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Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Nebraska must be patient in recruiting

By Adam Rittenberg

College football coaches aren't known for their patience, especially in the warp-speed realm of recruiting, but Nebraska assistant Ross Els knows there's no other choice.

Els, the Huskers' linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator, knows what's happening elsewhere: Michigan (eight verbal commits for 2014, seven in the ESPN 150), Ohio State (seven commits for 2014),  Michigan State (six commits), Penn State (six commits), Northwestern (five commits) ... and so on.

Nebraska, meanwhile, has just one pledge for its 2014 class in safety/tight end Luke Gifford, who lives just down the road from campus in Lincoln.

Ross Els
Nebraska's location doesn't make recruiting easy. But recruiting coordinator Ross Els said that the program's staff and facilities help the cause.
"I want to be done now," Els told ESPN.com. "The problem is we aren't going to get a ton of commitments, obviously, until we get kids on campus. And because of our small population base around here, it's hard to get kids to come visit us right away when we're not paying for it. It's expensive."

Nebraska's location makes it challenging for prospects to pay their own way on unofficial visits before their senior years. Els had to interrupt our interview to take a call from a recruit in Texas. The recruit asked about the cost of an air ticket to Nebraska.

The Huskers will gladly pay for recruits to take official visits after the start of their senior year in high school, but the value of the official visit has changed as recruits are committing earlier and earlier.

For example, Michigan has made early commits a hallmark of its recruiting under coach Brady Hoke. The Wolverines had six verbal commits for the 2012 class before May 1, 2011. They had 20 of 25 recruits verbally committed before the start of the 2011 season. Michigan accelerated the process even more for the 2013 class, as two players (quarterback Shane Morris and cornerback Dymonte Thomas) committed in 2011 and 12 committed before March 2012. Michigan once again added a small portion of its recruits (six of 27) after the 2012 season kicked off.

Nebraska has had to be more patient, if if not by choice. The Huskers had three verbal commits at this time last year, and only 10 of the eventual 25 signees pledged before the season. Big Red made its big recruiting push in the weeks before signing day as it hosted prospects on official visits. The 2012 class followed a similar pattern, as only five of 17 signees committed before the season.

"Some kids will make the circuit," Els said. "They'll go along that East Coast and hit four or five schools. Well, when you come to Nebraska, where else are you going to go? No place is really very close. They have to make a special trip. ... It's not an excuse. It's just a fact that it's hard to get kids up here early.

"Once we do, we've got a great shot at them because of the facilities, the people. So I'd love to be done, but we'll take 'em when we get 'em."

Els said Nebraska doesn't shy away from recruits who are anxious to make verbal commitments. In those cases, the coaches strongly encourage them to get to campus.

Nebraska often doesn't land recruits in a hurry to decide if they aren't in "that magical 500-mile radius we talk about," Els said, but because the Huskers recruit nationally, many of their targets will make several trips (unofficial and official) before finalizing their choice closer to signing day.

Els has a simple message to Husker fans anxious about the 2014 class: be patient.

"You can't compare us to Ohio State and Michigan and Notre Dame," he said. "We will not fill up that quickly. If we're filling up that quickly, it's either because we just won the national championship and everybody wants to play for us, or we might be not very selective in who we're taking. We don't throw offers out there just to throw 'em out there."