Greg Bell

Arizona Western running back Greg Bell joined Nebraska's early signing class Wednesday.

ARIZONA WESTERN CC

Nebraska coach Scott Frost said in a radio interview this week that he expects his staff to be able to recruit against the best programs in the country for top-end talent.

“There’s absolutely no reason we can’t get kids to Lincoln, Nebraska. Kids leave places right now and go everywhere in the country,” he told Jim Rome. “There’s no reason kids won’t come to Lincoln if they’re going to Columbus (Ohio), Ann Arbor (Michigan), and Eugene (Oregon), and I think we’re going to create an environment in Lincoln that people are going to want to be a part of. We don’t need all of them, we just need the ones that want to be here and help make Nebraska a power again.”

It’s clear, though, that Frost and company feel they need to widen the recruiting net here and seek at least some help from the junior college ranks.

Consider the contrast: Former head coach Mike Riley never took a scholarship junior college player in his three years here.

In Frost’s first week on the job, his group has offered at least 10 players from seven different schools and have two — Arizona Western Community College teammates Jaron Woodyard (athlete) and Greg Bell (running back) — on official visits this weekend.

Long story short: The juco drought in Lincoln is going to end sooner rather than later.

That’s likely due in part to the new staff identifying areas of the roster that need to be addressed immediately — the offered group includes three offensive tackles (Arizona Western’s Jahmir Johnson, Iowa Western’s Noah Banks and Navarro College’s Levon Livingston), a dual-threat quarterback (Garden City’s Terry Wilson) and a cornerback (ASA College’s Jeremy Webb) — and only time will tell how heavily the staff pursues transfers in future seasons.

At Central Florida, this same staff took four junior college players in 2016, two in 2017 and did not have any so far in the 2018 class.

It's not just about need, though. This coaching staff has natural ties to the juco ranks.

Running backs coach Ryan Held, who has seemingly touched all corners of the country in his first week back at his alma mater, spent five years before his two-season stint at Central Florida coaching at junior colleges and seven more at Division II schools.

“Ryan’s the guy that’s walked the walk with us and knows a lot of us and stuff, but they all have a lot of connections and they’re all good dudes,” Jeff Sims of Garden City (Kansas) Community College said.

Outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt coached with Sims at Florida Atlantic and Frost himself used to recruit Sims’ Fort Scott College when he worked at Northern Iowa. Dewitt and defensive coordinator Erik Chinander both had stops at community colleges early in their careers.

Part of the intrigue also stems from the prevailing sentiment in recruiting circles that it is tough to attract premier talent to Nebraska because it’s not close to any major population centers.

It’s only one measure, but NU's recent NFL Draft picks reveal some interesting numbers. The school had consecutive first-round selections in 2010 (defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh) and 2011 (Prince Amukamara), but none in six drafts since then and no candidates in 2018.

In fact, since 2012 only seven NU players have been taken in the top three rounds. Of that group, linebacker Lavonte David (2012), corner Stanley Jean-Baptiste (2014) and defensive end Randy Gregory (2015) all came to Lincoln from junior colleges.

Gregory may have stopped the drought on first-rounders but for a failed drug test at the NFL Draft Combine. 

He and defensive lineman Joe Keels were the last two big junior-college recruits to come to Nebraska. The only three players on the Husker roster in 2017 with any juco experience were scout team quarterback Andrew Bunch, reserve punter Jackson Walker and senior offensive lineman Matt Watts.

“When you recruit a junior college player, you need to be right about their ability and their character,” Riley said in October, adding that he’s rarely had success with juco offensive linemen. “You’ve got to have a real plan for them, because if it doesn’t work, he knows his clock is short, so he’s unhappy, and nobody’s happy.

“You don’t see a lot of it in the Big Ten. I think that everybody that talks about admissions and graduation are, I would use the word ‘aware,’ of the issues that might be involved there, with graduating this person, of them being able to fit in academically. Maybe conferencewide, but for sure here, there’s an awareness of that.”

Indeed, junior college transfers are more common in other parts of the country.

Of the top 30 juco prospects in each of the past five completed recruiting cycles (per 247Sports’ rankings), 144 of 150 signed to a four-year school. Nearly half (71) have gone to the SEC, while just 13 have gone to the Big Ten. Only the ACC (seven) had fewer. The Big 12 and Pac-12 checked in with 23 apiece.

That may be changing some, at least here.

“I think Nebraska’s got to find another way to recruit because their pipelines are tougher now,” Sims said. “Scott Frost and his staff have very good relationships. They can get on guys that maybe Mike Riley couldn’t." 

Contact the writer at pgabriel@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. On Twitter @HuskerExtraPG.

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