Husker football notes: With end to the grind in sight, Scott Frost readies for drama-filled signing day

Husker football notes: With end to the grind in sight, Scott Frost readies for drama-filled signing day
World-Herald News Service

LINCOLN — New Nebraska football coach Scott Frost was leaving a Texas high school last week with defensive coordinator Erik Chinander as he recapped the last two months of his life, the great whirlwind of his coaching career.

The decision to take Nebraska’s coaching job. Finishing the undefeated season at Central Florida. Bringing his entire coaching staff with him to NU. And, of course, the recruiting. Crootin’, as some fans call it. The hours, days and weeks of life in planes, cars and living rooms. Phones. Texts. DMs. Days that bleed into night back into dawn. All that grind.

“We really had to go to work once we got to Lincoln,” Frost said. “Our guys were out there busting their hump and doing a great job, and I’m really pleased with how it’s gone.”

Now, they’ll gather in Nebraska football’s recruiting room for signing day. They’re creatures of habit, running backs coach Ryan Held said, so the Husker assistants will be there early and may grab their usual seats. Frost, the captain, is calm and focused, Held said. The work’s been done. Now, the rewards.

Husker coaches — like NU fans — will be strapped in for the wildest Wednesday in recent memory.

A December signing period was supposed to siphon away most of the signing day drama and, for many programs, it did. Ohio State, the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class has 22 recruits already enrolled or signed.

That’s not Nebraska, which has at least 11 prospects left on its board, and perhaps more. With 19 prospects already signed or committed for the 2018 class, the Huskers can’t take them all. Frost might sign as many as 27 total players and perhaps closer to 24.

So not only will Nebraska’s staff be waiting for answers from top targets, some down-the-list prospects will be waiting, too. By the time Frost holds his first true signing day press conference at 3 p.m., and later when assistant coaches head to a Lincoln theatre to dish on their recruits, the drama will be over.

Roughly seven hours — between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. — should be a soap opera.

“Nebraska could catch some people’s eye by the end of Wednesday,” ESPN national recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill said.

The Huskers appear almost a lock to be ranked among the nation’s top 25 classes, and perhaps a top-20 class if Nebraska hits on the right targets, starting with Bergen (N.J.) Catholic outside linebacker Javontae Jean-Baptiste, who is deciding between Nebraska, Ohio State, Virginia Tech and Texas A&M as early as 7 a.m. Wednesday. The pass rusher, a consensus four-star prospect, was among NU’s top targets in January, although OSU has reportedly made a big push for the 6-foot-5, 210-pound Jean-Baptiste in recent days.

In the same hour, Nebraska should hear about four-star outside linebacker Caleb Tannor, who plays for Miller Grove High School in the Atlanta area. He’s one of the top-50 prospects in the state of Georgia — it’s rare for NU to be in the hunt for such a prospect — and Florida, Florida State and Auburn were among Tannor’s suitors.

From there, the decisions continue.

>> Tampa (Fla.) Hillsborough four-star cornerback Ken Montgomery has narrowed his choices to Nebraska, Maryland and Louisville.

>> Montgomery (Ala.) Park Crossing three-star athlete Cam Taylor is considered a heavy Nebraska lean but may get a late offer from nearby Auburn.

>> Katy (Texas) Taylor three-star defensive tackle Otito Ogbonnia is down to Nebraska, Texas Tech, Tennessee and UCLA.

>> Lawrenceville (Ga.) Archer four-star cornerback Taiyon Palmer got late scholarship offers from Clemson and Alabama but has narrowed his list to Nebraska, North Carolina State and Tennessee.

>> Belle Glade (Fla.) Glades Central offensive tackle Willie Cantywill choose between Nebraska and Louisville. If he picks the Cardinals, NU may pivot to Lawrence (Kan.) Free State’s Jalan Robinson, who’s otherwise headed to Mississippi State.

>> Two California prospects — Norco offensive guard Jarrett Belland Paraclete receiver Andre Hunt — have NU among their finalists. Bell has been sitting on a choice between Nebraska and Arizona State for weeks.

>> The Huskers and Sun Devils are finalists, as well, for the highest-profile prospect left on NU’s board, Cedar Hill (Texas) Trinity Christian School running back Maurice Washington, a composite four-star prospect who shot up to No. 93 nationally on ESPN’s list after scoring three touchdowns in the Under Armour All-America Game. Washington has deferred all interviews to his high school coaches, one of whom, NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, told The World-Herald last week that the real choice for Washington is between running back and cornerback, which ASU is recruiting him to play.

“If they’re able to land Maurice Washington and win that battle with Arizona State, I think they would find themselves in a very, very pleasing position given where they started out and the work that was laid out in front of them,” Luginbill said.

Once Frost took the job, he had to rebuild most of the recruiting class. All of the receivers and defensive backs who had been previously committed to former coaching staff ditched Nebraska and looked for new schools.

What’s more, Frost had to sign a quarterback — which he did, in consensus four-star Adrian Martinez — several running backs, offensive tackles and pass rushers.

Frost and Co. went coast to coast to do it, balancing recruiting with helping UCF win the Peach Bowl. CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said he was struck by Frost’s ambition over the last two months as NU aimed high.

“I’m very impressed with the recruiting scheme and effort,” Lemming said. “They’re going after big-name guys, which I think is very important, not just in California — like the old staff — but everywhere. They’re not going after B-list guys because they got there late. It won’t work with every recruit — it never does — but I like the effort. When you get a head coach who makes the assistant coaches work at it, that’s a real important thing.”

For Frost, it was equally important to rebuild the walk-on program, which headed into Wednesday has 19 players in it, including All-Nebraska and three-star athlete Moses Bryant, the rare scholarship-caliber player who’s choosing instead to compete for a scholarship at NU. Frost has called in-state recruiting the “backbone” of his recruiting philosophy.

“Part of it is being willing to take Nebraska kids,” he said last week. “Another part is bringing the walk-on program back. And the biggest part of it is making sure we’re not recruiting and then throwing kids on the field, but we’re developing players on the field and in the weight room as well as anyone in the country. That’s how Nebraska used to work.”

Even in Frost’s playing days, NU recruited all over the nation. Nothing there has changed. All 11 of the signing day decisions are from prospects outside the state of the Nebraska. All but one is from outside the 500-mile radius. On Wednesday the Huskers’ hopes rest in Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Texas and California.

“You have to be everywhere, because you don’t have the in-state, nor the bordering-state player population to fuel your program,” Luginbill said. “And if you look at this class, and you look at the time that’s being spent with Scott Frost and his staff, and it’s on the West Coast, it’s in the state of Florida, it’s in the state of Texas.”

Should Nebraska even have moderate success on Wednesday, it’ll surely finish with a top-25 recruiting class. It’s already the top class in the Big Ten West, according to all three major rating services. As of Tuesday afternoon, NU had the No. 23 class according to Rivals, No. 24 on ESPN and No. 25 on the 247Sports composite.

It’s quite a recovery from where Nebraska’s recruiting class stood just two months ago in relative shambles. And Frost will be ready to recover from these two months once it’s over. He’s in good shape, sure, but, hey — the grind is the grind.

“The guys — myself included — are ready to take a little break after signing day,” Frost said.

For a day or two, anyway.

Scott Frost’s first Husker signing class will greatly exceed rankings of his two at UCF

Scott Frost catapulted Central Florida to almost immediate success in just two seasons as head coach, and his win total with the Knights last season is beyond anything that Nebraska has seen in two decades.

It hasn’t taken any time with the Huskers, however, for Frost to see a significant bump with his recruiting scores — at least when it comes to the national services.

Nebraska on Tuesday had a 2018 class that was sitting at No. 23 overall, according to Rivals, with eight four-star prospects among its 19 signees or commits. The Huskers could even see a small climb on Wednesday if the right signing day additions happen.

In the 247Sports composite rankings, NU was at No. 26 overall, close to Maryland on the Big Ten list behind Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan.

And, for the most part, the final ranking will be fairly consistent with recent Husker classes — but quite different than Frost’s two previous years as a head coach.

After going from Oregon offensive coordinator to Central Florida head coach, Frost’s recruiting classes with the Knights — according to the 247Sports composite — ranked No. 55 in 2017 and No. 65 in 2016. According to Rivals, those classes were tied for No. 53 in 2017 and No. 57 in 2016, respectively, with a combined total of three four-star players.

Among his 2016 finds, however, was quarterback McKenzie Milton. Although just a three-star prospect according to Rivals, Milton was an immediate starter as a freshman and last season ranked No. 4 nationally in total offense.

The year before Frost arrived at UCF, the Knights’ class was just No. 71 in the 247Sports composite rankings in 2015. An 0-12 season then resulted in the coaching change that brought Frost to Orlando, but several of those 2015 signees helped UCF during its 13-0 run last fall.

The upper parts of the team rankings are dominated by Power Five programs, of course, but Frost also told The World-Herald recently that the reception has been strong in his first recruiting cycle with Nebraska.

“The Nebraska logo used to mean a lot in college football, and it still has in recent years — but not to the same degree,” Frost said. “I’m thrilled with the reception we’ve been getting all over the country wearing Nebraska gear.”

Nearly 60,000 tickets already sold for Nebraska spring game

Nebraska just might sell out the spring game.

Season ticket holders on Tuesday could begin purchase tickets for the Red-White scrimmage on April 21. The Nebraska ticket office said they sold 57,342 tickets as of 4:30 p.m.

The ticket office posted on Twitter that at least 10,000 will be available on Wednesday when tickets go on sale to the general public at 10 a.m.

Nebraska spring game attendance has skyrocketed in recent years, but interest in the 2018 scrimmage is no doubt due to the excitement of new head coach Scott Frost. Just days after Frost was hired in December the ticket office saw an “unprecedented” increase in season ticket requests.

The most attended Nebraska spring game came in 2008 after the hiring of Bo Pelini, when 80,149 fans watched the scrimmage.

Coaching changes tend to cause an uptick in spring game attendance. Attendance nearly doubled for Bill Callahan’s first spring game in 2004, growing from 33,419 the year prior to 61,417. Mike Riley’s first spring game in 2015 also saw a rise in attendance from 61,772 the year prior to 76,881. 

Nebraska has pulled in more than 75,000 fans each of the past three seasons, with 78,312 fans watching the 2017 spring game.