A letter of intent day has never felt so good. There was the contingency of players that were going to stay with Nebraska no matter what happened. There were those that bailed. There were those that wanted to get another look at Nebraska with Tom Osborne and Bo Pelini. There were those that never knew Nebraska without T.O. and Pelini.
In total, Nebraska ended up with 28 commitments of which two enrolled early at semester. The class, rated #21 in the nation, was tops in the Big 12 North and fourth in the Big 12. The class consisted of 15 players projected to play offense and 13 to play defense.
Beyond that, there are always the headliners and the sleepers. Here is Big Red Report's take on the recruiting class:
Bryan's picks: Baker Steinkuhler, Will Compton and Josh Williams – Steinkuhler is a rare combination of size and speed and could make an impact on either offense or defense. If Baker ends up on defense the impact could be immediate. Compton has the tools that you want at linebacker: size, speed and attitude. Compton brings a blue collar work ethic with him and at 230-pounds it's a pretty good bet that Compton will see the field. Williams, to me, is the type of defensive end that Nebraska has been missing and Nebraska needs so desperately in Pelini's style of defense. Does Demorrio Williams ring a bell?
Nebraska scored a few big catches, but I'm going to look at them in terms of who I expect to hit the field the soonest. I have outlined three players who I think are the trio of biggest potential impact-makers their first year with the Huskers:
Will Compton – Linebacker – 6-2, 230 lbs. – 4.50/40
You could say that just due to the position he plays, Compton is going to get ample opportunity to show what he can do and more than likely, contribute as a true freshman. But I don't look at Compton's potential abundance of playing time his first year as a matter of default, but reality.
The kid can flat out play football.
Like Barrett Ruud, you won't hear anyone scream about what a freakish athlete he is, being super-big, super-strong or super-fast. What Compton has is a good foundation of athleticism, but some darned good instincts for the game.
He's around the ball, has no problem with sticking his nose in a pile and this kid loves to lay it on people whenever he can. I do look at his playing-time as a frosh a direct result of Nebraska simply needing linebackers. But even if the Huskers were returning a host of players at the position, I think between this kid's overall athleticism and sheer instincts for the game, he'd get his reps anyway.
Ricky Henry – Offensive Guard – 6-3, 300 lbs. – 4.90/40
If Henry had made it to the Huskers straight out of high school, I would have projected him then as someone who would see time right away. There is something to be said for being physically ready, but what this kid has going for him can sometimes make up for experience and sometimes size.
He's not just mean. It's a line out of "Josey Wales", but he's plum mad-dog mean, and he does his best to make sure that even if a play isn't going his direction or if it's just straight pass-pro, someone is going to end up flat on their back.
Add his sheer tenacity with his size and much-improved
strength and quickness, to me there simply isn't a question as to whether or not
he's going to get time his first year. Because he's a junior college transfer,
you automatically assume that he's there to play right away. But I think the kid
is good enough, that he'd get his time even if he had five years to play four.
Baker Steinkuhler – Offensive Tackle – 6-6, 295 lbs. – 4.71/40
I will be one of many who have said that this kid is going to be special. But sheer potential isn't enough, especially on the offensive line, to get you on the field right away. Where you can project to a degree, that someone like Ricky Henry can do something his first year, he's in a situation where I think if he can play, you get him on the field and see what he can do.
But Baker is one of those types, who you can see very, very special things from as his career develops and how many times have you seen a kid forego the redshirt, only to see marginal time, because for whatever reason, they just couldn't get on the field enough.
Steinkuhler is a gem. He's an absolute stud, and I think at the most valuable position on the line (left tackle), you want an anchor for the future. Do you use a redshirt getting him ready to take that role or would you rather redshirt him, get him to just the right size and fully acclimated to the offense, so when he does step on the field, you can just sit back and watch the show?
I'd opt for the latter myself, because what a staple of the offensive line this kid will make. Get him as ready as you can to take the starting role for himself. He could play his first year and do well. I have no doubt about that. But I say redshirt the kid and when it comes to that position for the next three to four years, you know you are good to go.
Bryan's picks: D.J. Woods, Simi Kuli and Trevor Robinson – Woods to me was what Nebraska needed at the wide receiver position. He's an exciting receiver and makes things happen when you put the ball in his hands. Kuli was a beast off of the edge and, opposite of a player like Williams, could have really overhauled a position that might be ready for the biggest facelift of all of the positions on defense. Robinson is arguably not even the highest regarded of the three offensive lineman that Nebraska lost, but Robinson is from Nebraska. You never like seeing Nebraska miss on players from the state that they offer.
Steve's picks: Simi Kuli was a crusher, because with so many questions not just about how the defensive end spot will do this year, but how capable they are, an instant-impact guy like Kuli would have been a blessing. He has the size, speed, strength and motor, that you know this kid can get the job done. And with his quickness, he gives you versatility in coming off the edge, but just as much playing off the line and in coverage if need be. Jonas Gray was a big loss, because when I watched this kid's film, I saw everything you could possibly want in a running back in this type of offense. He was experienced at catching the ball out of the backfield. He was able to move in a crowd fluidly and was seemingly still very aware of where he was at and he was always looking for where he could go. Gray wasn't a slasher type, but for someone of his build, I think he had great lateral movement, but very, very good explosiveness downfield. Nebraska wasn't sitting badly at running back with the players they already have on the team. And they certainly aren't going to be hurting with the addition of Okafor and Rogers. But for me, Gray would have been a steal out of the Wolverine state.
THE SLEEPERS (two star prospects or less)
Bryan's picks: Mason Wald, Steven Osborne and John Levorson – If you haven't seen Wald's film yet, you need to. Wald isn't prototypical in size as a safety, but don't tell him. Osborne goes out and tries to dominate the opposing player on every single play. The best part about that is that it could be on a pass play making a catch or on a run play making a block. Levorson has been tearing up Nebraska high school football for a while now and I am sure that the teams in his class and especially his conference won't be sorry to see him graduate. At the next level, Levorson could play a number of positions, but more importantly his best days of football appear to he ahead of him.
I'm going a little different direction with this in that I am not going to go by the stars. Instead, I am going to go simply by expectations. Whether it's due to depth at a position or simply a tradition of freshman not contributing a lot at that position, I think there could be a trio (or more) who could break the mold of just what and when they are expected to make an impact at NU.
Collins Okafor – Running Back – 6-1, 195 lbs. – 4.40/40
It's hard for me to call Okafor a
sleeper, but with the stable of backs already at
With Marlon Lucky, you have a guy who is very good at getting to the corners and as a receiver coming out of the backfield, the kid is a flat out stud. But he isn't consistent going between the tackles, and unlike his predecessor Brandon Jackson, he's not known for making those tackle-avoiding cuts downfield.
I like Okafor, because he gives you a great foundation to build upon, and he has been fairly reliable in taking care of the ball. That is one aspect which I think people learned was so important, because sometimes taking care of the ball isn't so much about what you learn, rather it's about how you carry the ball in regard to just things you do naturally.
He's got the size, the speed and the strength to be a fair to midland slasher, but it's is all around game which I like so much. I think he's solid enough in every aspect, that if he does get the offense down in a reasonable frame of time, I think he's got a great chance to see the field his first year.
Josh Williams – Defensive End – 6-4, 225 lbs. – 4.80/40
With the slight adjustment in defensive philosophies, there is going to be a different parameter on just what the size certain positions should be. From two years ago to this last season, Barry Turner put on a good 30 pounds. That worked well for him to an extent, because he was able to stop the run as effectively as he was getting in the backfield
But he was nowhere near as quick off the line as he was as a freshman, as you could expect.
It's players like him who might face the prospect of having to lose the weight they gained, if only to stay at that position and not have to move inside. Josh Williams comes in at close to perhaps the ideal weight.
Physically, Williams has it. From a frame that can hold more weight, to enough length that he won't have to worry about become a lumbering player after he's thrown on a few extra points. He's also effective coming off the edge, and unlike many players you see who don't really need to show much flexibility coming off the edge, Williams has illustrated already that he's a good knee-bender in pass rush situations.
The defensive line is going to go through an overhaul of sorts, seeing who fits where they are needed to play. Williams could actually be fortunate in that he'll be coming in at close to the size that "open end" position demands. And he's got the quickness to make plays.
Alphonzo Dennard – Cornerback – 5-10, 190 – 4.40/40
There is obviously a ton we don't know about Dennard, because he came into the picture so late in the game. But between what I have seen and heard, this kid is a bonafide freak. The common opinion on him is that he's a very gifted athlete, who just needs to learn about playing the position. For a position as difficult as corner, that might automatically put this kid in as a redshirt, with the potential to play his first year based more on need rather than what he can offer as a freshman.
I think that with a proven and solid secondary coach like Marvin Sanders, and what I expect is going to be a generous amount of zone coverage with a sprinkling of "man" thrown in here and there, Dennard will have opportunities to grow into his position, learn his role and just understand the nature of playing cornerback at the Division 1-A level.
If Nebraska was loaded at the position, with a lot of experience coming back, I might change my mind about just what kind of impact he'll make. But with a lot of uncertainty going into this year, I think he'll at the very least, get a decent look.
I don't want to look at the "slam dunk" idea as I think he's going to be a star, but this kid can flat out play. He just needs to learn what it takes to play the position and play at this level. I think he'll acclimate to that just fine and his raw athleticism is going to make him a playmaker for this revamped group.
POSITIONS MOST SATISFIED
Bryan's picks: Safety and Wide Receiver – Nebraska went from position poor at both of these positions entering the last month of recruiting to position rich. Nebraska nabbed four wide receivers (Steven Osborne, Antonio Bell, Khiry Cooper and Tim Marlowe) and four safeties (John Levorson, Courtney Osborne, P.J. Smith and Mason Wald). ATH Lester Ward could also fit into either the wide receiver or safety position at Nebraska, but could also play running back or could even grow into playing the linebacker position (as could some of the safety prospects).
Steve's picks: The Secondary -
It's funny when you look at a kid who is around six foot tall and he's a good
runner. If a coach can have his way about things, that kid will get his first
reps at cornerback. That's the hardest position on the field to play,
athletically. You are supposed to be some ideal height, but have flexibility
which usually comes in packages far shorter. You never know what you have until
you test it out, but when it comes to athleticism and at least potential at the
cornerback position, Nebraska did very well. As we got to know David Whimore
better, his name kept surfacing as one of those kids who just wasn't getting the
kind of attention he deserved. A bigger corner, what made this one stand out was
how physical he was at the line. It's crucial for any cornerback to be effective
at the line, and for him to be able to redirect receivers off the snap. Whitmore
has the size and strength to do that. And as for late-commer Alphonzo Dennard,
this kid is supposed to be a pure freak. The great thing about kids who don't
work at corner, though, especially if they have the kind of size Whitmore and
Dennard have, a boderline corner projects to be a playmaking machine at safety.
If you add in solid and physically impressive safeties like P.J. Smith and John
Levorson, along with devestating hitters Courtney Osborne and Mason Wald,
Nebraska hit the proverbial jackpot in potential. This group may not have a lot
of experience coming in, but look for this group to bloom early and contribute
POSITIONS LEAST SATISFIED
Bryan's picks: Offensive line and Defensive tackles – Nebraska lost Trevor Robinson, Bryce Givens and Dan Hoch as commitments, but did gain David Grant. The Huskers retained Baker Steinkuhler, Ricky Henry and Brandon Thompson, but Nebraska had one of the top offensive line classes in the nation at one time and didn't finish in the top 15 at the end of the year. Nebraska lost a project in Darius Parrish to Kansas, in a weak year as a whole of defensive tackles, to go along with Quintin Toailoa.
Steve's picks: Defensive tackle - With the defensive line such a lightning rod for criticism last year, the returning experience is nice, but many fans wouldn't mind just seeing some new faces. There are a host of players on the roster, but a academic losses like Joseph Townsend and Demetrious Davis last year, have put the Huskers in a bit of a bind when it comes to just a collection of players to work inside and rotate throughout a game. Getting Quintin Toailoa was obviously nice, but missing on Eddie Brown was big. And while Darius Parish might not have been considered a real serious commit at any point, his big body and ample athleticism, would have made him a nice one-technique or two-gap guy for the Huskers. There's no doubt that there were some positions which you could argue very successfully, which needed more attention than the defensive interior for this recruiting class. But you can be just as confident that because they couldn't get many players for that position, it goes as one of the top priorities for the class of 2009.
RECRUITER OF THE YEAR
Bryan's pick: Ted Gilmore – Before things unraveled for Nebraska, Gilmore was recruiting Josh Williams, Bryce Givens, Darius Parrish, D.J. Woods and also helped out with a number of the other receiver commitments to close out the year. Mike Ekeler gets mentioned here with his work on Will Compton to keep Compton as part of the class. As a staff, Gilmore and Ekeler along with Tim Beck and Shawn Watson will be some the top recruiters for this staff going forward with Bo Pelini as the closer.
Steve's picks: You could make an argument for a lot of guys in this group.
Tight ends coach Ron Brown has been out of coaching for four years, and all he does is come in and help cement kids like running back Lester Ward and wide receiver Khiry Cooper.
You could also say that Bo Pelini himself has assured one and all that while his approach to recruiting isn't the kind of sales-job which seems to work so well for many schools, his straightforward and honest approach is playing extremely well.
But I have to give it up to Mike Ekeler, because this guy has taken what was a rather sparse resume' in regard to recruiting, shoved it out of the way and he hasn't looked back.
Now, he's not a John Blake type, which might very well have half the big names associated to his name. But this guy has the same kind of passion, energy and savvy for what is a very hard aspect of collegiate coaching.
And how about that tattoo?
It's not just the act itself, but
what it symbolizes in how much this guy is willing to do to show a kid he's
I wasn't sure how he and some others might do, but for myself and I am sure for the fans of the Huskers, this guy has already shown that he can create a connection with kids, he's not terribly far removed from being a player himself and he understands how much recruiting means to the overall success of the team.
There are some coaches who simply aren't great recruiters. That's no knock on them, because it takes a special kind of personality to go out there, talk to every kid with a whole lot of passion, and no matter what happens, never lose that with each group you talk to, year-to-year.
This guy has it, and players love it. They might even see a little of themselves in him as well. You can't teach that kind of connection. You either have it or you don't. He does, and I think it's going to be a boon for Husker recruiting.