Nebraska capped its camp season with the second annual Big Red Weekend on Saturday, emerging in vastly different shape than it entered the week of key recruiting activity.
In fact, the past 72 hours in Lincoln likely marked the most important summer stretch of recruiting in coach Bo Pelini’s 5-plus years.
Why? Start with vibe that permeated Husker Nation just 10 days ago as Nebraska sat quietly with two commitments for the 2014 class while Big Ten rivals Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State marched forward. Optimistic observers figured the Nebraska coaches had a plan -- and that it would come to fruition during the third weekend of June.
Apparently, they were right. The class expanded rapidly to nine.
The Huskers added a crucial recruit in quarterback Zack Darlington (Apopka, Fla./Apopka), the No. 11-rated dual-threat QB who was coveted by Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes. As it often works with players at his position, Darlington looks like a bell cow in the Huskers’ 2014 class.
He also extends an intriguing trend at Nebraska. After the departure next year of record-setting QB Taylor Martinez, who led Corona (Calif.) Centennial in 2008 to a 15-0 season and a CIF Open Division bowl game victory, the next Nebraska quarterback figures to come from the group of Tommy Armstrong, Johnny Stanton and Darlington.
Armstrong directed Cibolo (Texas) Steele to 5A title-game appearances in 2010 and 2011. Stanton won a CIF Southern Section Division I crown as a junior in 2011 at Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.) Santa Margarita Catholic. Darlington helped lead Apopka to a Class 8A title in Florida in 2012.
So the QB competition in 2014 and beyond will involve championship-caliber quarterbacks from Texas, California and Florida. That’s no coincidence.
Nebraska secured in-state pledges from offensive guard D.J. Foster (Lincoln, Neb./Southeast) and defensive end Mick Stoltenberg (Gretna, Neb./Gretna). Both committed Saturday, giving the Huskers as many in-state commits in a few hours as it signed from Nebraska over the past two years.
The 2014 group now includes three Nebraskans. Foster’s high schoolteammate, safety Luke Gifford (Lincoln, Neb./Southeast) was the first to commit in March.
In–state players won’t return Nebraska to its era of dominance in the 1990s, but at the core of those teams sat tough, focused Nebraska kids. Lots of them. In Pelini’s six recruiting classes before this year, he signed 17 Nebraska high school prospects. The numbers dwindled to one apiece in 2012 and 2013.
Foster, a four-star prospect ranked No. 15 nationally at his position, turned down UCLA, Georgia and Florida, among others. He’s the kind of player the Huskers cannot afford to lose.
Nebraska also stayed busy in Texas, grabbing its third pledge from the state in cornerback Trai Mosley (Pflugerville, Texas/Hendrickson), laid new tracks in Big Ten country with the commitment of offensive guard Tanner Farmer (Highland, Ill./Highland), a recent invite to The Opening, and pushed into the East with a commitment from athlete Demornay Pierson-El of Alexandria (Va.) West Potomac.
In review, not a bad week. It might have been one of Pelini’s best.