It's hard to find. If you don't have it, you want it and if you have it you don't want to lose it. This class has tons of it. The "Getting to Know" series really put the exclamation point on this idea that I had before I even started the series and made me even more excited for the things to come down the pipe.
It's undeniable that the upcoming season's opponents will set a national stage for this team and this group of recruits to get fired up to be part of. Nebraska is the only team in the nation that will face both the national champion and the runner up next year. Both of those teams will undoubtedly be different, but there is a stigma that will still surround those teams.
Beyond the national stage that has been set though, I go back to comments from these recruits about last year. Games that they were either in the stands to witness saw on television or read about. There was the Pitt game. The field goal against Kansas State. The thrashing at Boulder. Even the fumbled interception against Texas Tech.
All of these games made it onto at least a recruit's list as to why they chose Nebraska. That was because they saw a team with heart. More than that, they saw the competitive fire and nature of the coaching staff that didn't allow their players to get down and pack it in. These recruits this year believe in just about everything that they were told by Nebraska not because people verified it, but because they saw it on the field.
OK, this year there were a number of weird stories I thought that directly impacted Nebraska's recruiting class. Here are just a few:
Josh Freeman is a Wildcat – This I will never understand for the life of me. I fail to see why he soured on Nebraska. I fail to see where Nebraska lied to him. I don't understand how someone that was committed to a team for over half of a year can change so quickly and so heartlessly through a text message. Furthermore, Josh left Nebraska because they were recruiting a QB from Florida who was being looked at to play another position. But, Josh stood by Kansas State as they courted Brent Schaeffer. I also don't understand why the Freeman's insisted on doing "damage control" through the various media outlets if they felt that they were just. Either way, I have seen the pictures of Josh in purple and it's not a pretty site. I'll be honest, I think that the coaching staff was wronged in this situation and this was probably a break down in communications. But, what's done is done. See ya in Manhattan.
A.J. Wallace wants to play running back and chooses Penn State – I actually respect our coaches more for not completely reversing field here and telling Wallace more than he will get a shot. Wallace was recruited by Nebraska since day one to play defensive back. A plan that was set in motion last summer when he came to camp. To go against that grain is a "win at all costs" tactic just to try and get that player to look your way. What may or may not have crossed Wallace's mind is that he will be one of three running backs at Penn State in this class. I am betting that both of the two previously discussed recruits will be playing other positions than what they were told by the teams that they committed to by the end of their career.
Only one recruit from Texas – This pretty much blows my mind. I mean, this was a state that last year we got three kids out of, but more than that Nebraska seemed to be in on a ton of them. This year was quiet. Maybe it was the tear that Texas went on sealing off the borders. But above all of that, where was John Blake? I mean, this was a guy that last year was involved with just about all of the kids in the state of Texas. This year, none. I can't really think of a player from the Houston area that we were ever in on. Chykie Brown from Waco was recruited by Norvell as was Broderick Marshall. Gilmore was responsible for Will Henry. Just was an odd/off year there.
The "woulda, coulda, shoulda" goes to Ashlee Palmer. Signs one letter of intent to Nebraska, which you would believe locked him into attending Nebraska, fails to meet mid-term graduation standards and becomes a free agent. More than that, there were plans to remain at Compton, come and go from Lincoln as he pleased, and be ready for summer. Instead, he is U-Dub bound. This was a huge blow for this class.
The "what happened" award goes to A.J. Wallace. I just don't know how to say it, but when you are on a kid for about two years that is impressive. More than that, he so much as named Nebraska a leader up to about December then came the holidays and the U.S. Army All-American game. When it was all said and done, Nebraska wasn't just on the outside looking in, but wasn't even on the table to get chosen from.
My "class envy" award goes to USC. Shocker huh? I still can't figure out why players want to go be behind other all-Americans in South Central as opposed to going somewhere and making an immediate impact. Well, I really know why, it's because of their recent success and their cheerleaders. Duh.
My "curveball of the year" goes to Rulon Davis. This was a guy that wasn't traditional any sense of the term. He is a war veteran, older and just talking to him you knew that he was mature. He makes the commitment to Nebraska, but in the last weekends before mid-year signing day he changes and commits to California. More than that, he blames that he was pressured into committing to Nebraska and goes on a public website and so much declares his love for Cal. So be it.
My "immediate impact" awards on offense and defense go to Maurice Purify and Andre Jones. Shockers huh? Well, these guys are just that good. I wouldn't just be a little surprised to not see them early in the lineup against Louisiana Tech…I would be shocked. Purify is the deep threat, big bodied receiver that we need. He is mature and has great speed. Jones is a pure, man to man, shut-down cornerback. He not only will come in and play, but he will be starting very early in the year.
My "keep an eye on" award goes to Steve Allen. This is a player here folks. I haven't seen closing speed like this since Demorrio Williams and that is a player that everyone that follows Nebraska misses. Allen can flat out fly and will improve a solid, but not overly athletic corps of linebackers that is already in Lincoln. The thoughts about Allen and Octavien on the field together with the likes of Barry Turner and Corey McKeon in a 3-4 make my mouth water.
The "gonna need a year" award goes to Ben Martin. This is a guy that is falling into playing defensive end next year. A position that is probably the strongest of all of the defensive positions. He is a bit under-sized and may not even end up playing defensive end for more than a year or two. Let's just hope that he doesn't become the next Jared Helming.
And last but not least, my "don't know where I will be, but I will be good" award goes to Mike Smith. This kid is already over 6-foot-5 and is coming up on 270 pounds. Not to mention that he is probably a bit more athletic than Zach Potter who had similar size to Smith when he enrolled at Nebraska. Smith is going to continue growing. I saw him up close and personal at the spring game and I just knew that it was a matter of time. He could stay at defensive end all the way through college, he could be a nice two-gap defensive tackle, but some are saying that his days may end up playing book-end offensive tackle.
All in all, it's been a fun year. These stories keep a smile on my face and my mouth moving when I am watching their film with family and friends and will continue to do so as they make their way onto the field in 2006 and beyond. It's time to turn that page though mentally and physically and get rolling with the program again.