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While preparing for a New Year’s Day game against No. 22 (Coaches) and No. 23 (AP)-ranked Georgia, Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini paused long enough during Thursday’s presser inside the Hawks Championship Center to acknowledge definitive momentum in the Huskers' overall recruiting process. “We’ve had good reception,” Pelini told the media. “We have a chance to finish this class off well. I like our recruiting class.”
Two recent junior college player signatures on national letters of intent triggered Pelini’s willingness to talk recruiting in the midst of Gator Bowl practices that have changed from “a little bit rusty” to a tempo and rhythm required to compete against the favored Bulldogs. The Huskers will travel to Jacksonville for a rematch of last season’s 45-31 Georgia win over Nebraska in Orlando’s 2013 Capital One Bowl.
DB Cockrell, Defensive End Keels Signed, Sealed
The juco transfers who are now officially Huskers are Byerson Cockrell, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound cornerback/safety from East Mississippi Community College, and Joe Keels, a 6-foot-4, 275-pound defensive end from Highland (Kansas) Community College.
Cockrell is “our style of corner,” Pelini said Thursday. “He can get up and press and get in people’s faces. He gives you some experience. He’s an older guy, a more veteran guy.”
Keels “can kind of do it all,” Pelini said. “He’s a big-bodied defensive lineman who can play on the strong side.” Equally capable of playing a 5 or a 6 technique, Keels is “athletic enough” to rush the passer. “I like his overall skill set.”
Cockrell is a recruit that will help Nebraska replace three departing senior cornerbacks – Ciante Evans, Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Mohammed Seisay. He has three years of eligibility to play two seasons, giving him the opportunity to redshirt. His primary recruiter was Husker secondary coach Terry Joseph.
Turned Down ‘Bama, Oregon, USC and Wisconsin
Keels had originally committed to Wisconsin, but changed his mind when Pelini visited his mother in Wisconsin, his home state. He also has three years to play two and was much more heavily recruited, turning down offers from such marquee schools as Alabama, Oregon and USC. Husker defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski was the lead recruiter for Keels’ signature and paired him up with a young, talented group of defenders that included Randy Gregory.
Pelini praised his coaching staff’s recruiting efforts and his team’s diligence in strength and conditioning while allowing their bodies to heal from an injury-plagued regular season. Nebraska coaches spent two productive weeks on the road recruiting while the team healed and worked itself back into physical shape. Pelini acknowledged significant progress of both redshirt and true freshmen players who are making great strides in the mental development required to play at the Big Ten level. “It’s like night and day,” Pelini said. “Guys have grown up a lot.”
Huskers Get a Break, Fly to Jacksonville Dec. 26
Such growth, in part, became the result of opportunity, which will present itself even more next spring. "We were a beat-up football team," Pelini said. "We were injured." A two-week reprieve from the constant grind benefited everyone and allowed the coaching staff to pursue recruiting at full-speed. Pelini believes the vast majority of Division I schools used the same timetable to seize opportunity prior to a dead recruiting month from December 16th, 2013, to January 15th, 2014. The timetable dictated a process to maximize that delicate balance between training and recruiting. "You have to make the most of your opportunity to recruit," Pelini said, and the Huskers did precisely that.
Nebraska finishes its Lincoln-based practices Saturday and will take a brief holiday break before returning to Lincoln on Christmas night. The team plane flies to Jacksonville Dec. 26 and practice begins at the University of North Florida on Dec. 27. The Gator Bowl kickoff is set for 11 a.m. (CT) on New Year’s Day. ESPN2 will televise the game nationally.
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