Going deep: Riley calls Nebraska 'America's team'
By Brian Rosenthal / Huskers.com
Some Husker news and notes as we officially begin summer – at least for Nebraska student-athletes, who completed the spring semester on Friday:
Religious followers of Nebraska football recruiting have undoubtedly heard about head coach Mike Riley initially targeting the best players within a 500-mile radius of Lincoln.
Riley and his coaching staff don't stop there, of course.
The last two Nebraska recruiting classes have included players from Texas, Louisiana, Florida, California, Washington, Georgia, New Jersey and even Delaware, heretofore the only state that had never produced a Husker football player.
Because of this, Riley has concluded Nebraska is truly America's team.
“The (Dallas) Cowboys think they are, but it's really the Nebraska Cornhuskers,” Riley told the Lincoln Executive Club over the noon hour Monday in downtown Lincoln.
“We are America's team, and we love it. I love our locker room. It is really diverse, but it's a good, happy, vibrant locker room. The mesh, the camaraderie, the bringing together of these kids from everywhere is a great thing, a great feel.”
Riley and Nebraska Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst kicked off the weeklong Husker Tour by speaking to a room of some 150 people on the top floor of the U.S. Bank Building.
On Tuesday, they will make stops in Alliance, McCook and Grand Island. Defensive line coach John Parrella, a Grand Island native, and women's basketball coach Amy Williams will join in the Grand Island stop, while former quarterback Steve Taylor will be a special guest in Alliance and McCook.
The subject of recruiting, and the strong momentum Nebraska has recently built, highlighted Monday's question-and-answer setting with Riley and Eichorst.
Riley commended those in the room who attended the Spring Game and helped create a game-day atmosphere. That no doubt helped as Nebraska, which hosted 50 prospects, reeled in five commitments that day.
“Very few places in the country have a spring game like that, where it looks like a game crowd,” Riley said.
With two more commitments over the weekend, Nebraska has risen to No. 8 nationally in the 247Sports composite rankings.
“It's exciting to have this momentum,” Riley said, noting the possibility that Nebraska could have its entire 2018 class filled, by commitment, by July 1.
“It would be nice to sign them then,” Riley said, another hint he's in favor of a July signing date.
The NCAA council did break ground in April by voting to allow earlier official visits – a huge benefit for Nebraska – and an earlier signing day, albeit December.
“I don't think it's early enough,” said Eichorst, co-chair of the NCAA Division I Football Recruiting Ad-Hoc working group.
In time, both Eichorst and Riley believe a July signing date will come to fruition.
Congratulations to the 51 Nebraska student-athletes who received their diplomas during Saturday's commencement ceremonies at Pinnacle Bank Arena. They combined for 33 All-American awards throughout their careers.
“This group of student-athletes is the most accomplished group of athletes we've ever had academically,” Eichorst said.
Nebraska is graduating 88 percent of its student-athletes, the highest such percentage in program history. Eichorst said the future goal is 90 percent.
As Tanner Lee searched for a new school after announcing he was transferring from Tulane following the 2015 season, the Louisiana quarterback heard advice from ESPN analyst Chris Mortensen.
“(Mortensen) calls me and says, ‘I told Tanner Lee he should come to Nebraska,' Riley said. “I thought that was a very good idea.”
That elicited some hearty laughter.
Lee, of course, earned the No. 1 spot on the Nebraska quarterback depth chart after a tight spring battle with redshirt freshman Patrick O'Brien. Lee will serve as a workout captain while leading the offense through the offseason.
It's a role that befits Lee, Riley said.
“The best compliment I can give him is that he's one of the guys,” Riley said. “He just came in and fit in and went to work. I think he's respected for his ability, for sure, but he's also respected for being a good person, and a guy the other players would want to play with.”
Armstrong's new opportunity
The guy Lee is replacing, four-year starter Tommy Armstrong Jr., aims to make the most of his opportunity with the Minnesota Vikings.
Armstrong told the Pioneer Press he's been invited back to organized team activities after he played running back and safety during a three-day camp that concluded Sunday.
In the winter months, Armstrong worked with Nebraska receivers coach Keith Williams, knowing he'd likely need to play a positon other than quarterback to fulfill his dream of playing in the NFL.
But Armstrong met with Vikings defensive backs coach Jerry Gray after working at safety on Sunday, and said Gray told him the team would fly Armstrong back next weekend and give him a defensive playbook.
Armstrong last played safety in high school in Cibolo, Texas. He's trying to join former teammate Terrell Newby with the Vikings. An undrafted free agent, Newby signed last week with Minnesota.
Meanwhile, the knee injury that sidelined receiver Jordan Westerkamp for the Music City Bowl is still making NFL teams cautious, apparently. Westerkamp, who went undrafted, worked out over the weekend for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but didn't sign a contract.
Greg Auman, who covers the Bucs for the Tampa Bay Times, said via Twitter that Westerkamp would head to the Cleveland Browns next week for a workout. He also noted that Westerkamp looked “sharp, healthy.”
Back on top
Talk about a productive weekend for the Husker baseball team.
Nebraska swept Rutgers in a three-game series, winning 7-6 on Sunday on Luis Alvarado's RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning.
That not only lifted Nebraska (29-16-1, 12-5-1 Big Ten) into first place in the Big Ten Conference standings, it also pushed the Huskers to No. 25 in Monday's Baseball America Top 25.
It's Nebraska's first ranking since April 19, 2015, when the Huskers were No. 23 before falling out of the next week's poll following a series loss to Ohio State. They had peaked at No. 18 earlier that month.
Alvarado, who'd been just 2-for-12 in the series, said the walk-off hit was his first at any level of baseball.
Nebraska plays at Creighton on Wednesday in the rubber game of the three-game season series between the intrastate foes. It's the final regular-season nonconference game for the Huskers, who finish conference play with a three-game series against Michigan State, and a three-game series at Penn State.
The Nebraska softball team is the No. 5 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and will play No. 12 seed Penn State on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. The game will be televised on BTN. … Nebraska's Kate Smith shot an opening-round 78 on the first day of the NCAA Women's Golf Columbus Regional at the Scarlet Course on Monday. … The Nebraska men's and women's track and field teams will participate in the Big Ten Outdoor Championships this weekend in University Park, Pennsylvania.
Reach Brian at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.