LINCOLN — Hours after Nebraska's Big Ten title game appearance on Dec. 1 ended in agony, NU defensive coordinator John Papuchis was on a plane for Florida.
There was no time for regret, or relaxation, or recuperation. The Husker coaches had a recruiting class to complete. And at that time — just nine weeks ago now — they were only halfway done.
What ensued was a whirlwind of back-and-forth interactions as the staff narrowed its focus to a select group of targets — some had been monitored for months, while others were under-the-radar talents who emerged unexpectedly. There were commitments, decommitments and recommitments. Some wait-and-sees, some see-ya-laters.
The dust finally settled Wednesday, when Nebraska coach Bo Pelini expressed his satisfaction as he announced that NU had signed 26 players in its 2013 recruiting class. Thirteen of those recruits made oral commitments over the past two months.
Perhaps this approach — cleaning up the recruiting leftovers, so to speak — isn't exactly ideal. Most top programs have the core of their classes in place five months before signing day. But it might always be part of Nebraska's recruiting identity under Pelini, who said Wednesday he prefers to use as much time as he can to evaluate prospective Huskers.
“I think you learn a lot about kids during their senior year,” Pelini said. “You're not necessarily recruiting kids on what they did in high school, you're trying to figure out a year or two (or) three down the road. … (But) what they've done their senior year is real important.”
Rival coaches apparently agreed with that assessment, providing a few headaches for the NU staff as they made last-minute sales pitches to some of Nebraska's once-overlooked targets down the stretch.
That only added to the stress as the Husker coaches tried to lure undecided guys while doing their best to keep the seemingly decided in the fold. Papuchis nearly lost his mind.
“Kids are tweeting things and I don't even know what they mean,” he said. “It's a constant state of paranoia over every tweet, every Facebook (post), everything that's going on. You live your life from minute to minute.”
But the hard work paid off, Pelini said. The recruiting analysts concur.
Nebraska's 2013 class ranked in the top 25 nationally, according to all four major recruiting websites. Scout.com ranked the Huskers higher than any other service, slotting them 11th. NU was 17th according to Rivals.com, while ESPN and 247Sports had Nebraska 23rd.
All four sites ranked NU's class third among Big Ten programs, behind Michigan and Ohio State (the Buckeyes were a consensus No. 1 in the conference).
What's different about many of the top schools nationally, however, is the majority of their classes were solidified by December.
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The Huskers are making a push this offseason to get more 2014 prospects on campus earlier, but Pelini said that he doesn't ever expect to be in a position at Nebraska where his recruiting class is completely filled up two months before signing day. And that's all right with him.
“Your needs sometimes become a lot clearer after the season,” Pelini said.
Of course, how else could he have made room for the four defensive linemen — Maliek Collins, Kevin Maurice, Ernest Suttles and Dimarya Mixon — who jumped on board with NU after the Capital One Bowl? Or what about the three offensive linemen — Dwayne Johnson and junior college transfers Matt Finnin and Chongo Kondolo — who joined the class during that same stretch?
David Knevel, an offensive tackle out of Canada, committed in December. Highly touted running back Terrell Newby was one of eight players the Husker staff landed in January alone.
Pelini mentioned one unnamed recruit who didn't perform well at all as a senior. Nebraska originally wanted to take him early.
Sometimes it's best to wait. Sometimes you have no choice.
“More than likely, things are going to change,” Pelini said. “And they're going to change right up until signing day because it's a pretty fluid deal.”
That makes life tougher on the coaches, though.
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck joked Wednesday about the blurry mental state that tends to overcome coaches who've been on the road recruiting for too long.
“One minute you're flying to see a guy, then next minute, you're not,” he said. “You can't find the hotel room. It's crazy.”
And emotional. And draining. And humbling.
The two recruits in Florida whom Papuchis talked to the day after the Big Ten title game loss didn't end up signing with Nebraska. He was admittedly upset to learn that Jacquille Veii picked home-state Maryland over NU and Iowa on signing day.
One can imagine his feelings while on the roller coaster captained by Tre'Vell Dixon, who was once Nebraska's first commit of 2013 but decommitted twice before signing a letter of intent with NU on Wednesday.
ultimately, Papuchis said, there isn't much else anyone can do in this business besides move on and embrace the next challenge.
“You don't have much of a choice,” he said. “Every day you sit around and kind of lick your wounds is another day one of your competitors is getting a leg up.”
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