LINCOLN — In a low Southern drawl, Nebraska quarterback target Matthew Jordan explained the 11-hour journey that would take him Friday on the biggest — and longest — trip of his athletic career.
The Jackson, Ala., native will drive two hours with his parents to Gulfport, Miss., board a plane for the first time in his life, fly to Atlanta, change planes, fly to Minneapolis, change planes, and fly to Lincoln for Big Red Weekend, the Huskers' tent-pole summer recruiting event that attracts some of NU's top targets from around the country.
“I can't wait to see it,” Jordan said of NU, which offered last month after offensive coordinator Tim Beck boarded a few planes of his own to watch as Jordan starred in Jackson's spring game. “I'm just looking to see if it feels like home.”
He'll be surrounded by several more seniors — and a few juniors, like Omaha North's Calvin Strong and Michael Decker — looking to determine the same thing. NU recruiting coordinator Ross Els created Big Red Weekend in 2012, with strong results. Roughly 20 percent of Nebraska's eventual 2013 class attended.
The idea, Els said in an interview last week, is simple: When kids see Lincoln, the campus, Memorial Stadium and the Student Life Complex — the whole package — they warm quickly to Nebraska's scholarship offer. Perceptions of NU as some lonely oasis out in a cornfield evaporate.
“I've never seen a kid come away from here not liking it,” Els said.
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The number of attendees for the weekend will land somewhere around 15 to 20, most likely. Jordan, whose top five is a medley of Georgia Tech, South Alabama, Louisiana-Lafayette, Middle Tennessee State and Nebraska, is the most intriguing. Jordan's highlight tape shows that same burst from the line of scrimmage that Taylor Martinez possesses. Jordan is an adequate thrower. Most SEC schools want the 6-foot-2, 195-pounder as an athlete — for now. SEC classes tend to run big — one byproduct of the Southern smoothie sales pitch is kids don't stick around after they realize they never really fit in — so Jordan may pick up some later offers from schools like Auburn, Tennessee, Ole Miss or Mississippi State.
But Nebraska has first crack this weekend. Jordan will announce his decision July 1, but freely admitted this week he'd consider silently committing to the Huskers “if it feels like home to me.”
Of his college decision, Jordan said: “I've been thinking on it pretty hard.” And he's swapped out his high school coach for this trip and replaced him with his parents. Parents don't come unless it's, well, serious.
Aside from Jordan, here are five more top 2014 prospects attending this weekend. Remember, because the kids pay for the trips themselves, last-minute cancellations are common. But, as of Thursday, these guys were a go:
Peyton Newell, 6-3/280 pounds, defensive tackle, Hiawatha, Kan.: The four-star tackle has attracted offers from all the major local schools, plus South Carolina and USC. But Nebraska's always been there, insistently working the relationship via defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski and offensive line coach John Garrison. Newell is a good enough athlete to often play as a stand-up end/linebacker in Hiawatha's defense. He's been a key target of the Huskers' 2014 class for some time.
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D.J. Foster, 6-2/325, guard, Lincoln Southeast: Beyond impressive offers from schools like Florida and Georgia, Foster will have to figure out the best fit. With his brother Trey fighting for potential playing time at tight end for the Huskers and so many Southeast teammates there, it's a little hard to see D.J. anywhere but Nebraska.
Nick Gates, 6-4/275, offensive tackle, Las Vegas (Bishop Gorman): Part of a Gorman contingent coming with its coach, Tony Sanchez — who's working the NU camp — Gates is a fast-riser with an Alabama offer in the fold. Gorman, the top program in Nevada and one of the best in the West, averaged 55 points per game last year.
Aliz'e Jones, 6-4/225, tight end, Las Vegas (Bishop Gorman): Gates' teammate is also visiting. The five-star has offers to NU, UCLA and USC already.
T.V. Williams, 5-9/160, wide receiver, McKinney, Texas: Short but well built, Williams is a three-star burner with a strong offer list — Kentucky, Iowa, California, Oregon State. He spent Thursday in Lincoln with his father and grandfather; Beck spent a good chunk of his time talking to Williams. The receiver will go to Iowa Friday, according to Husker Online, then return for BRW.
Area players impress
Mick Stoltenberg had Barney Cotton giving tips on one side, Ron Brown doing the same on the other, Joe Ganz throwing him passes and Bo Pelini watching from a few feet away. And he was the only one all four NU coaches were evaluating. The 6-5, 250-pound end from Gretna apparently made the right impression, gaining an offer from the NU coaches after Thursday's camp workout. While the rest of the campers sat on one side of the Hawks Championship Center listening to defensive coordinator John Papuchis give a speech, Stoltenberg caught passes at tight end by himself.
It was pretty clear that, since he was essentially found by recruiting site Husker Online earlier this year and trained by former Husker Steve Warren, Stoltenberg's size — and agility for that size — would get him a long look by Nebraska. NU saw that versatility and extended an offer.
“I'm not surprised,” Warren said by phone Thursday. “I could have called it. He's big. He can run. Mick's legit.”
Warren had a number of his trainees in Lincoln this week, including a recent addition — Millard West's Harrison Phillips, who left camp Tuesday without an offer, but will hear more in two weeks. Since the former NU defensive tackle trains both Phillips and Stoltenberg, he'd like to see both get offers. Stoltenberg has the taller, more classic frame, while Phillips, a top wrestler who got offers from Western Michigan and Toledo on Thursday, understands leverage. Both prospects, Warren said, “have some of the top high school motors you'll ever see.”
Omaha Burke corner Trey Carr — arguably the best all-around high school player in the state — attended Thursday's camp, too. Carr was joined by fellow cornerbacks Nik Needham — the son of personal quarterbacks coach Steve Calhoun — and 2015 four-star Eric Lee, who came in from Valor Christian High School near Denver. All three looked sharp, but Lee performed the best, getting a rare fist bump from defensive backs coach Terry Joseph. Carr, at 5-10, 170 pounds, will have to run well at camps and continue to compete to earn FBS-level offers, because in college, his tenacity will be matched by more players.
Another 2015 prospect from the 500-mile radius who camped Thursday was 6-5, 280-pound Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Prairie offensive tackle Bryce Meeker. NU's smart to get in early with a player who will surely get offers from Iowa and Iowa State early next year.
Around the nation
>> Penn State landed its signal-caller for 2014 when Michael O'Connor, who attends the IMG Academy near Tampa, pledged to the Nittany Lions over Michigan State and Missouri. The 6-4, 225-pound O'Connor is a consensus four-star. Because of NCAA sanctions, PSU has just four spots left in its class unless a bunch of players unexpectedly leave. Kudos to coach Bill O'Brien filling nearly his whole class before the season starts. His team will need his full attention.
>> Indiana's on the board! The Hoosiers picked up three June commits, including Iowa Western offensive tackle DeAndre Herron. If Herron has a big sophomore season for the Reivers, look for more schools to offer. Los Angeles quarterback Alexander Diamont, a 6-foot, 160-pounder unrated by all recruiting services, also committed. Diamont — whose dad, Don, was a longtime regular on “The Young and the Restless” — is also an aspiring actor/model.
>> The nation's consensus top player, Virginia Beach, Va., defensive end Da'Shawn Hand, has Michigan in his final three. Alabama and Florida are the others. This Hand is an interesting one. He posted his high school grades on Twitter Tuesday. All As and Bs, including perfect scores in chemistry and PE.
>> I know Husker fans just love hearing this, but Kentucky's making the big splash this recruiting cycle with 16 commits and a top five national ranking so far. That includes seven Ohio prospects, undoubtedly landed with the help of former NU graduate assistant Vince Marrow. While it's common for schools to have a splashy “regime change” recruiting class in a coach's first full year on the job — especially in the SEC — Kentucky's doing a good job of selling hope with its meager history. I think you can sell hope — and immediate playing time — for exactly one year. Then, you'd better win some games and attend some bowls. And you'd better develop what you recruited.
>> A former Nebraska quarterback target, Toldeo's DeShone Kizer, committed to Notre Dame. The four-star prospect is another domino in the quarterback-commit derby. Of Rivals' top 15 dual-threat quarterbacks, nine have already committed. Of the top 15 pro-style quarterbacks, 12 have committed. That leaves nine of 30 quarterbacks left. Of those remaining, three — Brandon Harris of Bossier City, La., Zack Darlington of Apopka, Fla., and Kendrick Doss of Florence, Ala. — have Husker offers. Harris and Darlington have Ohio State offers. The Buckeyes chose not to offer Kizer despite the kid going to the Buckeyes' camp year after year.
It's like a confusing, twisty game of telephone, isn't it?
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