Editor's note: This column originally appeared in the Jan. 27, 2016, edition of The Daily Nebraskan.
If you have a shred of interest in Nebraska football recruiting, you have probably heard about the “500-mile radius.”
What does it mean? Let’s go get the best recruits within this invisible circle that extends outward from Lincoln. Dominating that 500-mile radius would allow the opportunity to go out to the Californias and Floridas to land the class-makers like a Patrick O’Brien.
I’m going to use a really corny metaphor. An earthquake is strongest near the epicenter. It would make sense that the only FBS football program in a state would do a solid job getting the top recruits in that state. Or closest to the state.
In the last five years, Nebraska has snagged an average of fewer than two of the state’s top 10 recruits (as ranked by 24/7 sports). Nebraska landed four of the top 10 in-state recruits from the class of 2014, its highest total.
In Mike Riley’s first full year of recruiting, Nebraska has landed a total of two in-state recruits, one of which is a walk-on. As signing day nears and those famous “preferred walk-on” spots open at Nebraska, that number might rise. But all but one of the top-10 recruits in Nebraska are committed, and only one of them is committed to Nebraska.
Here is where the top high school players in Nebraska are going: Tight end Noah Fant, the No. 1 prospect in the state, was courted by Nebraska, but is headed to Iowa. Tight end Jared Bubak decommitted from Nebraska and is headed to Arizona State. Two are committed to South Dakota State, two to Wyoming and one each to Kansas State and Air Force.
Only three of the top 10 received offers from Nebraska.
Among the uncourted top 10 in-state prospects are a three-star safety, two three-star tight ends, a three-star defensive end and a 2-to-3 star guard. That doesn’t even include the prospects in Nebraska who aren’t rated by most recruiting sites.
Let’s compare these numbers to Iowa. Say what you will about the Hawkeyes, but it is no secret they are one of the best in the nation at developing talent. In the last five years, the Hawkeyes have grabbed an average of 4.8 commitments from the top 10 prospects in Iowa.
Most of them were offered a scholarship by the Hawkeyes.
And it is working. Josse Jewel and Parker Hesse were 2-to-3 star recruits out of high school. Both received offers from and committed to Iowa. Both played huge roles for the Iowa defense this year. Those are just two examples of the more than 20 highly ranked in-state recruits Iowa has signed in the last five years.
And Iowa is competing with another FBS program about two hours west, Iowa State, one of the nation’s best FBS programs in Northern Iowa and the rest of Big Ten country.
What is Iowa doing that Nebraska isn’t?
This season, Iowa nabbed five of the top 10 recruits in the state and offered scholarships to six of them.
Maybe Nebraska isn’t registering as “the dream” for in-state kids anymore. There are countless reasons for students to chooses to play at a particular college, and I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint why they aren’t choosing the Huskers. But there is clearly a disconnect.
Maybe a walk-on spot at Nebraska doesn’t hold the same value it did when the Huskers were winning championships.
What is stopping a kid from taking a scholarship at South Dakota State or the University of Nebraska at Kearney and getting to play sooner?
Picture this: Drew Ott, a Glitner native who became a star at Iowa, and. Harrison Phillips, a Millard West graduate who would have played a major role at Stanford if it wasn’t for an injury, anchoring a Nebraska defensive line that has plenty of question marks heading into next year.
Not going to happen.
Ott wasn’t sought by Nebraska. Phillips was, but despite predictions to the contrary, he chose the Cardinal. Both of those guys came out of high school well before Riley and his staff took over at Nebraska.
Everyone wants to see Nebraska go out and compete with teams like Ohio State for recruits. As they should. Year in and year out, teams at the top of the polls at the end of the season were typically at the top of the recruiting class rankings.
That doesn’t have to happen at the expense of letting top in-state talent slip away. The former coaching camp apparently didn’t take much stock in getting the best in-state talent. Recruiting in Nebraska might not be glamourous, but it’s worth while.
To quote Jay-Z, “I put my money on the longshots, all my ballers that’s born to clock.”
Nebraska has ballers worth a harder look than they are getting. The 500-mile radius starts in the Cornhusker State. We’ll see if the new coaching staff agrees.