The first guy to show on a Monday morning was the Husker commit from central Nebraska — Ernest Hausmann, the future NU linebacker who does a little bit of everything for Columbus High School.
The last to enter the Holland Performing Arts Center stage was Omaha Central offensive lineman Deshawn Woods, who arrived wearing celebrity shades.
“I’m a little tired,” he said.
Woods didn’t seem like it. Like the rest of The World-Herald's Super Six, he lit up on the stage of the Holland, which is back with a robust fall schedule. The Holland was terrific in a pinch for The World-Herald photo shoot, making a smooth experience for the most talented-filled Super Six this state’s ever had.
Yes, the 16th edition of the Super Six is the best ever — at least on paper.
The best individual — Omaha South’s Noah Fant — played the keyboard in our 2015 Super Six shoot. The best overall group before now could arguably be 2006 (included Jared Crick and Niles Paul), 2013 (Harrison Phillips, Luke Gifford, Easton Stick) or 2020 if our hunch is right about Avante Dickerson, Keagan Johnson, Thomas Fidone, Teddy Prochazka, AJ Rollins and Heinrich Haarberg.
But the 2021 Super Six is special. Four players from the Metro, one from Lincoln Southeast and Hausmann out of Columbus.
The group is headlined by the two top tight ends in the state, both from Bellevue West — Kaden Helms (committed to Oklahoma) and Micah Riley-Ducker (Auburn). Woods, committed to Missouri, is the highest-rated prospect, No. 144 nationally according to the 247Sports composite ranking. Omaha Burke linebacker Devon Jackson — the lone member of the Super Six still uncommitted — is close behind at No. 153.
Woods and Jackson both missed the 2020 football season because their schools weren’t allowed to play during the pandemic. Neither could easily bring themselves to watch other high school games either.
“I’m really looking forward to this season, especially since I thought we might have won state last year,” Jackson said. “We didn’t get a chance to show it. This year we reload, like we do every year.”
Though the top Metro players will head out of state for college, Hausmann and Jake Appleget accepted the Nebraska scholarship offers they'd wanted. Both will play defense for the Huskers — Appleget at outside linebacker, and Hausmann at inside ‘backer.
To pick these six we had to turn down some outstanding players in Nebraska and western Iowa.
Council Bluffs Lewis Central has two college-bound players — Hunter Deyo (Iowa State) and Brayden Loftin (Kansas State). Omaha Skutt quarterback Caden Becker will play at Wyoming. Millard South has linebackers Gage Stenger (Kansas State) and Jake Gassaway (Northern Illinois), who in many years might have both made the Super Six.
But this 2021 group is full of big-time headliners fit for a show at the Holland, which started its season Saturday with an outdoors show featuring Melissa Etheridge.
The spotlight is bright. These six ought to wear shades.
Lincoln Southeast • Linebacker • 6-4, 215 pounds
2020 in review: The Knights rolled to an unbeaten regular season and reached the Class A quarterfinals in no small part because of the versatility of No. 9. He provided quick offense as a receiver/tight end, high-pointing plenty of balls during a 17-catch, 280-yard receiving autumn with five touchdowns while moonlighting as a wildcat quarterback. Appleget was at his most dominant as a second- and third-level defender, finishing among the team leaders in tackles (67) and takeaways (three interceptions, two fumble recoveries). He was a rare junior elected a captain by his teammates too.
2021 outlook: Southeast should again be in the mix as a contender within the state’s largest classification despite losing a decorated senior class. While the team strength might be along both lines, Appleget will fill a similar utility role on offense and play both linebacker spots as well. He added about 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason and boasts the kind of high-end pro agility numbers that can translate to many explosive Friday nights. “Of course the goal is a state title, and I think that’s the caliber of team they have right now,” Appleget said. “We’re looking pretty good.”
College plans: Appleget’s recruiting profile took off when the NCAA allowed prospects to visit schools beginning in June coming off the 14-month dead period forced by the pandemic. Private workouts at Nebraska and Minnesota quickly produced scholarship offers from both schools, and the defender chose the hometown Huskers later in the month. The coaching staff put NU over the top for Appleget. He projects as an outside linebacker at the next level. “It was pretty special for me, thinking the games I used to go watch at Memorial Stadium is where I’ll be playing someday,” Appleget said.
40 time: 4.56 seconds
Famous venue you’d like to perform in: “Probably Staples Center. Like a celebrity basketball game or something. I can hoop a bit.”
Most nerves before a performance: “My workout June 1 with Nebraska. I was the only one there and all the coaches were watching me jump a vertical, run a 40-yard dash. That was pretty nerve-wracking, but once I ran that first 40 all those nerves were gone.”
Famous performer you’d like to see in person: “I’d like to see Lil Baby perform live. And I’d like to watch Tom Brady play in person too – that would be pretty sweet.”
Best performance you’ve ever given: “The game against Grand Island. Had (two) touchdowns and played pretty good on defense as well (recovering a fumble).”
Lincoln Southeast coach Ryan Gottula:“I think the big thing for him this year is being able to play both sides of the ball for an extended period. That’s going to be pretty important to our team because we have a little smaller senior class. Taking on that role of not leaving the field very much is going to be pretty important for him and a few others on our team. I think Jake’s ready to do that.”
Compiled by Evan Bland
Columbus • Linebacker • 6-2, 210 pounds
2020 in review: A 6-4 season was about as satisfying as it could be considering the Discoverers celebrated their first playoff win in a decade and first at home in two. Hausmann had a hand in all of it. Despite offenses tracking him on the field, the linebacker and occasional safety landed 69 tackles (six for loss), an interception and a couple forced fumbles. He also paced his team with 34 catches for 447 yards and five scores as a receiver/tight end.
2021 outlook: More of the same for Hausmann on offense, though he’ll mostly focus on inside linebacker defensively as he prepares to play that position in college. Columbus prided itself on being a group of fighters and playmakers during its breakthrough last year and aims to build on that reputation this fall within another challenging Class A schedule. “We might not be the biggest on the field, but I think we’re going to be the team that’s the toughest,” Hausmann said. “That’s the goal of our senior class. For us, it’s reaching our potential – if we do that, the wins will take care of themselves.”
College plans: Nebraska picked up Hausmann’s commitment in March, though it was hardly a sure thing the defender would stay close to home. His Power Five offer total stretched to double digits strictly on the strength of his game film amid the lengthy dead period and many other suitors also expressed interest. The native of Uganda, Africa – who was adopted into his current family as a 5-year-old – approached his recruiting process without an early favorite and eventually picked the Huskers without listing other finalists. “Yeah, I grew up here, but I came from a different country,” Hausmann said. “I just wanted a place that best fit myself and my future. That was a big thing for me was where I could make the biggest impact on and off the field.”
40 time: 4.6 seconds
Famous venue you’d like to perform in: “The Seattle Seahawks field would be pretty cool with the 12th Man. I thought it was really cool how loud that stadium gets. I could play in that environment.”
Most nerves before a performance: “I think about it more as being anxious to get out there. If I’m not anxious, I know something’s not right. I put pads on and my adrenaline shoots through the roof because I know what’s about to happen. Even here. The anxious feeling, I just love it.”
Famous performer you’d like to see in person: “I really admire Lavonte David, just watching him play defense at Nebraska and the way he’s a very twitchy athlete. That’s the kind of linebacker I want to be. And Ndamukong Suh – he’s an NFL veteran now and has a different way of looking at things.”
Best performance you’ve ever given: “I think some of my best performances are where I’m out of my comfort zone. When I was younger I took piano lessons and always thought that was hard. Doing those recitals was something I was really proud of.”
Columbus coach Craig Williams: “He’s a young man that when he sets a goal, he’s different than other kids because everything he does throughout his week is to reach that goal. Most kids are like that in the weight room and on the field, but Ernest takes that into the classroom, he takes it into the community, he takes it into his diet. He’s such a goal-driven young man that once he decided college football was what he wanted to do, it seemed like every decision every day was about reaching that goal.”
Compiled by Evan Bland
Bellevue West • Tight end/wide receiver • 6-5, 222 pounds
2020 in review: Despite a season shortened by the pandemic and a roster stacked with talent — including 2020 Super Six member Keagan Johnson and 2021 Super Six member Micah Riley-Ducker — Helms made a significant name for himself at tight end/adjuster, catching 25 passes for 322 yards and four touchdowns in a seven-game season. Helms was able to attract significant attention from all over the country and every major college conference. He eventually committed to Oklahoma.
2021 outlook: Having made a college decision, Helms will turn his attention to helping Bellevue West win a 2021 state title. The Thunderbirds fell short in the state semifinal last year in a shocking loss to Kearney and likely have, on paper, the best team in the state this year. Helms said his coach, Michael Huffman, went one step further, telling players this West squad is the best ever on paper. “I have one goal, and it’s personal and it’s for the team — win the state championship,” Helms said. “That’s my main goal, the rest of the team’s main goal, to hold that trophy up.”
College plans: Helms is headed to OU, a school that has a reputation for developing tight ends and, more importantly, finding five-star quarterbacks who can throw to those tight ends. Helms was a little lukewarm on the Sooners initially because other teams, like North Carolina and Arizona State, were recruiting him harder, but a conversation with Huffman set him straight. Oklahoma doesn’t have to sell itself; it picks the players it wants. “They win football games,” Helms said when he committed. “That’s what we do here at Bellevue West, too. The main thing is I just want to carry that winning mentality over to the next level."
40 time: 4.56 seconds
Famous performer you like the most: “Kobe Bryant. The way he attacked the game, the mindset he had, he was going to outwork anyone and everyone he was competing against, and that’s what I strive to do. I want to be the hardest worker in the room, so I definitely model my game after Kobe."
Best performance you’ve ever given: “State championship my sophomore year, when we won it all. For some people that would be a strange game to pick because I didn’t really play that much — it was snowy, we couldn’t really throw the ball — but I got in there, blocked when I could. Nobody’s worried about stats. I was just happy I got to be a part of something that special, even if I didn’t get all the glory."
On OU going to the sport’s premier league, the SEC: “I’m so excited for that. It’ll open so many doors for the program in the future. We’ve got to get through this year; we’ll be in the Big 12 for I’ll say, at least one or two more years, but I was excited.”
Bellevue West coach Michael Huffman: “Our best players are our hardest workers and I don’t know if he has a rival when it comes to that. He’s one of the first ones here, last ones to leave, he puts in tons of time in the offseason. Our mantra this year is 25/8. Everybody’s like 'you gotta be 24/7.’ He came up with 25/8, because there’s not enough time in the day. You’ve got to do extra and he knows that."
Compiled by Sam McKewon
Omaha Burke • Linebacker • 6-2, 200 pounds
2020 in review: In a controversial decision, Omaha Public Schools, citing safety concerns, canceled the fall sports season amid a rise in COVID-19 cases. Burke’s football team — one of the best in the state — wasn’t allowed to play. Jackson wasn’t, either. The decision devastated him — he thought the Bulldogs would have played for the state title. Enough on that, even now, it’s hard to talk about. “There isn’t anything we can do about it,” said the son of star athletes. His dad Bobby played linebacker at Illinois and for the Green Bay Packers. Devon was able to run track for Burke, and on his home track, he won the Class A 100 and 200 meters. Jackson’s speed makes him a coveted prospect for schools all over the country. No snow for Jackson, though, who’d rather play in the Pac-12, ACC or SEC.
2021 outlook: Jackson hopes to shake off the rust of a season spent on the sideline by leading a still-seasoned Burke team back to the playoffs. This year, Jackson will play just about everywhere on defense — though middle linebacker may be the spot where he “starts” — and he’ll do some work on offense, too, as a receiver. That makes sense, since Jackson has the kind of speed to outrun a lot of cornerbacks in the Metro.
College plans: Jackson is the only member of the Super Six who hasn’t committed to a school yet. Arizona State was a big favorite, but is being investigated for NCAA recruiting violations. Jackson is still interested in the Sun Devils, Miami and more, but may soon have an Oregon offer to consider after some of the Duck defensive coaches asked former Omaha Westside cornerback Avante Dickerson, who plays in Eugene, about Jackson.
40 time: 4.5 seconds
Famous performer you like the most: "I watch certain players that I think I can simulate. Isaiah Simmons is actually one of my favorite players. He’s a young guy in the league, but I feel like I can relate to his body type, that hybrid player. In the NFL draft, they asked what position he played, and he said ‘I play defense.’ I feel like that. I’m tall enough to play safety, fast enough, but I’m going to hit you like a linebacker.”
Best performance you’ve ever given: "Best performance you’ve ever given: The best game I’ve had so far was in 2019 against Central. I was all over the field and hard to block. It was a home game. I knew the quarterback, Abraham Hoskins, and I hit him, and he flipped and everybody was like, ‘Oh my God!’ I think that’s when it came out that this is who I can be."
Omaha Burke coach Paul Limongi: “He gets better each day and he’s really excited to have the type of year he can. Very instinctive, explosive, fast, hard hitter, great speed, good hips and he has the ability to find where the football is. And when he gets there, he gets there with an impact. He loves to be a physical football player. He has the size, the speed and strength and the explosiveness to kind of do whatever he wants to do.”
Compiled by Sam McKewon
Bellevue West • Tight end • 6-6, 235 pounds
2020 in review: Arguably the best tight end in Bellevue West history — his teammate Kaden Helms is the primary competition — Riley-Ducker was a do-it-all guy in 2020 for the Thunderbirds, catching 23 passes for 310 yards and seven touchdowns. Riley-Ducker is a terrific blocker, too, and has spent the past two seasons plowing open holes for backs like Jevyon Ducker and LJ Richardson. Riley-Ducker’s physicality caught the attention of programs all over the country, especially those running a pro-style offense. If the pundits thought Riley-Ducker might head to Iowa, he surprised them by picking Auburn.
2021 outlook: Riley-Ducker remembers the feeling he had as a sophomore, when he won a state title blocking for his brother in a snowy game. He remembers, too, the state semifinal lost to Kearney. Riley-Ducker didn’t play in that game because of an injury. “We want that state championship but the big thing we’re preaching this year is 'week by week,’ because I think last year we got content, and we lived off previous teams,” he said. “We didn’t work as hard collectively as previous teams. So Kaden and I, we’ve spent the offseason holding teammates accountable.” Riley-Ducker’s personal goal is to be a good leader and mentor, since the team has 26 seniors. He also says he wants to be the state's Gatorade player of the year. Bellevue West coach Michael Huffman said he learned “a lot” about how to use tight ends because of Riley-Ducker’s classic skillset, even going so far to ask Iowa State coaches about how they used their tight ends. “Micah’s made me a better coach,” Huffman said.
College plans: Riley-Ducker made a bold choice in Auburn, a program that for the past decade had been a spread offense until hiring new coach Bryan Harsin, who implemented a pro-style system with great success at Boise State. “They’ve got five guys in the room right now, and two will leave after my freshman year, and two more will leave my sophomore year,” Riley-Ducker said. “So there’s a good chance for me to get an opportunity, but I feel I’ll be developed in the right way. I believe Coach Harsin 100%. I saw all his stuff at Boise State, which is like the Alabama of (Group of Five) teams. Great offense. He runs stuff with tight ends.”
40 time: In the 4.8 to 4.9 range, but he’s also returning from a shoulder injury.
Famous performer you like the most: “Travis Kelce. The way he moves, and stuff like that. My speed isn’t there yet — it’ll get there through college — but I think I run similar to him. He’s a baller, he has flair, he smiles, he plays with a swagger. I like that.”
Best performance you’ve ever given: “Millard West my sophomore year to get to the state championship. Great game. That season was about learning my role. I wasn’t the pass option — not yet. I was out there to block, and I loved it. I was out there on the field as a sophomore, I’m out there blocking for my brother. We enjoyed that.”
Bellevue West coach Michael Huffman: “He’s extremely competitive and violent, but off the field, he’s the kid who FaceTimes my wife on Mother’s Day.”
Compiled by Sam McKewon
Omaha Central • Offensive line • 6-6, 280 pounds
2020 in review: Omaha Public Schools elected not to play football last year amid the pandemic, limiting players on Central and other OPS teams to doing what they could on their own. The decision wiped out Woods’ junior season and left him helping seventh graders in his first foray into coaching. Central went 4-5 in 2019 with Woods as a two-way lineman. “Last year was definitely boring,” Woods said. “I stayed focused and kept working – it’s all you can do.”
2021 outlook: The Eagles will be more of a mystery than most teams as they prepare for their first game action in two years. Line play and a ground-based attack figure to be their strength, with Woods heavily involved at right tackle and defensive tackle. A run in the state playoffs is Plan A, though just getting back on the field already feels like a win to those in the Central hallways. “I’m going to go out there and dominate, obviously, because that’s my mentality,” Woods said. “But I want to have fun.”
College plans: No game film from his cancelled 2020 season may have slowed Woods’ recruiting process but schools still recognized the lineman’s sizeable potential as evidenced by more than a dozen Power Five offers. The four-star prospect eventually narrowed his choices to Arizona State and Missouri before committing to the Tigers in early July. “Arizona State was college experience; Missouri was where I needed to be,” Woods said. “It just felt right.”
40 time: 5.2 or 5.3 seconds
Famous venue you’d like to perform in: “The back of Drake’s house. That’s exactly where I’d want to have a football game. Why not? It’s just lit if you had a football game back there.”
Most nerves before a performance: “My first start of freshman year. Coach said ‘Go’ because our senior wasn’t doing what he was supposed to do. I’m out there like, ‘Alright. I know the plays and what I’m supposed to do. I’m just out there and small, it felt like.’”
Famous performer you’d like to see in person: “I’m definitely going to say Ndamukong Suh. My nickname from little league was ‘Little Suh’ when I played defense.”
Best performance you’ve ever given: “I can’t tell you. I do too much to say I know what my best was. I’m not at my best. I always feel there’s room for improvement.”
Omaha Central coach Jay Landstrom: “He always knows what he’s doing and does he ever have a motor. I think he would have had an outstanding junior season and we’re looking forward to him having an all-state type of season this year. He’s somebody who’s really itching to play and excited to show what he can do.”
Compiled by Evan Bland