Barrett Ruud, like all of the Nebraska football coaches, has been on the road nearly constantly for the past two months.
He has hotel points and frequent flier miles stacked up and he’s put down his fair share of tread on the Interstate 80 concrete between Lincoln and Omaha.
Chatting with reporters Wednesday night at the Rococo Theatre, Ruud was understandably looking forward to spending more time at Memorial Stadium and less in airports, rental cars and Marriotts.
After all, this is his hometown, his alma mater, his first full-time assistant coaching gig.
“Now it’s time to go to work with the players we’ve got here, so that’s exciting, too,” he said. “You recruit, but sometimes you’ve got to forget that and we’re here to coach, first and foremost. We’re excited to get going with that.”
Take Ruud at his word, but don’t think for a second that he’ll forget about recruiting. The Lincoln Southeast graduate and former Husker All-America linebacker is the staff’s in-state recruiting coordinator and, yeah, the ink is barely dry on the 2018 class, but the 2019 crop of Nebraska high school football players is shaping up to be strong and intensely sought-after.
“It is a good group of in-state kids, a really good group,” Ruud said. “The goal is to put a little fence around Nebraska with those kids and not let them leave.”
Nebraska is off to a good start.
Three-star Scottsbluff linebacker Garrett Nelson and three-star York athlete Garrett Snodgrass are already verbally committed. Both gave their pledges to former coach Mike Riley and have reaffirmed with Scott Frost and company.
Major battles are brewing along the Missouri River, though. Walk through the halls of Omaha Burke or Lewis Central in Council Bluffs, Iowa, over the next year and you’re liable to run into the heavy hitters of the college football world.
When 247Sports released its first Top 247 rankings for the 2019 class, Burke teammates Nick Henrich and Chris Hickman both checked in as four-star prospects and among the nation’s elite.
Henrich is the No. 69 player overall in the country and the fourth-best inside linebacker, while Hickman checked in at No. 115 in the nation and the third-best tight end prospect.
Just across the river, Lewis Central quarterback Max Duggan is No. 216 and the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback.
Division rivals Wisconsin and Iowa have already offered both Burke standouts, who each have double-digit offers and coast-to-coast interest. Penn State, Notre Dame and Florida are already in the race for Henrich, and Ole Miss has offered Hickman.
Duggan, meanwhile, has offers from Ohio State, Penn State, Georgia and many others. He is not technically in-state, of course, but he’s right in NU’s backyard and he’s got a dynamic skill set.
“The message will always be that we want to start local and branch out to find the best players,” running backs coach Ryan Held said Wednesday. “We’re not going to miss a kid in the state from here on out. Now, we’re not going to get them all, maybe, but they’re going to go through us first. They’re family and we want them here whenever they can get here.”
Branch out a little further, and Held’s hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, and cities like St. Louis come into view.
NU did not land a player from Missouri in the 2018 class and had just Will Honas from Kansas. In 247Sports’ early composite rankings, there are nine four-star or better players in those states along with early Husker targets such as Wichita, Kansas, running back Breece Hall.
More than half of the 2018 class came from Florida (eight), California (four) and Texas (one), and those states will always be important and frequent stops. Even in a time-strapped, two-month race, NU coaches crisscrossed the country, and no doubt the miles, points and jet use will continue to accumulate.
“We are going to go everywhere and get the right kids,” Frost said simply on Wednesday.
In 2019, though, the class’ bedrock could very well be not only regional, but within — or just over — state lines.
Other rising seniors in-state who haven’t garnered heavy attention from recruiting services yet but have fielded Division I interest or likely will, include Lincoln High quarterback Cedric Case, Norfolk Catholic offensive lineman Ethan Piper, Omaha North running back Zander Gray and offensive line teammate Mehki Butler, and Creighton Prep offensive lineman Ryan Bena.
The 2018 class saw four scholarship FBS signees — Cameron Jurgens (Nebraska), Bryson Williams (Wisconsin) Zach Schlager (Colorado State) and Bryce Stai (Ohio) — while Masry Mapieu is an FBS-level talent who signed with Iowa Western after an 18-month verbal commitment to the Huskers. Moses Bryant is walking on at NU — he wasn’t announced as one of 17 on Wednesday — though the coaches view him as a scholarship-level player.
Frost said Wednesday that the 20-plus member walk-on class for 2018 might be a bit larger than the norm going forward, but the talent level in-state may also mean more scholarship offers in the coming cycle.
“I’m a firm believer that everything starts and ends with kids from this state, whether it’s scholarship or walk-on,” Ruud said. “They set the tone, they set the culture, and I think guys who come out of state who are hopefully great players and great character kids feed off of what they learn and they respect the kids from Nebraska.”