Florida connections didn’t shine in Husker football’s 2019 recruiting class

Florida connections didn’t shine in Husker football’s 2019 recruiting class
"I think our coaching staff's credibility in Florida and Georgia is still carrying some weight," Scott Frost said during his signing-day press conference. "Just happened to be more in Georgia this year than it was in Florida." CHRIS MACHIAN/THE WORLD-HERALD

Nebraska’s 2019 class is full of geographical quirks.

Signee Wandale Robinson represents the program’s first ever scholarship player from the state of Kentucky. NU landed multiple players from Georgia (three) for the second straight year after having not done it previously since 1973. No Californiasignees for the first time in five years.

Yet it’s another location with a more conspicuous absence among the 23 Huskers to ink during the early signing period. Where are all the players from Florida?

The absence of Sunshine State representation isn’t unusual in and of itself. Nebraska didn’t sign anyone from the state in 17 classes dating to 1980.

But coach Scott Frost and his staff had extensive experience recruiting Florida for two years while at Central Florida. Beyond that, tight ends coach Sean Beckton and defensive backs coach Travis Fisher are native Floridians who played at UCF and have deep ties to the area. Outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt (Florida Atlantic assistant in 2012-13) is well known in the state as well.

The Huskers set a school record by landing six Florida natives in the 2018 cycle — eight if counting receiver Mike Williams and safety Deontai Williams, who arrived via out-of-state junior colleges. Their 2019 haul so far is zero.

“I think our coaching staff’s credibility in Florida and Georgia is still carrying some weight,” Frost said during his signing day press conference. “Just happened to be more in Georgia this year than it was in Florida.”

That hasn’t been for lack of trying. NU offered at least 60 known scholarships to Florida high schoolers in this class. Pass rusher Lloyd Summerall could have been the first to commit after taking an official visit this fall but chose the home-state Gators on signing day. Another official visitor, corner Tiawan Mullen of Pompano Beach, went with Indiana.

At least 38 offers are out to 2020 prospects and more than a dozen are out in the 2021 cycle.

“Most Florida kids want to leave,” Fisher said last February. “To be honest with you, the reason why we got so many kids from down south is because of our staff. Those kids already know about our staff.”

NU’s 2018 crop of Florida talent hasn’t panned out yet. Two never made it to campus in offensive lineman Willie Canty and receiver Dominick Watt. Another, Justin McGriff, transferred after this season. Defensive backs Braxton Clark and C.J. Smith and running back Miles Jones all saw a few snaps but dealt with various injuries. Mike Williams caught 12 balls for 122 yards while Deontai Williams was a valuable defender when he was on the field.

Other Nebraska classes have also been underwhelming under previous staffs. That includes Floridians Willie Hampton, Guy Thomas and Broc Bando in 2017 (only Bando is left, and the former Lincoln Southeast athlete who transferred to IMG Academy has yet to appear in a game). Of 13 signees between 2013 and 2017, only three could be considered impact players in Kevin Maurice (2013), Chris Jones (2014) and Dicaprio Bootle (2016).

“Florida high schools, they play good football, and we have a lot of connections and ties to the state of Florida, so we’re going to utilize it,” offensive coordinator Troy Walters said last year. “I think once you get five or six guys from Florida, you’ll be able to go down and get some more because they want to play with each other. And they want to play top-notch football. I think once they get out and see what Lincoln has to offer and the facilities and the fan support and everything that goes with being a Cornhusker, I think we’re going to get a lot more guys from Florida.”

Nebraska may yet land a player from the state before the traditional Feb. 6 signing date. But Frost cautioned last year about challenges of persuading someone to move halfway across the country and away from beaches and warmer weather.

“Kids are going to come here if we can get them on campus and let them see what we are building,” Frost said. “I think our relationships with the state of Florida are going to continue to help us. We are going to go everywhere and get the right kids.”