A home away from home for Middleton

A California kid visiting Nebraska in the middle of January. Not the best scenario if you are trying to make an impression. But Nebraska already did that as cornerback Lazarri Middleton was coming in for his first visit to see the team for which he'll play. The verdict? He said he didn't want to go home.

Between the schools recruiting against Nebraska and just the weather reports, cornerback Lazarri Middleton was expecting the worst. It's not just cold in Nebraska, it's frigid. It's a blizzard 24 hours a day. You'd be lucky not to have the blood in your body freeze up the second you got off the plane.

OK, maybe he wasn't expecting that, but he was definitely prepared for something close to it.

"Oh, I had everything on. I had a coat, a jacket, a thick shirt, gloves - I was ready for the cold," he said with a a laugh. "I had never seen snow before, so I was expecting it to be really, really cold."

What he ultimately confronted, though, wasn't quite what he had envisioned. "It wasn't as cold as I thought it would be. I mean, you hear coaches talking about it, coaches recruiting against Nebraska, and they say that is' just so cold there," he said. "It wasn't warm or anything like that, but by the time I left I was wearing just had on a dress shirt and some jeans."

With the worry about the weather gone, Middleton looked at this trip part business, part pleasure. The business part came from wanting to see the academics, wanting to check out the facilities and just get a chance to sit down with some of the coaches and players to talk.

This is where Lazarri found himself to be the most surprised about, especially when this was his very first trip to Lincoln. "It felt like home. I mean, it was so tight there that it felt like just one big family," he said. "Guys I hadn't known for an hour, it seemed like, after talking to them, I had known them for years.

"It was that way with the players and it was that way with the coaches, too."

Of the players he met many were cornerbacks, as you might expect, sophomores Anthony Blue and Prince Amukamara giving him a little insight into his future program. But one of the players he considered the most valuable, was one of his hosts, junior safety Rickey Thenarse.

Because of where Thenarse was from, Middleton hit it off well with him as they talked about life back in California and what Thenarse impressed on him as to what's important here in big red country. It was simple, Middleton said, but something you really don't value until you have been through it, like Thenarse. "He said focus. He said that you have to stay focused on what you are doing, because it's a lot tougher than anything you had in high school," Lazarri said. "And he said that with my grades, I would have an easier time learning all the stuff in the playbook."

As the California prep star toured the campus, he got to see the facilities which he said were outstanding. He got to learn about the academics which he thought were impressive, too. And he got to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner with the coaches, and the thing that struck him was how comfortable they seemed to be, making him feel so much more at home. "It was like I had been there for awhile already. They were just talking like regular guys, and that made me feel so comfortable," he said. "It really didn't matter who I talked to.

"There aren't many teams where the coaches and players have this bond, but they do. It's like one big family.

I don't even get that feeling at home."

Middleton wasn't alone this weekend, the future Husker joined by other future Huskers, including C.J. Zimmerer, Cole Pensick, Jesse Coffey and Taylor Martinez. The one lone non-commit of the group was defensive tackle Sione Tuihalamaka.

As Lazarri actually sat with Tuihalamaka on the plane both to and from Lincoln,he got a good sense of what the prep star DT felt about the trip. "We were both talking about what a crazy time it was and how good of a time we had. I know he was excited about the trip," Middleton said. "We both saw snow for the first time,and me and him just picked up some and started throwing them at each other."

As a player who hadn't decided up to this point, Middleton said that Tuihalamaka had a lot of questions on the visit and soon after. "He asked me at the airport why I committed to Nebraska, and I just told him that it was for a lot of reasons, but a big one was the fans," he said. "I told him you have to see that, because they know your name, what position you play -everything. The fans here are just crazy."

The more Middleton saw, the more he likes and the more he wanted his career to start at Nebraska. That would be following his own prep career, one which saw him finish off in style as his team went to the State Championship Semifinals. For his part Lazarri had 70 tackles, three forced fumbles, one interception and nine pass break ups.

Those kinds of numbers, along with his 6-1 frame, tell you that this kid, at least on paper, has what it takes to play. That was one of the big reasons Middleton chose the Huskers, because he saw opportunity looking him right in the face. "I see that they are thin at that position, and the coaches have told me that," he said. "I sat down and had a meeting with Coach (Bo) Pelini, and he said I was a big part of this class.

"I could make an impact early on the team, whether that's as a starter, in the nickel package on special teams or whatever."

There is one downside to the visit though. No, the visit was fine as Middleton said that he couldn't have imagined a way that it could have gone any better. It's the fact that he now heads home with months to wait before he can go back. He's looking forward to that, but he's also looking forward to a more immediate date, that being the first week of February when prep athletes sign their Letter of Intent. "I can't wait for that to get here. I am just trying to fast forward time so that it gets here sooner," he said.

With his visit now behind him Lazarri finds himself as content as he thought he could be about the college where he chose to play. He said that it was about family, about that unspoken bond and the kind of trust you usually get with people in years, he said he got in a matter of hours.

That's what all recruits hope for, that moment where they feel at home at a place which isn't where their actual home is. He said that was Lincoln, that was the University and he can't wait to get back to THAT home again. "It was everything I could ask for and probably more. It was such a great experience for me," he said.

"That's what you want when you are thinking about where you want to go. That's like a dream come true."


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