LINCOLN — Will Nebraska’s 2011 jump to the Big Ten hurt NU recruiting in Texas?
No, says Drew Svoboda.
And Svoboda is in a position to know.
The Nebraska native is the coach at Klein Collins High School, a 5-A power just northwest of Houston — the center of perhaps the nation’s most concentrated pool of prep football talent. Svoboda coaches linebacker David Santos, the latest incoming senior to accept an NU scholarship offer — and notably, the first Texan to jump on board since NU announced its departure from the Big 12 in June.
The conference switch was largely lauded, though some wondered if it might limit Nebraska’s visibility in Texas. The Huskers will no longer travel south for league games or appear on regional TV programming around Dallas or Houston.
No big deal, according to Svoboda.
“Remember, this is a pretty big state,” the coach said. “It takes me 10 hours to get to Lubbock. I can get to Iowa in 10 hours. I don’t think it’s a selling point for a Texas kid that if you go to Nebraska (as a Big 12 school), you’re going to play maybe two out of 13 games in your home state.
“People are going to make an issue out of this, but that’s all it is — something the media wants to create.”
The current NU roster includes 26 players from Texas high schools.
Svoboda was born and spent nearly 12 years in Fremont, Neb. Most of his extended family remains around Omaha, Lincoln and Columbus.
He’s also an important ally for NU smack in the middle of a recruiting hotbed.
The 33-year-old coach, entering his third season at Klein Collins, guided the school to a 12-1 finish last fall and a semifinal berth in the big-school playoffs. For it, the Houston Texans named him the 5-A coach of the year.
He’s 18-4 in two seasons after the school won just five of 30 games before his arrival in 2008.
And he knows all about the Huskers.
“Being a high school coach in my position with 80 to 90 college assistants coming through here every spring, it’s kind of hard to still be a fan,” Svoboda said. “But my role in recruiting is to share information with my players. I don’t feel like I ever want to sway somebody. They’re the ones who have to play there.”
That said, Svoboda discussed the Nebraska lifestyle with Santos, who visited Lincoln with his family last month before reaching a decision. Santos had offers from Arkansas, Kansas and Utah, among others, but Svoboda said he thought that the linebacker would fall for the Huskers.
“It fits his personality,” the coach said.
Again, he speaks from experience.
Svoboda walked on at Nebraska in 1995 out of Tomball, Texas. He filled the role of a grayshirt before such a practice was common, sitting out that fall with the intention of starting work in the spring of 1996 as a true freshman.
Instead, he transferred near home to Division I-AA Stephen F. Austin and started at fullback for three years. But Svoboda recalls his semester in Lincoln fondly.
Svoboda’s coaching influences, understandably, were formed more as a result of his time at S.F. Austin, where Auburn coach Gene Chizik, formerly of Iowa State and Texas, served as defensive coordinator. But like any blossoming football minds who spent time around Tom Osborne in his prime, Svoboda learned from the former NU coach.
“I’m pretty well schooled in what Nebraska football is all about and the importance of football in that state,” he said. “It’s what I communicated to David, and I think David figured it out in a hurry.”
Svoboda describes Santos as “a fine young man.” He’s the 13th pledge for the NU class of 2011, which includes three Texans among a group that will hold a spot in Nebraska history as the first batch of true freshmen in the Big Ten era.
“He’s not a big talker,” Svoboda said, “but he’s really able to flip the switch. When he steps on that football field, he’s going to step it up to a whole new level.”
While discussing the Huskers, Svoboda mentioned that he coached another player last year whose name might resound within Nebraska: JaMichael Rozier, the son of Husker Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier.
The younger Rozier rushed for some 1,700 yards at Klein Collins last year but picked a scholarship from Prairie View A&M over NU’s walk-on offer.