Butler is extremely raw with tons of potential and a very high ceiling. He’s a long, rangy explosive athlete with impressive quick-twitch. He uses his hands well, too, despite being a relative novice to football. He also plays with a high motor and chases a lot of plays down from the backside. Butler finished his lone season of varsity football with 60 tackles (22 for loss), 14.5 sacks and 21 quarterback hurries, and he hasn’t even scratched the surface of his potential as a pass rusher. He should be a very nice piece of clay for Mike Dawson to work with. Butler will likely redshirt and work on gaining weight. He’ll need to continue to work on technique and hone his craft, while digesting the defensive scheme.

The staff went into the junior college ranks in search of someone who could come in and contribute immediately on the outside. They think they found that person in Niko Cooper. A native of Memphis, Tennessee, Cooper spent the past two seasons at Hutchinson Community College, initially redshirting in 2018. Nebraska offered Cooper on November 29 and had coaches visit him at his junior college in Kansas the next two weeks leading up to his official visit on December 15. He committed during the visit and signed on December 18.

Cooper played defensive end for Hutchinson, but projects better as a pass rusher playing out of a two-point stance as a standup outside linebacker in Nebraska’s 3-4. At 6-foot-5 and 220-pounds, Cooper is long with an impressive wingspan. He’s an intriguing prospect with the sort of frame and athleticism the staff is looking for at the position. Cooper is listed as the No. 3 weakside defensive end prospect in junior college, while Rivals ranks him as the No. 41 overall junior college prospect in the country. He’ll have three years of eligibility remaining once he arrives in Lincoln in May. The staff would like him to play his way into the rotation this coming season and then become a much bigger contributor in 2021 and 2022.

The Huskers needed to upgrade the overall athleticism at the inside linebacker position, and coaches think they’ve found a hidden gem in junior college linebacker Eteva Mauga-Clements. Originally from American Samoa, Mauga played in an all-star game in Hawaii after his senior season in 2017 and met up with his father, Derrick Clements, who he hadn’t seen since he was 5-years-old. A few months later, Mauga visited the mainland for the first time and fully reunited with his father, stepmother and two stepsisters. Derrick is the defensive coordinator at Las Lomas High School in Walnut Creek, so Mauga decided to move to California to pursue his football dream. Derrick had played junior college football at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, so he sent Mauga there to play for Mike Darr, who he had known for 25 years.

Mauga arrived at Diablo Valley College as a 5-foot-11, 165 pound grey shirt. He redshirted his first season and then played in eight games as a safety in 2018. He was moved to linebacker this past offseason. During that time, Mauga experienced a growth spurt that saw him reach 6-foot-2 and 220-pounds, all while increasing his athleticism. This past season, Mauga exploded onto the junior college scene. He finished with 61 tackles (23 for loss) and seven sacks in 10 games for the Vikings, on his way to being named the Bay 6 Conference defensive player of the year. Rivals labeled him a four-star recruit and ranked him the No. 8 overall junior college prospect in the country.

Mike Darr and Derrick Clements sent film to dozens of schools to help Mauga get exposure. Nebraska was among them and were immediately interested, offering him a scholarship in early November. Barrett Ruud visited Mauga on December 1, the first day of the contact period. Derrick knew all about Nebraska’s tradition, moreso than his son, and pushed Eteva to visit, despite being committed to San Diego State. They visited on December 6 and were blown away by the opportunities in Lincoln. Dave Ellis and Zach Duval explained to them in detail how they would help Mauga gain 20 pounds through Nebraska’s strength and conditioning and nutrition programs. Meanwhile, Erik Chinander and Barrett Ruud showed film of the Husker defense and explained what his role would be in it. They were sold. Mauga called and informed the Aztec coaches that he was decommitting on December 9 and then informed Nebraska he was joining their class the following night. Mauga is a reserved kid who doesn’t have a large social media presence. Thus, it wasn’t until Darr and Clements confirmed his commitment that the news went public.

Scott Frost calls Mauga a “true run-and-hit” linebacker. Put on his film and you see why. He’s an explosive, aggressive athlete with a quick first step and impressive top-end speed. Mauga closes in a hurry and delivers a big hit when he arrives. He plays with a non-stop motor and flies to the ball. Mike Darr used him similarly to how Nebraska uses JoJo Domann. Mauga played weakside outside linebacker for Diablo Valley, but was used all over the field. He was used as an extra defensive back or an extra linebacker, depending on the package. Darr would sometimes bring him off the edge or even line him up over the center and blitz him. The Huskers plan to play him primarily at inside linebacker, but I can see them moving him around once he gets comfortable in the system. His background as a defensive back should allow him to handle the coverage responsibilities that come with the position. Mauga enrolled in January and will participate in spring ball. If he can get a leg-up on the defense, he could have a big role this season. He’ll have two seasons of eligibility for Nebraska.

Often times a coaching change will shake-up a recruiting class. That’s exactly what happened with Keyshawn Greene, who had been a long-time commit to Florida State. The Crawfordville (FL) Wakulla High School star was the top outside linebacker on the Seminoles’ board and committed in April of 2018. He had no intentions of renigging on that pledge until Willie Taggart was fired midway through his second season in Tallahassee. After the coaching change was made, Greene started to listen more intently to overtures from other schools. Nebraska was one of several programs who attempted to get their foot in the door. The Husker staff recruited Greene while they were at Central Florida and stayed in contact, which helped them make a move. With December’s early signing period approaching, Greene narrowed his focus to five schools; Nebraska, Miami, Florida, Auburn and Central Florida.

Greene took a visit to Miami on December 6 and officially ended his 20-month commitment to the Seminoles during the trip. Undeterred, new Florida State coach Mike Norvell and three of his coaches (defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett, linebackers coach Raymond Woodie and defensive assistant Mario Edwards Sr.) made an in-home visit with Greene on Monday the 9th, the day after he returned from Miami. They’d hoped to get him to visit Tallahassee that following weekend. Instead Greene visited Nebraska. He shocked the recruiting community when he committed to the Huskers prior to leaving Lincoln.

Nebraska scored one of the fastest linebackers in the country. In February of 2019, at Nike’s Opening Regional in Orlando, Greene ran 4.49 in the 40-yard dash, posted 4.66 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle and recorded a 28.7-inch vertical jump. He also excelled in drills and was named linebacker MVP at the event. Greene is the prototypical linebacker for today’s college football. At 6-foot-3 and 210-pounds, Greene is long with tremendous athleticism. He uses his elite speed to chase the ball from sideline-to-sideline. He has good instincts and really attacks the ball.

Greene is considered a four-star prospect by all three major recruiting services and is ranked as the No. 99 (247Sports), No. 192 (ESPN) and No. 202 (Rivals) overall player in the country. He was selected to play in the All-American Bowl and stood out among the nation’s best. He was singled out during the week of practices leading up to the game, and then led the East squad in tackles with 4.5. Greene was also credited with 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack. He was named one of the game’s top players by 247Sports analysts and listed among the top 5 performers for the East team. He was highly productive this past season, racking up 147 tackles including nine stops for loss, three sacks, two pass breakups, one interception and one blocked field goal. Greene helped lead his team to a 13-1 record and reached the Class 5A state semifinals.

Because of his frame and athleticism, Greene was coveted by schools as both an inside and outside linebacker. Nebraska sees him as an inside linebacker for their scheme. If he can add some bulk, he could really thrive there. Greene played on the inside at Wakulla and excelled at reading and reacting, then getting downhill to make a play. I’d expect Greene to at least take advantage of the four game redshirt rule. If his slight frame weren’t an issue, I could see a lot more playing time. Long-term, it would seem he and Nick Henrich have the potential to form an outstanding duo on the inside. Grade: B

Defensive Back (4): I continue to be impressed by the way Travis Fisher has gone out and loaded up his room with versatile athletes. Nearly all of the players he has recruited over the last three classes are capable of playing any position in the secondary. Fisher loves to cross-train his guys so that they know every spot in the secondary. He’s taken that philosophy and applied it to his recruiting board. Fisher has also improved the physical profile of his position group as a whole. Of the 11 players he has brought into the program, nine are listed at 6-foot or taller. Nearly half (five) are 6-foot-2 or taller.

Often times in recruiting, location is ultimately the deciding factor when a kid makes a decision. How many times has Nebraska lost out on a recruit to a school closer to home? In the case of Henry Gray, the Huskers were the beneficiaries of someone who wanted out of south Florida. The Miami (FL) Central High School star had been committed to the in-state Hurricanes from late March of 2018 until mid-December of 2018. By the time Gray was finishing his junior year, however, he and his mother began looking at out-of-state programs as serious options.

In the spring of 2019, Gray took visits to Clemson, Ohio State, Penn State and Florida, and was also strongly considering Michigan. He was rumored to have been a silent commit to the Gators by the time he took an official visit to Lincoln on September 14 for Nebraska’s game against Northern Illinois. The national perception was that his Husker trip was nothing more than a token visit and that he would go public with his commitment to the Gators the following weekend after his planned official visit to Gainesville. Instead, Gray fell in love with what the Huskers had to offer and canceled the trip to Florida. He committed to Nebraska on September 19 and never wavered. Gray garnered nearly 30 scholarship offers, including Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Miami, Michigan, Ohio State, Ole Miss, Oregon, Penn State, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas A&M. He was considered a four-star recruit by ESPN and Rivals, and ranked as the nation’s No. 202 and No. 234 overall prospect, respectively.

Gray was a regular on the 7-on-7 and summer camp circuit in 2018 and 2019 and was regularly singled out as a top performer. Notable performances at events like the All-American National Combine in January of 2019 and the following month at Nike’s Opening Regional in Miami and Under Armour Camp in Miami put him on several teams’ priority lists. His play got him invited to The Opening Finals and an invitation to play in the prestigious Under Armour All-America Game. At those camps he ran 4.66 in the 40-yard dash, posted 4.19 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle and recorded a 32.7-inch vertical jump.

The 6-foot, 175-pound Gray played both corner and safety for Central and was recruited to play both positions by different schools. He’s a tall, long-armed defender with natural coverage instincts playing both press man and zone. With a physical playing style, Gray could play corner, safety or nickel for the Huskers. For now, it seems Fisher will try him first at safety. This could possibly be because Gray lacks elite top-end speed. His change of direction and ability to break on the ball, coupled with his overall quickness could make up for that, however. He’s still a bit thin but has a nice frame to fill out. Enrolling early will give him a head start towards developing physically and getting stronger in the Nebraska strength and conditioning program. Gray is a highly competitive player who played for one of the best teams in Florida, winning the 6A state title this past season after a runner-up finish as a junior. He spent his high school career competing against some of the best players in the country. It gives him a real chance at contributing early in his career.

The first commit in what became an all-Florida defensive back class was Tamon Lynum. Tight ends coach Sean Beckton first saw Lynum in February of 2019 and passed along his impressions to Travis Fisher. Then, in May, during the evaluation period, Fisher went out to watch Lynum in a spring practice and offered him the same day. Fisher has strong recruiting ties in the state of Florida, but after having played and coached at UCF, he’s particularly connected to the Orlando area. The 6-foot-2, 170-pound Lynum was a popular prospect in the area. He fits the mold of what Fisher likes and quickly became a priority target. The Orland0 (FL) Evans High School standout visited Nebraska on June 21 for the teams VIP Barbecue and Friday Night Lights event. Lynum committed to the Huskers on Sunday (June 23) before he left Lincoln.

When Fisher made his initial evaluation, Lynum wasn’t on the national radar. Nebraska was his first Power 5 offer and he eventually chose the Huskers over Kansas and East Carolina. After a strong senior season where Lynum finished with 44 tackles, 11 pass breakups, two interceptions and a forced fumble, several prominent programs in the Southeast region circled back. Miami and Tennessee in particular made aggressive overtures, but Lynum never wavered. In fact, Lynum returned to Lincoln in November – on his own dime – for the Wisconsin game so that he could help peer recruit a large contingency of Florida recruits in attendance, including eventual commits Marcus Fleming and Jaiden Francois.

Lynum is a tall, fluid corner/safety hybrid who brings a lot of versatility to the secondary. He plays with a physicality that could allow him to play safety or nickel, but Fisher is going to give him a shot at boundary corner when spring practices commence. Lynum’s impressive frame and athleticism should translate nicely to that spot. He played primarily press coverage in high school and used his long-arms to disrupt opposing receivers. He ran 22.74 in the 200 meters last spring in a district track meet and also ran on both the 4×100 and the 4×400 relay teams. Lynum enrolled in January and will participate in spring ball. He’ll likely be a guy who plays in four games and preserves his redshirt. He’ll need a year or two to fill out his frame, but Lynum could prove to be a steal down the line for the Huskers.

Joining Lynum as a (likely) cornerback in this class is Ronald Delancy III. Travis Fisher has had a good relationship with the coaching staff at Miami (FL) Northwestern High School for a long time and Delancy is someone he had known about and liked for a while. Delancy was offered by Louisville back in January of 2019 and committed to the Cardinals three weeks later. Fisher wasn’t deterred and continued to recruit him, officially extending Delancy an offer on April 18. Fisher’s persistence paid off and the Huskers were able to get Delancy to Lincoln for an official visit in late September for their game against Ohio State. Less than a week later, on October 2, Delancy decommitted from Louisville. He ended up committing to Nebraska on October 8. Several regional schools circled back and offered Delancy following a standout senior season, including Miami, but he never wavered.

The 5-foot-11, 160-pound Delancy was highly regarded in the Miami area and it was the opinion of several high school coaches in the region that he was actually the best defensive back in south Florida. Delancy has smooth, fluid hips and changes direction really well. He breaks on the ball extremely well with impressive short-area burst, and has the speed to turn and run with almost anyone. He’s aggressive in coverage, challenges receivers, and attacks the ball when it’s in the air. Delancy played both corner and safety during his time in high school, but I think his future is as a field corner. Although he has the versatility to play nickel or safety if that’s where Fisher wants him.

Delancy comes from one of the best high schools in the Southeast and has been a part of winning programs for all of his high school career. He began his career at Carol City High School, which won the 6A state championship during his freshman season. He was then part of back-to-back state title teams with fellow Husker signee Marcus Fleming at Northwestern. The Bulls won the 6A championship during their junior years and took home the 5A title this past season. Delancy will need some time to fill out his frame, but when he does, he could be a multi-year contributor and likely starter.

What good is signing day without drama? Jaiden Francois became a national story after the hoopla that he went through during his announcement ceremony on signing day. Francois, who was slated to make his announcement shortly after 8 a.m., was seen taking a phone call just before the event was supposed to begin. He was visibly emotional after the conversation and got up from the table in his high school gym and didn’t return for over 30 minutes. Francois eventually came back and again got on his phone. After 10 minutes, Francois left for a second time and his name tag was removed from the table. Then he returned for a second time and the name tag was placed back on the table. Finally, at 9:15 a.m., Francois chose the Huskers over fellow finalist Miami by unveiling a Nebraska shirt under his black dress shirt.

As most Husker fans know by now, the original phone call was (allegedly) a Miami coach telling Francois that Travis Fisher had (allegedly) agreed to leave Nebraska for a position on Lane Kiffin’s staff at Ole Miss. Scott Frost then did damage control, reassuring Francois that Fisher wasn’t going anywhere. Roughly three weeks after the early signing period, it was announced that Fisher would be receiving a hefty raise. His salary was bumped to $450,000, a $125,000 increase from what he made in 2019. The offer from Kiffin was real, but Fisher turned it down, resulting in a nice raise by the Huskers.

Francois had been committed to Miami on two separate occasions during his recruitment. He initially pledged to the hometown Hurricanes in July of 2018, only to decommit that December after Mark Richt retired. He changed his mind shortly after and was back in Miami’s class by February of 2019, only to leave again in October. Fisher, who had been recruiting Francois for over two years, took advantage of the situation. He was able to get the 6-foot-0, 185-pounder to Lincoln for an official visit in mid-November for their game against Wisconsin. Francois left Lincoln with the Huskers in good position, but wanted to take one more look at the Canes. He visited Coral Gables during the final weekend before signing day. The visit helped convince Francois that Nebraska was the right choice.

Francois was a regular on the 7-on-7 and summer camp circuit the last two years and was regularly singled out as a top performer. In February of 2018, coming off his sophomore season, he participated at Nike’s Opening Regional in Miami. He ran a 4.64 in the 40-yard dash, posted 4.30 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle and recorded a 33.2-inch vertical jump. He’s considered a four-star prospect by Rivals, ESPN and 247Sports. As a junior, Francois set a Dade County all-time record with 13 interceptions, to go along with 79 tackles and eight pass breakups. His play earned him first-team all-state in Florida’s largest classification. He spent his senior season with a bullseye on his chest, with teams avoiding his direction in the passing game. In addition to the Huskers and Hurricanes, Francois held offers from the likes of Auburn, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, LSU, Michigan, Ohio State, Oregon and Penn State.

As we’ve seen with virtually all of the defensive backs Travis Fisher has signed at Nebraska, the possibility exists that Francois could play corner, nickel or safety once he arrives in Lincoln. It shouldn’t come as a surprise with Francois, though, because if you watch his film you’ll see that he plays every position in the secondary for South Dade High School. Although Nebraska announced him as a cornerback, I think his best position is safety where he can be a ball-hawking centerfielder. Francois enrolled at Nebraska 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 jgpernell@comcast.net.