One thing over, the other about to begin

The situation itself was enough to prompt concern. Wilcox County High School cornerback Alfonzo Dennard had committed to North Carolina, but a week before singing day, he learned that the University denied him admission, due to academics. Without even seeing Nebraska, he signed his Letter of Intent to play for the Huskers. But if he couldn't get into NC, could he make it into NU?

Nebraska might count themselves lucky, at least this particular time, that the academic standards to get into the University are the same as the standards for being able to play NCAA athletics. Had that not been the case Rochelle, Georgia prep-standout Alfonzo Dennard might not be a future member of the big red.

That's what ultimately had Dennard, a 5-11, 190 lbs. cornerback and unquestionably the most recruited player at Wilcox County High School last season, looking for another school and quickly.

As in one week to go before signing day, quickly.

It was at that moment, when Dennard thought he was good to go as far as the NCAA was concerned, but found that the academic standards for the University itself were a little different. Enough that he was denied admission, and with just a week to go before signing day, he had to find a place he liked, a place where he got along with the coaches and a place where he thought he could fit in for the next four to five years of his life.

And he chose Nebraska.

Only problem was, he hadn't visited Nebraska. Not only that, he hadn't even talked to the Husker coaching staff prior to the situation which had him scrambling for some alternatives. But he ended up as a Husker, and while to this day he still has yet to see the campus which he will call home, there is anxious anticipation about his arrival and just when that will take place.

Or if

Considering how close it seemed Dennard was to making the grade, as they say, the time from signing day to the end of school was going to be one where everyone watched his situation, Husker fans hoping that it would go well.

You can understand their excitement as Dennard's head coach Mark Ledford said, before all this went down, he wasn't exactly sure who was going to get Alfonzo, but he was sure as to just what kind of kid they were going to get. "He isn't just the best athlete I have coached, but he's the best athlete I have been associated with," Ledford said. "Outside of the offensive line, there isn't a position I don't think he hasn't played."

Ledford qualified that remark, recalling every position he has had Alfonzo play over his time at Wilcox County High. "He was our starting punter last year, and he was our starting kicker this last year. And that goes with him playing some quarterback, running back and we moved him from linebacker to cornerback, which he'll play for Nebraska," he said. "I actually was thinking of maybe putting him at defensive end this last year, because I knew that there was nobody who could stop him coming off that edge. But the defensive coaches didn't agree.

"There just wasn't any place you couldn't put him. He could do anything, and the best part about him was that he never thought about which position was going to get him the most exposure. If you wanted him to play it, he did and gave everything he had."

Dennar's contributions his senior year came from as many directions as you might expect. On defense he had five interceptions and 53 tackles. On offense he caught 39 passes for almost 800 yards, while scoring 14 touchdowns. And on special teams Dennard had three touchdowns, one on punt returns and the other two coming from returned kicks.

Athleticism hasn't been the worry with this Georgia standout. It's been his status academically. Well, Ledford had some good news on that front, but for him, it wasn't a surprise. It was just a matter of time. "To the best of my knowledge he's graduating Saturday and with his ACT and core GPA, he's set to head to college," he said. "I was obviously happy for Alfonzo, but I have already called a few of the schools in this region who gave up on him, because they didn't think he was going to make it."

With that particular worry now no longer one, the head coach has found himself thinking of Dennard's future at Nebraska. Oh, he knows he can play and isn't worried about the young man's capability. He's just wondering if the Husker coaches will have the same luxury he had while he's been Dennard's coach. "He made me use my imagination, I can tell you that. It was just a matter of figuring out what you needed and that's where he would go," Ledford said. "I just can't wait to watch him play, along with all the other kids we have who came out of here. It's one of the real treats for me."

One of those other players coach Ledford will be watching is former Wilcox County defensive lineman Deauntay "Woody" Lagrier. And there is a chance that in the first game of the 2008 season, he could see both Dennard and Lagrier face off. "Deauntay went to Western Michigan, so there's at least some chance they could end up going against each other," he said. "And those two grew up right beside each other, learning to walk together and everything. So, that could be a pretty special game for both of them."

Cornerback is one of those positions where it's just darn hard for a young man to get on the field his first year, especially as a starter. Current Husker cornerback Anthony Blue did it this last season as a freshman. But that was the last game of the year and he was playing due to injuries. Blue is now amongst the injured as he missed all of the Spring with a knee injury, and while it's probable that he'll be back for the Fall, what shape he is in and what percentage he's at in his recovery, can't be for certain right now.

That means Nebraska will need bodies back there, and athletic ones, as senior Armando Murillo is the only healthy returning player at the position who had starting experience last year. There are a host of other names which will be considered, sophomore Anthony West the odds-on favorite as he took most of the starting reps in Blue's stead.

But don't count out Dennard, his coach says. The adjustment to Division 1-A is what it is and the jump in athleticism and speed is always a major thing. But he looks at one of Dennard's main qualities, aside from his mentality for the game, is that he's as physical at the position of CB as you can get. "He's just strong, physically, and that's not common at the cornerback position, and sometimes you worry about the physical match ups," Ledford said. "Not with Alfonzo, though. He's physical and he can hold his own with anyone. I think that's going to help him a lot at the next level, because that's one of the biggest adjustments they have to make. In respect to that, I think he definitely has a head start."

With his qualification status now no longer a question, the clock starts ticking down as to when he'll arrive, and we caught up with some other coaches to check on the status of some of the other members of the class of 2008:

Cornerback David Whitmore's status is still technically in question, Ronnie Thompson, his head coach in football, saying that he figured David would have no problem in being good to go. "If he had a 1.9 GPA and he needed a genius-score to make it, we might be a bit worried," he said. "But we're not sweating it, and I think David is going to be just fine."

Mainland High School's Antonio Bell is also awaiting his results, Administrative coach Willie Ogelsby saying that he, like coach Thompson, thought Bell should be OK. "I can't say for certain and don't want to say he is good to go, because we don't know for sure just yet," he said. "But I think he's going to be fine."

Texas prep offensive lineman David Grant is also someone whose status isn't for certain right now as school doesn't get out until June 4th. But as football never ends down in the Lone Star-state, head coach Sam Jones said that they are in the midst of it right now. "We are just finishing up Spring football, and David can't workout with the team, but he's been coming in on his own and working out until he gets to Nebraska," he said. Similar to the previous two coaches, Jones said that nothing was definite concerning Grant at this time, but he figured him to be "fine" academically, and ready to go once he graduates the first week of June.

Already on campus is Omaha-native and junior college transfer Ricky Henry. The former Nebraska all-stater enrolled this last Monday following a two-year stint at North Dakota College of Science. Mike Schaeffer, North Dakota's offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, couldn't be happier for Henry, considering where he was going into junior college and where he is at now. "Ricky deserves all the credit in the world, because he had a lot of catching up to do and he buckled down and did it," he said. "Academically, Ricky is just a completely different kid now than he was.

"As for football, he's still the same nasty son of a gun everyone remembers. I don't know who has come through here, if there even has been someone, who was better than what we had with Ricky. He was something else."

Big Red Report will keep you up to date and as soon as the status of some of these future Huskers becomes official, we'll let you know.

Nebraska Football Tickets


Big Red Report Top Stories