LINCOLN — About the only thing that surprised NU recruit Kevin Maurice on his official visit to the Nebraska campus was the frigid winter breeze.
It was 18 degrees when the defensive tackle out of Orlando's Freedom High School woke up to tour Lincoln last month.
“But the wind,” Maurice said.
Hard for a Floridian to prepare for that. He was ready, however, for just about everything else — the facilities, the academic amenities, the city life. And that is quite rare for a non-regional prospect making his first trip to Nebraska.
Those growing up on a coast or in one of the Southern states — like most of the nation's top recruits do — tend to carry somewhat of a distorted perspective of Lincoln. It's why the Husker coaches often find themselves “dispelling a lot of myths,” said assistant Ross Els.
So Nebraska's most effective recruiting tool is often the campus visit — because stories, videos and photos don't make a lasting impression, Els said.
Well, unless you have a high school teammate who's already checked out the place. And the program just so happened to practice at your high school for two straight years before the Capital One Bowl. And you were an under-the-radar player seeking a big-time suitor.
That's Maurice's story. He gave NU a nonbinding pledge the day after he was offered a scholarship.
Other prospects from recruiting hotbeds aren't as easy to persuade, though. Especially when they're a short drive away from a half-dozen local schools just as prestigious as NU.
According to an ESPN.com report, 37.5 percent of players on rosters of the nation's top 20 college football teams were from California, Florida or Texas. Of the 24 known members in Nebraska's 2013 recruiting class, eight prospects (33 percent) are from those three states.
The challenge for NU's staff isn't new — but its impact seems to be growing now that recruits are choosing their colleges earlier than ever. Els has said that two-thirds of recruits committed to Big Ten schools made their nonbinding pledges before starting their senior years of high school.
The Huskers have already held a one-day event for 2014 prospects from around the region. They'll have others for out-of-area players at least two more times.
But since those showcase weekends are classified as unofficial recruiting visits, prospects have to pay their own way.
It's not until a high schooler's senior season that he can take his NCAA-allotted five official visits — when programs pay for travel, lodging and meal expenses.
Nebraska's staff would support legislation that allows recruits to use their all-expense-paid visits as juniors. Men's basketball altered its rule last year — recruits can start taking official visits on Jan. 1 of their junior years.
“The sooner, the better,” Els said.
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But Els isn't aware of any immediate push for change within the NCAA. The American Football Coaches Association, which recommended the much-discussed recruiting measures to deregulate the rulebook in January, isn't pursuing the idea at this time, Executive Director Grant Teaff said.
Teaff did say that, behind support from the majority of the nation's coaches, he and his staff will soon ask the NCAA to relax its rules a bit regarding unofficial visits. For starters, stop making recruits pay for their meals while touring a campus, Teaff said.
The coaches association has also talked about crafting a proposal to move the football signing date into March or April. That's really preliminary, though.
Teaff, the head coach at Baylor from the 1970s through the early 1990s, said coaches “want to do everything they can to get to know the student-athlete better.”
“Can we do that without extending the recruiting calendar?” he said. “Moving (signing day) back could be the best way.”
Whatever policy changes occur won't eliminate the obstacles for the Husker staff, though. NU coaches will always be recruiting in USC's backyard, or in Gator country or on Texas' turf, trying their best to persuade prospects to get the firsthand view of what NU has to offer.
“We still believe that the advantages greatly outweigh the disadvantages,” Els said.
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