The recent addition of Donté Williams to the Husker staff has breathed new life into the recruitment of several players who have been long-time targets. It has essentially reshuffled the Husker recruiting board at cornerback. When a coach switches schools, it's common practice for him to bring along his Rolodex and look in on the kids with whom he has built a strong relationship. The reason Nebraska can be so optimistic is because several of their A-list targets whom they've been recruiting since last spring, are also some of the same targets Williams was making headway with at Arizona.
The list of names includes Darnay Holmes, Greg Johnson, Thomas Graham, Deommodore Lenoir and Elijah Blades. Thanks to previous efforts by the staff, only Blades has not taken a visit to see Lincoln at some point during their recruitment. The reason for optimism is that Donté Williams has a stronger relationship with all of these kids than anyone already at Nebraska. That isn't a slight towards anyone on staff, it's more of a reflection on Williams' recruiting prowess. The Husker staff has done an outstanding job of creating a "Calibraska" movement during this recruiting cycle. Several coaches on staff have strong ties to the Golden State, but none of them are as dug in and respected as Williams. A legit argument can be made that Donté Williams was the best recruiter in the Pac-12, and California is the recruiting life blood of that conference.
With doors being reopened with guys occupying the top of the board, one person whose recruitment is directly effected is Quran Hafiz. The three-star corner from Sandalwood High School in Jacksonville (FL) emerged as an option in late October after it seemed the staff had struck out with the aforementioned players. Hafiz had a strong senior year and the Husker staff moved quickly to try and add him to their class. Quran came out for a visit for the Minnesota game and vaulted the Huskers into his final four. Brian Stewart went in-home with Hafiz on Sunday night after the end of the season, the earliest the staff could visit a player. The plan was for Mike Riley to join Stewart the following week for his one in-home visit. Hafiz has been considered a Husker-lean since his official to Lincoln, and Riley's visit was basically intended to seal the deal.
Well, that in-home never took place. Instead, this past Tuesday Brian Stewart took a second visit to Jacksonville by himself. The reason? Mike Riley was in California with Donté Williams checking in on Thomas Graham. Hafiz reportedly felt a little slighted, although he is still considering the Huskers when he decides on December 19. It's that decision time frame that could cost him a spot in this class. I suspect Stewart told him the Huskers are awaiting word from a few other guys first.
That's recruiting. With no commitments at defensive back, two weeks ago this staff would have jumped at Hafiz joining the class. Now, he is probably the fifth or sixth option again. This sort of thing happens all the time. Schools will miss out on solid players because they are continuing to pursue guys higher on their board. The flip side of that coin is sometimes players lose a spot in a teams class because they continue to keep their options open and push back their commitment date.
The Huskers intend on adding two or possibly three players at defensive back in this class. The team graduates Nathan Gerry at safety, but lose no other scholarship players in the back end. Knowing that, the staff has swung for the fences when trying to fill these few spots. Does Riley add a sure thing in Hafiz even though it might mean he misses out on someone he covets more? Choosing to visit Graham on Tuesday may have tipped his hand. I like the idea of continuing to aim high. Nebraska is deep in the secondary and any misses could be made up with the 2018 class. The names listed above are the sort of elite level athletes that potentially help transform a defense. The sort of players that are suiting up for Alabama and Ohio State. Riley has referred to good cornerbacks as "Gold" in the past - and he is right. And they are especially valuable in Banker's scheme. I would run the risk of missing out on Hafiz - a solid prospect - if I felt I had a fighting chance at filling my class with two of the guys above.
The guy on top of everyone's wish list - coaches and fans - is Darnay Holmes. The five-star prospect is considered by some to be the nation's No. 1 cornerback recruit. Holmes and Nebraska make a lot of sense. He has visited Nebraska six times since first being offered in March of 2015, including this fall when the Huskers took on Fresno State. He has spent the past year and a half throwing bones in pictures and referring to Lincoln as his "second home." Thanks to his relationship with Donté Williams, he was also interested in Arizona, where he took four visits in the same time frame - including an official visit on September 24. He has three close friends and teammates either committed (Keyshawn Johnson Jr., Tristan Gebbia) or already on the roster (Marquel Dismuke). Nebraska can offer immediate playing time in all three phases. The staff would likely use him much the same way they did Lamar Jackson. Holmes would play all special teams units - possibly in the return game - and get looks in nickel and dime packages. With the team graduating Westerkamp, Reilly and Moore, I could see Langsdorf getting Holmes reps on offense too. Joshua Kalu and Chris Jones will be seniors, so a clear path to a starting cornerback spot is within sight in 2018 when he would be a sophomore. He has great relationships with Donté and Keith Williams, as well as Mike Riley and Brian Stewart.
The problem is that he has been trending away from Nebraska for the past six months. Most insiders believe it's a two-way race between UCLA and Ohio State with Nebraska a distant third. The staff didn't have an in-home visit with Holmes during the two week contact period, which is telling. Another road block is that Holmes has the option to be an early enrollee and has talked of announcing at the Army All-America Bowl on January 7. That would mean he would decide during the dead period and the coaches would not have gotten an official visit. Despite all of his trips to Lincoln, none of them have included his parents. They also would never have gotten an in-home with Riley and company. There has been some speculation that Holmes will push back his decision and wait to enroll in August. If he doesn't push back his announcement and give Nebraska a shot at the things I mentioned, it's hard to see him choosing Nebraska.
A more likely commitment could come from Greg Johnson. Rated by 247Sports as the nation's No. 1 "athlete", Johnson committed to Arizona back in March based on his relationship with Donté Williams. The consensus four-star prospect could play DB, WR or RB on the college level, although the plan at Arizona was for Greg to start out at corner. That is likely the plan with Nebraska, although when Johnson took his official visit to Lincoln for the Huskers' game against Purdue, the staff told him they had plans for him on both sides of the ball. Greg spent time with both Keith Williams and Brian Stewart on his visit.
Johnson, who is best friends and high school teammates with Husker receiver target Joseph Lewis, decommitted from Arizona on December 4, when Williams' defection to Nebraska became public. Williams has a strong relationship with both Johnson and Lewis, who have spoken of playing together at the college level. Donté Williams went in-home with Johnson on Wednesday evening and I would say it's safe to assume he is Nebraska's top target at defensive back. Johnson is taking an official visit to Notre Dame this weekend and also has plans to see Arizona State after the dead period lifts on January 13.
The other top target at cornerback seems to be Thomas Graham, a consensus four-star prospect who has long been considered a heavy Notre Dame lean. The in-home with Riley and Williams on Tuesday, though, was reportedly a home run and has put Nebraska squarely in the mix. While USC, UCLA, Oregon and Arizona State are also in consideration, everyone now views this as a Nebraska-vs-Notre Dame showdown. The Graham family likes Riley a lot, and also have built a good relationship with Brian Stewart. The addition of Donté Williams is what gives Nebraska new life. The family has acknowledged that his being on staff is what has Nebraska in serious contention. Graham visited Nebraska when the team took on Fresno State in September and also visited Arizona officially on October 15. The Under Armour All-American will be deciding in less than two weeks. We won't have to wait long to find out if Williams can pull off a minor miracle.
Back in spring, if there was someone the coaches felt confident would end up being a part of this class, it was Deommodore Lenoir. The consensus four-star recruit visited in April for the Red-White game and reportedly considered committing. Instead, he visited Oregon in June and committed to the Ducks sighting a strong relationship to the staff. Lenoir promptly decommitted on November 29, the same day Mark Helfrich was fired. Several schools have come calling as a result. Donté Williams visited Lenoir Wednesday afternoon and was able to get the defensive back to make plans for an official visit to Lincoln on January 20. Deommodore will be busy in January, with visits also lined up with North Carolina on the 13th and Ole Miss on the 27th. USC is believed to be the new leader for Lenoir, but perhaps Williams and a successful official visit to Lincoln can change that. Lenoir is versatile, capable of playing corner and safety. He would be a nice addition.
Most followers of Husker recruiting will recognize the name Elijah Blades. The consensus four-star defender had talked of visiting Nebraska ever since first being offered back in May. That remained the plan even after committing to Florida in June. There was an attempt to get Blades in for an official visit this fall but it never came to fruition. His interest in the Huskers has remained steady and the addition of Donté Williams only increases that. Williams, who visited Blades in-home on Thursday, was the first person to offer Elijah a scholarship back in February. Williams' efforts had Arizona mentioned by Blades as a co-leader with Florida prior to his commitment. Blades is still committed to Florida, but he continues to keep his options open. Elijah took an official visit to Utah in September, and after the dead period will visit Florida on January 13, USC on the 20th and Nebraska on the 27th.
Prior to contributing to HuskerMax, Jeremy Pernell co-founded the all football website N2FL.com. He served as the editor in chief of the college football portion of the website which focused heavily on recruitment and talent analysis, including the NFL Draft. You can email him at N2FL@hotmail.com.
Addition of Donté Williams opens back up doors at cornerback
The recent addition of Donté Williams to the Husker staff has breathed new life into the recruitment
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