Every day counts on the recruiting trail, and when late January rolls around, sometimes it’s best to divide and conquer.
For Nebraska on Thursday, that meant two main fronts focusing on two main targets.
On the East Coast, head coach Scott Frost led a contingent that also included defensive coordinator Erik Chinander, defensive line coach Mike Dawson and outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt to visit four-star outside linebacker Javontae Jean-Baptiste (Bergen Catholic, Oradell, New Jersey). Meanwhile, in Texas, running backs coach Ryan Held and defensive backs coach Travis Fisher saw three-star running back Maurice Washington (Trinity Christian, Cedar Hills).
The prospects are in slightly different stages of their respective recruitments, but one thing is clear: The Huskers badly want both.
At 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, Jean-Baptiste is a lean, athletic pass-rusher. He took his official visit to Lincoln on Jan. 12 and then followed it up with an official visit to Ohio State last weekend. Bergen Catholic coach Nunzio Campanile told the Journal Star earlier this month that he thought the interest from Buckeye coach Urban Meyer and defensive coordinator Greg Schiano to be legitimate. On Thursday night, though, Campanile told the Journal Star that the decision appears to be between the Huskers and Virginia Tech.
“He’s got a very tough decision ahead,” Campanile said in a brief phone interview Thursday night, adding that he expects Jean-Baptiste to mull the options with his parents and make a decision, “very soon.”
Jean-Baptiste does not have any further known official visits on the books.
“He’s got tremendous growth potential,” Campanile said earlier this month of the New Jersey defensive player of the year, who finished his senior season with 88 tackles (14½ for loss) and 11½ sacks in 12 games. “A lot of times you get those kids that are great high school players and they might be tapped out. He’s the opposite. He’s just getting going and he’s already a great player. There’s potential for some great things with him.”
The recruiting industry seems to feel good about Nebraska’s chances. The recruiting service 247Sports’ “Crystal Ball” predictions trended hard in favor of the Huskers on Thursday, moving away from the Buckeyes and Hokies. He is considered one of NU’s top targets and was offered a scholarship Dec. 2, just hours after Frost was officially named the new head coach here.
Washington’s decision timeline is more concrete — he’s expected to announce his commitment on ESPN on National Signing Day — but everything else is up in the air.
The wild card in Washington’s case is that the Buckeyes were reportedly interested in him primarily as a defensive back and OSU defensive backs coach Kerry Coombs left his post in Columbus for a job with the Tennessee Titans on Wednesday.
The Huskers like Washington as a running back. On Jan. 4, he scored three touchdowns in the Under Armour All-American game and was named its Most Valuable Player. As a senior, he rushed for 1,253 yards (10.2 per) and 15 touchdowns and added 582 receiving yards (22.9 per catch) and nine more scores.
While it seems likely he at least visits NU before National Signing Day, a Friday key will be whether the staff secures a visit for this weekend.
Originally, Washington was expected to visit Ohio State this weekend and Nebraska on Feb. 2, but that changed multiple times through the day Thursday. Late Thursday afternoon, 247Sports reported that the Huskers are trying to get Washington to campus this weekend, but it’s unclear if that will actually happen. If not, he could visit the first weekend of February.
Whether Washington visits, NU is expecting a trio of other players on campus in three-star quarterback/athlete Matthew Tago (Lancaster, California), three-star defensive back/athlete Cam Taylor (Montgomery, Alabama) and four-star wide receiver Dominick Watt (Hollywood, Florida), who gave his verbal commitment last week.
The Huskers are playing the waiting game on four-star cornerback Taiyon Palmer — NU took six coaches to see him at his home in Lawrenceville, Georgia, on Wednesday — and four-star offensive lineman Jarrett Bell (Norco, California). Both were on campus here Jan. 12. Palmer was slated to visit Clemson this weekend, per his 247Sports profile, but tweeted Thursday night that he's instead headed to Tennessee. It's unclear whether Bell will take more visits.
Even with Taylor on campus this weekend, NU would likely try to find room for Palmer in the class regardless of when he makes his decision. Given that the Huskers don’t appear set on hosting an offensive lineman this weekend — Blake McDonald (Danville, California) and Willie Canty III (Belle Glade, Florida) were both candidates but neither is expected to be here — it appears Bell, too, has some time to decide.