LINCOLN — Track speed is far from all you need to play college football. But it sure helps get your cleat in the door. Height does, too. So it is with one of the top 2014 in-state prospects, Papillion-La Vista’s Kenzo Cotton.
Cotton’s only played football for two years, but his 6-foot-2 frame and blazing track times (21.30 seconds in the 200 meters and 10.4 seconds in the 100) have earned him offers from Ohio and Kansas State.
And if he can show he’s fully healed from a hip injury that slowed him during the 2012 football season, several more could be on the way. Papio football coach Jeff Govier — who’s an assistant on the track team and helped Cotton transition to football as a sophomore — expects that to be the case.
Cotton had surgery after the football season — which he chose to play despite being hampered — and won the 100-meter race at the KU Relays in 10.69 seconds with relative ease last weekend.
“For Kenzo to be running what he’s running already is great,” Govier said. “We’ve been pretty smart in trying to bring him back.”
For now, Govier said, football coaches are more aggressively recruiting Cotton than track coaches, although Cotton has had a standing track scholarship offer from NU for some time. A Wisconsin football coach visited the school last week. Stanford called Wednesday.
Nebraska — where Kenzo’s dad, Curtis Cotton played defensive back in the late 1980s and early 1990s — wants Kenzo to work out at NU’s one-day camp this summer before offering, Govier said.
“I think they want to see that he’s committed to come down for a day,” Govier said. Cotton has said he wants to do both sports in college, but the hip injury made for average junior film.
Kansas State, Govier said, is already willing to work with Cotton’s dual interests. The Wildcat staff has crafted a “50/50 schedule,” Govier said, that has Cotton playing football through the bowl game, then being allowed to concentrate on track for the entire second semester, which captures most of the indoor season and outdoor season.
That’s the kind of deal Nebraska used to help lure Bubba Starling back in 2011. Unlike Starling, Cotton’s not likely to turn pro in track without four years of collegiate training.
The Wildcats, Govier said, see Cotton as a “lockdown corner.” So does Govier, who’d also like to feature Cotton on offense in 2013.
“Anywhere he can get the ball in space,” Govier said. With All-Nebraska Alec Ditoro throwing the ball, Cotton should get plenty of opportunities.
What of Ditoro? Govier said he’ll be attending an Elite 11 camp in Chicago soon and schools like North Dakota State are taking a long look, too. The 2014 prospect is indisputably accurate, but he’s also 6-foot; that height will make some FBS teams pause. But it only takes one team to pull the trigger with an offer, and Ditoro’s making the camp trips to get the exposure.
That’s smart. Because a state-record 3,112 yards passing won’t always quite do what the right camp appearance will.
We’ll continue to feature local prospects in future recruiting updates.
NU hunting for tackles
Now that he’s the lead offensive line coach for Nebraska, John Garrison has been busy trying to track down more tackle prospects. It’s the No. 2 need behind defensive back for NU’s 2014 class because seniors Jeremiah Sirles, Brent Qvale and Andrew Rodriguez leave the program after 2013.
The Huskers have four untested scholarship players behind that top trio. Sophomore Zach Sterup and early enrollee freshman David Knevel are the only two on campus. The other two — junior college transfer Matt Finnin and freshman Dwayne Johnson — arrive this summer.
And one of the top tackle prospects in the country resides inside Nebraska’s recruiting backyard — 200 miles away in Olathe (Kan.). Six-foot-six, 290-pound Braden Smith has been on NU’s radar for more than a year after attending the 2012 junior day.
The four/five-star prospect — rated as the No. 2 tackle by Rivals and Scout and the top guard by 247Sports — has also been on the radar of Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State and USC, among others. Arkansas, with new head coach Bret Bielema, will put on a hard push, too.
I’d compare Smith to Baker Steinkuhler, when Steinkuhler was a five-star prospect out of Lincoln Southwest. Long. Tough. Good instincts.
Two key differences: Smith’s dad didn’t play at NU. And Smith doesn’t live in Lincoln.
Nebraska has made some progress in locking down the 500-mile radius — the stated, official goal to lock down that area predates the Pelini era and goes back to the Bill Callahan regime — but the other top, four-star tackles in the Midwest, Ross Pierschbacher Cedar Falls, Iowa) and Andy Bauer (St. Louis) have committed to Iowa and Ole Miss, respectively. A third, Chicago’s Jamarco Jones, doesn’t appear to have the Huskers on his radar, according to recruiting updates.
Smith will be the toughest pull of the four for Garrison, whose upbeat, confident style does well on the recruiting trail. Remember, NU beat Alabama for Knevel, Ohio State for Finnin and Arkansas for Johnson. There’s mojo here.
Here are other notable tackles Nebraska has offered or shown interest in. This list will shrink with commits and grow with new offers like few other positions in recruiting. A lot of teams hunt for offensive tackles early and late in the game:
Dontavius Blair, 6-foot-8/295 pounds, Garden City (Kan.) Community College: The top junior college offensive tackle prospect, Blair has a bevy of offers — Nebraska, Florida State, USC, Georgia and Oklahoma. He’s an Alabama native, so if Auburn or the Crimson Tide come calling, case likely closed. But NU has a strong track record under Pelini of getting juco players to the NFL.
Chad Mavety, 6-6/320, Nassau (Long Island, N.Y.) Community College: Here’s the No. 2 offensive tackle prospect in junior college. Alabama has offered, as have Ohio State, Michigan State and others. Mavety has more upside than Blair, more raw talent.
Jovan Pruitt, 6-6/290, Dallas (Bishop Dunne): The three-star told Husker Online that Nebraska OC Tim Beck had offered, but his top three remained Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas Tech.
Brian Wallace, 6-6/297, St. Louis (Christian Brothers): Iowa’s hot on his trail. Wallace visited the Hawkeyes April 20. At a recent camp in St. Louis, Wallace told Rivals that NU, Missouri and the Hawkeyes were his top three.
Commit lists growing
Around the Big Ten and nation:
>> Michigan State got a defensive tackle commit from Chicago’s Enoch Smith Jr., who had offers from Notre Dame, Tennessee, Arizona and Illinois, among others. Nebraska had not offered the 6-foot-2, 270-pounder.
>> Four-star corner/wide receiver DeAndre Tompkins spurned strong ACC offers (Clemson, North Carolina, Notre Dame) for Penn State, committing to the Nittany Lions at the Blue/White game. The 6-foot, 170-pounder is a player Bill O’Brien could use in a variety of spots. Tuesday, PSU got a commit from four-star wide receiver Chris Godwin. The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder picked the Nittany Lions over Ohio State, Virginia Tech, South Carolina and Stanford, among others.
At six commits, Penn State is essentially halfway done with its class. Look for the Lions to have between 11-15 spots.
And behold the power of salesmanship. O’Brien can’t offer any of these recruits a Big Ten title or bowl game for two years after they enter college. He was nearly lured away in the offseason by the NFL. If Penn State duplicates its surprisingly good 2012 season — don’t count on it — O’Brien may get wooed by the pros again. There’s very little certain or stable in Happy Valley.
And yet the recruits buy in. Remember that O’Brien’s selection at Penn State was made as much by a panel that included coaches more than it was by any one administrator; though it took six weeks to pick a coach, that committee saw something in O’Brien that went beyond his resume.
O’Brien lost one of his quarterbacks, Steven Bench, to transfer this week, so look for 2013 signee Christian Hackenberg to get a good, long look when he comes to camp next fall.
>> 247Sports has unveiled a “recruiter” ranking on its site to measure the effectiveness of certain college assistants. It’s not the most exact science — an Alabama assistant has an inherent advantage over a Kansas State assistant, even if the KSU guy could sell steak to vegans — but it does provide some insight to which assistants — embedded in certain programs — best move the needle.
Naturally, because Nebraska has just one commit, no NU assistants sniff the top 50. But a former Husker coach — LSU’s Corey Raymond — is still in the top 10 as of this writing. Raymond is credited with helping land five-star Arlington, Texas safety Edward Paris. In the 2013 rankings, former NU graduate assistant Chris Kiffin — now coaching at Ole Miss — ranked No. 24, Raymond ranked No. 63 and NU’s Rick Kaczenski ranked No. 80. John Papuchis ranked 87th.
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