Nebraska dipped into the transfer portal for a second straight day, securing a power running back who could quickly contend for carries in 2021.
Former USC running back and four-star prospect Markese Stepp announced that he will join Nebraska on Tuesday, the same day Husker senior starting running back Dedrick Mills indicated he would turn his attention to the NFL. The 6-foot, 235-pound Stepp ran for 165 yards on 45 carries with three touchdowns this season. He represents a significant addition on offense after Nebraska’s busy Monday when it welcomed FCS All-America wideout Samori Touré as a graduate transfer and lost its leading receiver from last season in Wan’Dale Robinson.
Stepp, a redshirt sophomore, still has three seasons of eligibility left, though it’s not guaranteed he’d be eligible to play next fall. He does have grounds for a waiver, even if the NCAA doesn’t pass a one-time transfer rule this offseason. Aside from COVID-19 circumstances, Stepp was recruited for a more ground-based offense compared to the air-raid attack USC adopted in 2019 under coordinator Graham Harrell.
Reached by The World-Herald, Stepp said he had been asked not to do interviews after talking with two recruiting websites earlier in the day. He said he plans to report to Nebraska later this month. He told one site he had visited Lincoln on his own dime to see the campus before making a decision.
Stepp’s prep coach at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, Rick Streiff, told The World-Herald that his former player signed with USC primarily because of its running backs coach at the time, Deland McCullough, who had been a college teammate of Stepp’s father, Marcus, at Miami (Ohio). But McCullough took a similar post with the Kansas City Chiefs less than a month after Stepp signed in December 2017.
“Markese was a little bit stuck,” Streiff said. “Maybe that’s an unfair term, but he was playing in a system that just didn’t fit his skill set. He was the big back in a room full of small, fast guys. When he got a chance to play, he got downhill and did a great job.”
Highlights of Stepp show a bruising, versatile skill player. Getting around the edge against Arizona for a big run. Bulldozing ahead for goal-line touchdowns on Utah and Oregon. Fighting through a crowd of Notre Dame defenders.
Stepp has 100 career carries for 505 yards and six touchdowns along with four catches for 35 yards. In 2020, his best game was a 12-carry, 82-yard effort with a score against Arizona.
“He’s a downhill runner, he’s a big physical back,” Streiff said. “Very, very good speed — I wouldn’t say great speed — but he can run. He’s a north-south runner, so he should fit in well to traditional Nebraska downhill running.”
Injuries also plagued Stepp the past two seasons. A nagging ankle injury limited his 2019 campaign to six games, when he logged 307 yards on 48 carries. A pectoral strain was a factor in the fall, and his carries tapered off late in the year, with five coming against Washington State and one against UCLA.
Stepp’s decision means Nebraska has two spots left in its 2021 class. The Huskers have 19 high school signees, one high school commit in linebacker Wynden Ho’ohuli of Hawaii and two graduate transfers in Chris Kolarevic (Northern Iowa linebacker) and Touré (Montana receiver).
Wisconsin was also reportedly a top suitor for Stepp, who had 20-plus scholarship offers out of high school including Georgia and LSU. He was previously a Notre Dame commit as well, though he grew up also cheering for Oregon.
Stepp joins an unproven Nebraska running backs room with five scholarship running backs who are either true freshmen or redshirt freshmen in eligibility.
Streiff said Stepp “isn’t a great pass catcher” but gets downfield as quickly as anyone. And watch out if he’s fully healthy.
“When he was 100%, he was very, very difficult to tackle,” Streiff said. “And when he got out in the open, a whole lot of people didn’t catch him. On the field, he’s going to bring it.”