Just win (with JUCOs), Baby!

You would have thought finding yourself a thousand or so miles away from Oakland Raiders' owner Al Davis, there might be a little peace. Finally, the pressure to win every single minute of every single day would be alleviated, because other people understood that certain things take time. Head coach Bill Callahan has realized that while this isn't the silver and black, and the rabid Husker fans aren't Al Davis multiplied, the attitude is the same: Just win, baby.

It's not like a coach doesn't want to win. They do, all of them, every single minute of every single day. Depending on where you are at, though, dictates whether the pressure to do that is paper weight heavy or it might as well be someone dropping a mountain on your back.

Al Davis, the notorious owner of the Oakland Raider, he's probably the personification of that mountain, Elvis glasses and all, this guy wants nothing less than the best.

I bet you when Bill Callahan came to little old Lincoln from nasty old intimidating Oakland, while he accepted the pressure, he might have assumed there would be at least some slight reprieve.

Uh-uh

Despite the fact that he was installing a whole new offense and even considering the fact that much of that offense's success was going to depend on players that hadn't even arrived. And notwithstanding the idea that sometimes it just takes time for players to get to know coaches, coaches to know player and for everyone to get on the same page – Callahan had to win and right now.

5-6 wasn't the way anyone wanted him to start

That's how it goes, it takes time to get talent and even more, it takes time to acclimate that talent to what you need them to do.

Again, nope, sorry Bill, but it's all well and good that you want to develop this talent, but if you go 5-6 again, you might not have another year of this transition.

Hello junior colleges

The stop-gap to some, a band-aid to others, the junior college ranks promise you a little more experience, a lot more familiarity with close to Division 1-A speed and just like high school recruiting, there are plenty of players out there that athletically fit what you want and some even fit your system.

There's a price, though, that comes with the junior college ranks. First, the obvious one, that one that fuels the stereotype and the ever-popular saying: "You are in junior college for a reason."

The stigma, if you will, that you are getting kids that on the first go around, couldn't quite make it out of high school.

A fan assumes the worst, thinks that they came from a bad background where learning wasn't exactly a high priority and they don't view junior colleges as a place that encourages learning so much as it is a place where they can do the minimum to get in, while maintaining and in some cases, improving their football skills.

The next perceived downside is that you are getting on average, a player that will give you two years at most of playing time. With that limited amount, you don't know that you have a player that even when they are scheduled to graduate, you don't know that they can learn everything they need to learn.

Back to the old saying, they are in junior college for a reason.

If the stereotype applies and to some it certainly does, you have a person that for whatever reason didn't have the grades they needed to have to make this division straight from the prep ranks. Then, you throw them into college and you ask them to learn a system faster than everyone else.

See a problem here?

What perception will tell you saves some of these young men is that many have a redshirt year available to them, allowing them to make the transition more comfortably, with much less pressure to get everything down right away.

Of course, that almost defeats the purpose of why you brought them on board in the first place.

And in yesterday's press conference, the head coach himself, responding to a question about the junior college ranks and this staff's heavy recruiting of that rank, why so darn many? "Taking 25 to 30 freshman, we don't have that luxury," Callahan said. "It's a win-now scenario and to wait four or five years for 25 or 30 freshmen to come along and be developed – that's a long period of time."

"This is a society and situation where we have to win and this (recruiting junior colleges) gives us the best chance."

Hard to argue with that, Callahan probably not feeling too much pressure from the 5-6 season, but you can bet the pressure mounted after the humiliating losses to Missouri and Kansas. The talk was out again as to whether his offense, his NFL style, his types of players would even work here at dear old NU.

The problem was, he didn't have all of his players, so he as probably a little more than confused how his system could get lambasted when people only saw what it was conceptually capable of instead of seeing it as it was intended.

That meant 12 junior college players last year, the count now at eight junior college players this year, with one, maybe more being added before it's all said and done. That's close to or even more than 20 from the junior college ranks. Not many schools can say they have that man right now.

Temple can.

They have averaged around one win a year for the last five years.

That's apples and oranges, comparing Temple and Nebraska, but the fear to become a Midwestern version of Temple is there. It's the fear that tells you that you get potential instant contribution, but you seriously jeopardize any hope of continuity amongst the team.

But you get back to the inevitable factor that Callahan acknowledges, because even deep in the heartland, thus the pressure to get THE best players, regardless of which rank they come from. "I am not naïve to the fact that you have to have the best players (to win)," Callahan said. "And we're going to go out and try to find the best players for our program that fit our style of offense and defense."

Regardless of whether you believe in the philosophy, it would be hard to argue the success this staff has had in recruiting the junior college ranks. Out of the 12 JUCO players signed last year, their success has been above average:

Zac Taylor (Butler) : Starting quarterback, broke single-game and season records for yards passing, while leading the team to a 7-4 record, punctuated by a 392 yard passing performance in Boulder as Nebraska routed the Buffaloes 30-3

Ola Dagunduro (Compton) along with Barry Cryer (Dodge City) both played key roles on the defensive interior, not only giving much needed rest to starters Le Kevin Smith and Titus Adams, but proving effective players in their own right. They each notched three tackles for loss, both had several quarterback hurries and even a pass break up here and there.

Zack Bowman (New Mexico Military) started off the season slow at corner, not grabbing the starting job until about midway through the season, but steadily got better as the season went along. His season was punctuated with a lights out performance against Colorado, where he only had a couple of tackles, but both were key open field takedowns, keeping the opponent from getting a first down

Dontrell Moore (Coffeyville) hasn't been a noticeable player out there, but plays significant roles on special teams and in the last couple of games has seen decent time at rush end on passing situations.

Frantz Hardy (Butler) made a big splash early in the season, going for over 150 yards against Maine. He disappeared for a time, but came up with a huge catch on 2nd and 28 against Colorado, helping to keep a scoring drive alive.

That's six players, five of which had key roles at various points of the season, four of which you can consider home runs as far as recruiting goes and of the rest, many have taken redshirts and one (Tyrell Spain) has yet to arrive, so it's still up in the air as to just what they will do.

When you look at recruiting the prep ranks, if you can get a third on the field their first year, with success, you consider that a pretty solid class indeed.

If you look at a player like Nebraska's most recent commit, San Francisco City College wideout Maurice Purify, there's a man amongst boys. He's got a pro-player's build, a pro-players athleticism and you hope that translates to this division.

Now, take Menelik Holt, a very young man that could eventually one day have the build of a Purify, possibly jump like him, run like him and catch like the junior college superstar. But he isn't there just yet.

The added years Purify has had and the not so cushy life of a junior college player, which has motivated Purify to get better probably much faster than one would at the prep level – that's just part of the advantage people see when they are recruiting from this level of play.

That's what the coaches see and like they feel when recruiting preps, they are hoping that they can fit in and do what they want them to do.

Only faster

You are never going to get around the stigma of recruiting junior college players. Much like the reputation of a politician, someone didn't just say politicians were generally dishonest, someone believed them and there ya go, stereotype in hand. No, the reputation has been earned; even if not by any of the players Nebraska currently has on its team.

And we don't have the pressure Bill Callahan has to do everything he can to get this program back to where it was. It's not Oakland, but it didn't take this head coach long to learn that even in a state with less than 2 million people, they can be just as obsessed as the man in the west with the Elvis glasses. They in the end want the same thing and within the same amount of time.

"It's win now every week," Callahan said. "I don't know about everywhere (else), but you've got to win here."

"You've got to win."


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