Safeties a hot target for Huskers

After the 2007 season, how many games starting experience do you estimate Nebraska will have at the safety position coming back for 2008? Yes, I know – some will undoubtedly get some time this year, but right now, this instant, how many games would you guess? If you can't think of any, you just figured out the answer. Anyone have a "help wanted" sign?

When Nebraska fans look at players like Rickey Thenarse and Larry Asante, they think and ponder about the possibilities from the safety position. Both have the potential to be stars for the big red.

The problem with that is, neither has started a game at the position, at least in Division 1-A. Yes, Thenarse has had some time on the field, but even he admits that last year, what time he had was spent mostly trying to figure out just what in the world was going on.

That's called the learning curve.

But in time he looks like a serious player and a seriously deadly weapon for the defense.

The biggest issue with Nebraska , though, is about depth and experience, something that right now, the safety position doesn't offer when you start thinking another year down the road. Standout preps on their way can hardly be looked upon as saviors of the future.

Trying to make sure that there isn't a cavernous void at the position when that time arises, the Huskers are going after some of the better safeties in the country.

One of the most promising names recently has been that of Edison High School's (Fresno, CA) Brandon Leslie, who has Nebraska high on his list. And then there's Kye Staley, another highly touted prospect, Staley hailing from Guthrie , Oklahoma . You can also throw in Whitehouse , TX standout Stephen Hicks. All have offers, and all are either standing as or rising to the standard of being amongst the best in their region.

Throw Keanon Cooper in there as well.

Cooper will be battling with Hicks as being amongst the best in his region, Cooper also a native of Texas , playing at Skyline High School in Dallas . But with recent offers from Oklahoma and most recently; LSU, Keanon is heading up the charts with a bullet.  

"I've got 18 offers right now," Cooper said. "Recruiting has been pretty crazy."

It's been crazy, but even Cooper, who is humbled by the increasing attention, would like to think that he's getting it for a reason. And one of the big reasons isn't just the fact that he has proven he can play his position well, but more toward the position that he plays.

"Safeties have to do it all, which is why I think my versatility is one of my biggest strengths," Cooper said. "The linemen are almost always there to stop the run, and depending on the system you have, most linebackers do that as well, and the outside linebackers never get real far away from the line.

"Safeties have to be everywhere – both sides, behind the line of scrimmage – we have to do it all."

With that kind of devotion for the position, you might find it a little surprising that for most of his junior campaign Cooper was actually a defensive end. And this year he's going to be a linebacker for the team.

Yeah, I'd say that's versatility.

"I got moved all over, so that the coaches could take advantage of what I did, so that other players on the defense could make some plays," Cooper said. "I've played defensive end, linebacker and safety."

With his 5-11, 190 frame, though, not even the 143 tackles, four sacks, five forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and two touchdowns he scored from the down position, will convince him his future is anywhere but in the secondary. "Oh, I'm a safety, no doubt about it," he said. "Vanderbilt has offered me as a linebacker, but at my size I think safety is easily the best position for me. Besides, I like playing the field, because it gives me more chances to make plays. That's when it's the most fun."

The recruiting process is fun as well, but Cooper said that with that there comes a little scrutiny. Not from the public mind you, but from Cooper himself. At one point of his prep-career, he realized that suddenly he was a wanted man. Once that set in he knew that it was time to start looking at these schools with a different eye. "It's been real important for me to get the know the schools who are recruiting me. The more I know about them, the more comfortable with looking at those places as somewhere I might like to go."

That's why the most recent offer from LSU and an offer from Nebraska two weeks ago – they are great, but he needs to learn more about those teams. "LSU just offered me, so it's about getting to know the team, the coaches and all that," he said. "And Nebraska offered me, but that was it. I have never talked to a coach from there or gotten any other letters. It was that offer and nothing since."

Cooper said that he's wide open at this point, but if he had to name off a top five, being very strict to his criteria of going with what he knows, this is how he said it would shake out:

"Right now it would be Wisconsin , Minnesota , Texas Tech, Kansas State and Oklahoma ," Keanon said. "I know more about those schools than I do anyone else. The more I get to know about other schools or the more attention they are showing me, that list is probably going to change. I just have to stick with what I am familiar."

And if you are wondering if Cooper is just waiting around, hoping that the Longhorns would offer, that may have been true at one point, but not anymore. "It would be nice to see them get involved, but I don't worry about it at all," he said. "There are way too many great teams coming after me to worry about what they do. I'm really lucky to get the attention I have, and whether it's inside the state or outside of it, I know that with the schools I have now, I am going to end up at a great place."

Cooper was recently at the Combine in Dallas , where he was named to the All-Combine team.



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