Husker baseball has performed beyond expectations with in-state recruiting, catching the eye of many local recruits. According to Prep Baseball Report, Nebraska has secured five of the top six high school players from the state and is looking to grow that number even more.
When head coach Will Bolt accepted the job with the Huskers in 2019, assistant coach Lance Harvell joined him from Sam Houston State. Bringing the best of the best from the state to Haymarket Park is something Harvell and his staff have focused on.
Harvell, who is also the recruiting coordinator, said keeping players in the state is at the top of his priority list when deciding who to offer. He has kept that promise, and now looks forward to adding more depth and talent to an already young Husker team.
“When Will [Bolt] and I first got here, we made it a point of emphasis on the recruiting side of things to keep these guys at home,” Harvell said. “We’re looking to get the best talent, the best kids from right here in our backyard.”
Following in the footsteps of MLB players like Alex Gordon, who attended Lincoln Southeast, and Brian Duensing, who attended Millard South, these in-state athletes look to make a name for themselves. For many local recruits, it is a lot of times their dream to come and play for the hometown team.
“I think every kid wants to play at Nebraska, actually. That's the way I look at it. They want to be here,” Bolt said in a September press conference. “This is a great place to play baseball. We are talking about the University of Nebraska, the Huskers. We want every kid to think it's cool to be at Nebraska.”
Nebraska has strengthened its pitching rotation through recruiting, earning commitments from Drew Christo, CJ Hood and Jax Brockett in the 2021 class. Coming off one of their worst seasons in terms of runs allowed per game, this is a step in the right direction for strengthening the Huskers’ pitching, which was a goal of Bolt’s this offseason.
Nebraska high schools have produced a wealth of talent over the past couple years that have turned into current Husker players. Starting sophomore pitchers Colby Gomes and Kyle Perry went to Millard West and Millard South, respectively. Senior outfielder Logan Foster attended Lincoln Southwest.
“Well, I think when you're talking about having a recruiting strategy, you have to start somewhere and no better place to start than in your own state,” Bolt said. “You've got to start somewhere, and Nebraska has really good high school baseball.”
It’s a refreshing sight for Bolt to see Nebraska baseball emerge as a premier destination for the top talent in the state. Keeping these young athletes local and giving the kids a chance to shine and perform for their hometown team is a special moment for them and for the team.
Many players grew up Nebraska fans and have dreamed of playing for the Huskers their whole lives.
“There’s a pretty good chance every kid in the state grew up Husker fans, it’s such a unique place,” Harvell said. “So when they get that kind of attention with an offer from the school they’ve dreamed about their whole life, it’s exciting for them.”
2021 recruits like Kyler Randazzo out of Elkhorn and Luke Jessen from Elkhorn South give the Huskers strong hitters for the future. Strengthening this lineup and getting power hitters with speed for the top half of their order bodes well for the versatility of this high-powered offense.
Harvell noted the domino effect that happens when seeing other local players commit to Nebraska.
“There’s so much information, everyone knows where everyone else is going, and kids see that and start to follow,” Harvell said. “We knew once we got a couple of them, that the momentum would get going for kids to come here.”
Bolt also said that players that don’t make big names for themselves in high school sometimes find their way back to Nebraska.
“Guys that maybe hadn't made a name for themselves at all out of high school, but the work habits that are ingrained in them,” Bolt said. “They come back, and they are bigger, stronger, faster, and more ready to play the Division I level like Griffin Everett, Luke Sartori and those types of guys.”
One of the biggest things that has come from Bolt and Harvell’s jump to the Huskers is the increasing focus on in-state talent. Coming to a Big Ten program and playing within a competitive conference will continue to draw the eyes of the top recruits from the state. Along with that, the in-state players will be focal points in the team’s success, according to Harvell.
“Kids have grown up always dreaming of wearing the N on their chest and representing the University of Nebraska,” Harvell said. “These in-state guys will continue to be the backbone of our team and program moving forward.”