Work of Husker Staff Rewarded on Signing Day
Truth be told, Scott Frost’s first February signing day as Nebraska’s football coach lacked the rat-race drama and pomp and circumstance that normally accompanies the first Wednesday of this month.
That’s largely because of another Wednesday, back in December, that served as football’s inaugural early signing day. It helped alleviate the strain many coaches and players would normally feel now.
Come next recruiting cycle, Frost and his staff will appreciate the early signing period much more than they did this time, when they were scurrying to sign players to Nebraska, only a couple of weeks on the job, while also coaching their former school, UCF, to what would be an undefeated season and Peach Bowl victory over Auburn.
The reward, Frost said, was worth the stress, and culminated with the signing of 10 more scholarship players on Wednesday, the first day of the late signing period.
“I don’t know if it has ever been done in college football, and I don’t know if it will be done again,” Frost said of the work of his staff over the last two months. “It is hard to go undefeated, and this staff pulled that off. They pulled it off after taking over a team that was 0-12 two years before.”
Not only that, Frost and his assistants had to work like mad to take over a recruiting class that some services ranked as low as the 90s nationally, and rebuild it to it final state, generally regarded as a top 25 class.
“It’s unprecedented what these guys have done,” Frost said. “Really, it has been less me than the group of guys that are working in the football office, and I can’t wait to watch what they can accomplish here.”
Frost didn’t settle and take players for the sake of taking players to fill spots. On the contrary. Of the 23 scholarship players for the 2018 class, all fit what Frost and his staff want, and many will have a chance to help early.
“We want to recruit kids with upside, with character, with intelligence, that can learn our system and put them in our program and develop them,” Frost said. “Our schemes aren’t that hard to learn. It’s got more to do with how mature a kid is and how professional he is when he gets here and how hard he works.
“I think we’ve recruited a lot of guys who fit our scheme, a lot of guys that have the upside to be really good in what we’re going to ask them to do and a lot of guys with the character and work ethic to come in and get it done.”
Wednesday may have lacked the overall zaniness of a regular February signing day, but that didn’t mean it lacked celebration.
Nebraska landed a four-star running back in Maurice Washington, who announced Wednesday he picked the Huskers over Arizona State. The Stockton, California native also had offers from Clemson, Ohio State, LSU, USC and Washington, among others.
“Coach Fish and Coach Held did a great job of recruiting him, and coach Beckton did, too,” Frost said, referring to assistant Travis Fisher, Ryan Held and Sean Beckton. “He was one guy we identified in December, and he kind of blew up after the Under Armor game, but our coaches had a head start on that and already had a relationship built up with him.
“He’s going to fit in great. He can do everything we would ask a running back to do in our system. He’s got a little bit work to get done academically, but we’re excited to get him here on campus.”
Defensively, the Huskers also signed Caleb Tannor, an outside linebacker who chose the Huskers on signing day over Auburn and Florida after previously being committed to his home state school, Georgia.
“I think watching from afar, when Nebraska transitioned to a 3-4 type scheme last year, I’m not sure all the personnel fit or had time to develop to fit into that scheme,” Frost said. “We need outside pass rushers. Caleb is the type of guy who can rush the passer from the outside, but he’s also athletic enough to make plays in space.
“We had a kid like that in Shaquem Griffin where we just coached, and we’re looking forward to having that dynamic player here, and I hope we got it.”
Frost said in taking over a team that finished 4-8, many recruiting needs existed, although given the short time frame, he and his staff focused on finding the best available players rather than filling position of needs.
In years going forward, Frost said coaches can easier balance the roster and fix the positions they’d like to have. For example, depth at receiver and defensive back is nowhere near where Frost would like to have those numbers.
Walk-ons could potentially help in that regard. When hired in December, Frost talked about building the walk-on program back to numbers from he played in the 1990s under former coach Tom Osborne.
As of Wednesday, the Huskers had 17 commitments from walk-ons, all from the state of Nebraska.
“I want the day to come back where Nebraska kids who grew up here and came to this stadium to watch football games are dying to come here and play, and I want to give them the opportunity to play,” Frost said. “I think there’s a lot of guys in this walk-on class that could have played at the Division II level or FCS level, but chose to be here.
“When you get those kinds of kids, I have no doubt that a number of those kids will be good enough to earn scholarships. And we’re going to honor them if they do. It will help us get more walk-ons in the future.”
Frost said he’s still talking with Director of Athletics Bill Moos about finalizing a roster number, although ideally, Frost would have 150 players, and maybe more. Recent rosters have been in the range of 130 players.
“Nebraska has been known for a long time for having a lot of players on the team, a lot of walk-ons on the team,” Frost said. “I’d like to get back to that. The best thing Coach Osborne did with all of those players, everybody practiced. It wasn’t 22 guys practicing and everybody else on a knee. It was all guys practicing at the same time. Part of that was what led to the development of players and the walk-ons and the young players.”
In general, Frost wants to instill a certain toughness in all players, something that spelled success when he played here and, for that matter, at his last coaching stop.
“Nebraska football used to be built on being physical, being tough, working harder than the other team,” Frost said. “There are some pieces that have been missing here that we’re going to try to get back.”
The process continues through winter conditioning and then spring football, with all but one of the 15 allotted practices coming after Nebraska’s week-long spring break in March. That’s a big change from the last decade, when players practiced for two weeks, took a week off, and returned for two more weeks, plus the Spring Game.
Now, Frost is having one practice to get everybody familiar with one another, and then having everyone come back after spring break to “get after it.”
That’s why the Spring Game is a week later this year, on April 21. The 11 a.m. game at Memorial Stadium sold out in about 26 hours.
“I can’t believe there’s going to be 85,000 for a Spring Game,” Frost said, “but that’s Nebraska. Go Big Red.”
Reach Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.