LINCOLN — Two of the top and most intriguing 2014 in-state football prospects squared off, in a sense, Wednesday night at Pershing Auditorium.
Millard West defensive end Harrison Phillips edged by a fraction Gretna defensive end Mick Stoltenberg for Lineman MVP of the Under Armour All-Nebraska Top 50 Combine. The 6-foot-4, 246-pound Phillips jumped a little higher and had one more rep in the bench press. The 6-foot-6, 248-pound Stoltenberg ran a bit faster. It was close.
It could be close again to see if both, just one, or neither eventually receive offers from Nebraska, a team that generally undershot on defensive line recruiting until the 2012 and 2013 classes. NU wants to make a deeper evaluation of both this summer at camps.
“Coach (Barney) Cotton told me I'm going to have to prove myself at camp,” said Phillips, a three-star prospect who has offers from Kansas State, Duke, Northern Illinois and Florida Atlantic, among others. Phillips visited Iowa and Wisconsin this spring, and had good enough private meetings with both head coaches to think offers could be coming.
Look for a trip to Chicago for a camp near Northwestern and a possible summer trip to Stanford, too. Phillips had the grades to get offers from Yale, Harvard and Duke, so the Cardinal and Wildcats are in play.
“Sometimes people overlook the Nebraska area,” Phillips said. “So you have to get out there.”
More than one school, Phillips said, has expressed surprise that Nebraska hasn't already offered.
“I'll use that as motivation,” Phillips said. “A lot of schools say, 'How frustrating is it that your home-state school hasn't offered you when we're recruiting you so much harder?'”
A top wrestler, Phillips' film shows good use of hands, agility and a long-running motor that made him one of the state's toughest defensive players to block. He had 81 tackles, 35 tackles for loss and 11 sacks. But Nebraska, he said, isn't sure whether he fits as a defensive end or slides into three-technique tackle. Most teams are recruiting Phillips for end, except for FAU, which wants to add weight to Phillips' frame and try him out at tackle and guard.
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Phillips is savvy enough to know that “film doesn't lie,” but good drill times don't hurt. He'd like to shave time off of a five-second 40-yard dash time. Some schools, he said, boil offers down to one-tenth of second.
Stoltenberg, a late-riser after a Husker Online profile in February touted his ability, already has a good 40 time at 4.8 seconds. And the 6-6 frame gives him more flexibility to add 40 pounds and move inside — much like Jared Crick did — without sacrificing much speed.
He also has a former Husker — defensive tackle Steve Warren — training him through the Warren Academy in Omaha.
“Big-time prospect for sure,” Warren said this week. “He's a kid that a lot of people didn't know, but they're starting to figure it out.”
Why? Warren said Stoltenberg makes for a good Nebraska end, able to “set the edge” in a Husker scheme that asks its ends to play physically but not get run out of the play.
“He's strong and he uses his hands really well,” Warren said of Stoltenberg, who has an offer from Tulsa and is bound to add more in the next month as teams come through Gretna.
Phone and foot traffic have been brisk, Gretna coach Chad Jepsen said. Nebraska and Iowa are intrigued. Oregon called. Stoltenberg did well at a recent Rivals camp in St. Louis, so look for Big 12 and Big Ten programs to make their way through, too.
Some of their interest, Jepsen said, is that Stoltenberg is a good piece of clay with big upside as he continues to develop.
“He's a kid who can get to 280 pounds easily,” Jepsen said. “What college coaches want him to be, he'll be able to do it. He's a quick learner.”
Both players should have exciting summers. They won't be walk-ons on NU. It'll take full freight to get them to Lincoln.
OSU eyes NU targets
Quarterback recruiting intrigue never gets old, does it?
According to several recruiting site reports, Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck was in Florida this week to watch workouts for two of his top targets — Miami Coral Reef's Nico Pierre and Apopka's Zack Darlington. According to Huskers Illustrated, Pierre's practice got rained out, so Beck will be back.
Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman is hot on Beck's trail. According to several reports, Herman saw Darlington throw on Wednesday — just after Beck did Tuesday. According to Rivals.com, Darlington then got a Buckeye offer Thursday.
Ohio State also has offered Bossier City (La.) Parkway signal-caller Brandon Harris this week. Harris told Rivals he'll announce his commitment July 5 — fireworks after the fireworks, I suppose. LSU still hasn't offered, and the Tigers may have high-hatted Harris long enough to crack the door open for the Buckeyes and Huskers.
To recap: Nebraska offered both QBs weeks ago. OSU has offered them now. In a conversation on 2013 Signing Day, Beck said he's become accustomed to being an “advocate” of players who later splashed on the radar of Big Ten opponents. Beck's a good scout, which should be encouraging to Nebraska fans.
Out of the three, I still like Pierre the most. He has the biggest arm, and I'll take arm talent. Duke is Nebraska's primary competition for Pierre. Don't let that throw you: The Blue Devils' head coach, David Cutcliffe, tutored Peyton and Eli Manning. He knows what he sees. The arm.
Big Ten adding commits
Around the Big Ten and nation:
>> Michigan added two commits in the last eight days, including a big get in four-star Paramus (N.J.) Catholic offensive tackle Juwann Bushell-Beatty. If not for a low Rivals rating, he'd be a consensus Top 150 player.
>> Illinois landed its quarterback for the 2014 class Wednesday in 6-foot-4, 215-pound Chayce Crouch. Well, maybe. The Newark, Ohio, prospect accepted the first Big Ten offer he got over a handful of MAC schools. Plus, Illinois has who I think was the Big Ten's best overall 2013 quarterback recruit, Aaron Bailey.
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>> Cross one Nebraska running back target off the board. Colorado star Christian McCaffrey — son of former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey — will play at his dad's alma mater, Stanford.
NU shouldn't entirely lose touch here. After a sharp performance on NFL Network, Cardinal coach David Shaw seems like a good candidate for an NFL promotion next winter. (Shaw spent nine seasons assistant coaching in the NFL.)
>> Future nonconference opponent Tennessee remains on fire as it's up to 12 commits, the second-highest total in the country behind Texas. Look for the Volunteers to push 30 commits in Butch Jones' first full class.
>> On my World-Herald Facebook page, I opined that the Big Ten should cut Notre Dame out of future schedules as quickly as possible, including canceling previously scheduled games. Part of my argument involved the Fighting Irish eating into the Big Ten's ABC/ESPN prime time TV contract while Nebraska-UCLA gets shut out. Another argument is recruiting.
Kids who grow up watching and liking the Big Ten can easily see Notre Dame, which traditionally has played two or three Big Ten opponents per year, as a de facto member of the league. (Big Ten members have seemed to confuse themselves in a similar manner.) Time to cut off the Big Ten welfare. Notre Dame fancies itself a program with more in common with the ACC, huh? Then let kids in Ohio watch Notre Dame-Syracuse. See if that's as enticing.
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