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Huskers roll into signing day with a lot accomplished — but much left to do

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LINCOLN — Nebraska football didn’t have to wait until signing day to open most of its presents.

NU heads into Wednesday on a recruiting roll.

On Tuesday, defensive backs Jaeden Gould and DeShon Singleton committed to the 2022 class, and the Huskers got a key specialist in the transfer portal from Montana, FCS punter of the year Brian Buschini.

That put NU’s small recruiting class at 12 commits, plus four scholarship additions from the transfer portal.

The Huskers have overhauled their specialists with Buschini and Furman kicker Timmy Bleekrode, who announced his transfer to NU over the weekend. NU has also added Northern Colorado offensive lineman Kevin Williams and Arizona State defensive back Tommi Hill.

It gives Scott Frost momentum headed into the meat of transfer portal season and the back half of the recruiting cycle that ends with a second signing period in February. NU is expected to pursue more high school prospects — especially at receiver and running back — and transfers, particularly at quarterback. New offensive coordinator Mark Whipple needs to add at least one, and perhaps two passers who fit his pro-style system.

NU also hopes to add at least one more player to its 2022 class on Wednesday, when Emmett Johnson — a running back from Minneapolis — is expected to announce his decision around 3 p.m. Johnson, Minnesota's Mr. Football, rushed for 2,513 yards and 42 touchdowns in 11 games this season and gained a scholarship offer from the Huskers last weekend. Johnson would replace Ashton Hayes, who on Monday flipped from Nebraska to Cal. Salt Lake City East defensive lineman Ben Roberts will announce a decision between Nebraska and Oregon — the school to which he’s committed — on Wednesday as well.

Hayes’ decision is the sole setback in NU’s push to blend long-term developmental players with immediate transfer help in what’s become the new wave of talent acquisition. It doesn’t reflect kindly on what recruiting services think of Nebraska’s class — ranked 56th nationally and last in the Big Ten by the 247Sports composite as of Tuesday evening — but it’ll be NU’s preferred framework moving forward.

“I think for the rest of the time that college football exists, I don’t think it’s just going to be the basic 25-man recruiting class anymore,” Frost said during the season. “It’s going to be a lot of moving pieces and parts, and you’re going to have to figure those things out on the fly.”​

Buschini is a good example. Originally from Helena, Montana, he downed 30 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line while posting an impressive 43.0 net punting average. Like Bleekrode — who made 15 of 18 field goals for Furman in 2021 — Buschini will be on scholarship with three years of eligibility remaining. Their decisions address two of the biggest weaknesses on the 2021 team, as the Huskers cycled through three kickers and two punters while missing eight field goals and allowing two punt returns for touchdowns.

Nebraska also made headway in repopulating the secondary after losing three starters to the upcoming NFL draft.

On Monday the Huskers added Hill, a four-star recruit in the 2021 class who spent one year at Arizona State. Then on Tuesday they landed Singleton and Gould.

Singleton — a 6-foot-3, 200-pounder who spent one year at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, will get an immediate look at safety. Gould, a four-star prospect from New Jersey, decommitted from USC and flipped to NU.

Nebraska has more work to do in the portal — particularly at quarterback and offensive tackle, where Oklahoma State transfer Hunter Anthony is one to watch. It also hopes to add a few more high school skill players being pursued by new associate head coach Mickey Joseph, whose prolific efforts on the trail have already impressed those within the Husker football building.

Joseph, Whipple, offensive line coach Donovan Raiola and defensive coordinator Erik Chinander will participate in interviews after Frost talks about the class and his new hires around 2 p.m. It’ll be the media’s first opportunity to chat with the staff Frost hired to overhaul an offense that gained a lot of yards but didn’t score enough points in close games.

Microphones will be turned most to Whipple. The 64-year-old offensive coordinator left Pitt — where he developed Heisman Trophy finalist Kenny Pickett — for more money and a tougher assignment at Nebraska, which resides in a league full of elite defenses.

Whipple’s preference for a passing offense will prompt questions about his plans for Nebraska, which has relied on quarterback run plays more than any other Big Ten team since Frost’s arrival. That's often been to the detriment of the quarterbacks, who routinely got hurt over the last four seasons. This year, Adrian Martinez broke his jaw, turned his ankle and badly injured his throwing shoulder before entering the transfer portal two weeks ago.

Nebraska is expected to pursue a large number of transfer QBs to add to sophomore Logan Smothers, redshirt freshman Heinrich Haarberg and 2022 signee Richard Torres, who's rehabbing a knee injury. One known target — the oft-injured Myles Brennan — entered the transfer portal weeks ago but may have the option of returning to LSU, which also lost starter Max Johnson to the transfer portal.

Other notes for signing day:

» Three in-state scholarship players will sign with the Huskers: Millard South defensive athlete Gage Stenger at 7:20 a.m., Lincoln Southeast linebacker Jake Appleget at 2:30 p.m., and Columbus linebacker Ernest Hausmann at 2:45 p.m.

» After several large classes to begin the Frost era, NU expects to sign a much smaller walk-on class — perhaps no more than five. The Huskers still have a large number of freshmen and redshirt freshmen, and anyone in the program during the 2020 season gets an extra year to play football thanks to the NCAA’s COVID-related eligibility rules.

» The state enjoyed a particularly strong year for in-state talent. In addition to the three signing with Nebraska, Omaha Burke linebacker Devon Jackson will sign with Oregon, Omaha Central offensive lineman Deshawn Woods will sign with Missouri, Bellevue West tight end Kaden Helms will sign with Oklahoma and Bellevue West tight end Micah Riley-Ducker will sign with Auburn.

Other signees include Millard South linebacker Jake Gassaway (Northern Illinois), Columbus Scotus tight end Garrett Oakley (Kansas State) and three Wyoming signees in Bellevue West running back LJ Richardson, Fremont Bergan athlete Koa McIntyre and Omaha Skutt quarterback Caden Becker.


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