Nebraska coaching staff closing hard on prospects with signing day around the corner

If coffee is for closers, then brew a pot for the Nebraska coaching staff.

Scott Frost and his assistants have had nary a spare minute since taking over in early December. First priority was finishing the early signing period strong, then bouncing between Orlando and Lincoln to prepare their UCF team for the Peach Bowl. Since that New Year’s Day victory over Auburn that completed a 13-0 season, it’s been back to recruiting.

In January, the Huskers sent out at least 123 scholarship offers/re-offers to 2019 and 2020 prospects as they lay a foundation for future classes.

Along the way, Nebraska has been efficient working on the remaining 2018 cycle. Of the 25 official visitors under Frost, 14 are now Huskers.

This counts Colorado defensive end signee Tate Wildeman, who had been a longtime commit previously, and Florida wideout Dominick Watt, who pledged before his Jan. 26 trip. Five who toured the campus have chosen to go elsewhere.

Six other official visitors remain publicly undecided, and half of them have set announcement dates. Four-star cornerback Taiyon Palmer (Lawrenceville, Georgia) and three-star corner Cam Taylor (Montgomery, Alabama) will choose on national signing day Wednesday while three-star quarterback/athlete Matthew Tago (Lancaster, California) declares his intentions Saturday.

The other three — three-star offensive guard Jarrett Bell (Norco, California), four-star linebacker Javontae Jean-Baptiste (Oradell, New Jersey) and defensive end Caleb Tannor (Lithonia, Georgia) — could commit at any time. All were Jan. 12 visitors and have seen their stocks skyrocket with new offers in recent weeks.

Another player on commit watch is Jalan Robinson, a 6-foot-5, 296-pound offensive tackle from Lawrence (Kansas) Free State who took an unofficial visit to Nebraska on Wednesday and Thursday and will follow with an official to Mississippi State this weekend. He received offers from both schools — his first at the Power Five level — Monday.

With Nebraska’s class sitting at 20 known pledges/signees, the school will welcome in five official visitors this weekend confirmed by The World-Herald and recruiting reports. Here’s a look at each player. Note that visitor lists can and often do change at the last minute.

Maurice Washington, 6-1, 190, RB, Cedar Hill (Texas) Trinity Christian: If there were any doubt the do-everything back was the top remaining player on Nebraska’s board, that went away when Frost and six assistants visited his Dallas-area school earlier this week. Washington went under the radar after sitting out his junior season in California for his perceived “athletically motivated” transfer, but busted out last fall with 1,835 yards from scrimmage (1,253 rushing and 582 receiving) with 24 total touchdowns. His profile soared further in early January after landing MVP honors at the Under Armour All-American game, when he scored three times and piled up 159 all-purpose yards on national television. The four-star prospect by 247Sports and ESPN was originally scheduled to take his official to Nebraska on Jan. 12, but Nebraska wanted to first firm up his academic situation.

He officially visited Arizona State two weeks ago and also has offers from the likes of Clemson, Ohio State and Ole Miss.

“He’s a kid that has a huge, huge gift,” Trinity Christian associate head coach Sean Riley told The World-Herald last month. “I think he’s going to be able to play on a major stage and that gift is going to be seen, and he’s obviously going to give God the glory in that process. The biggest thing is wherever Maurice Washington decides to go to school and wherever he gets his degree, that school’s going to know his name for a long time.”

Otito Ogbonnia, 6-4, 300, DT, Katy (Texas) Taylor: Nebraska got in late with a Jan. 4 offer but will get the last crack at the three-star recruit, who will choose between the Huskers, Texas Tech, Tennessee, Ole Miss, UCLA and Notre Dame on Wednesday. The man his friends call “Tito” is also among the best prep track throwers in the shot put and discus — a positive for Nebraska given Frost himself is a former thrower and current Husker defensive linemen and twins Khalil and Carlos Davis throw for the track team now. If York’s Masry Mapieu isn’t able to sign for academic reasons as has been a reported possibility, the muscular Ogbonnia represents NU’s last chance at signing an interior D-lineman in this class.

Moving across Taylor’s line last fall, Ogbonnia netted 61 tackles (10 for loss) and nine QB hurries in 10 games.

“There’s a premium on those guys, so he might have been under the radar early, but the more people watched his film and coaches changed schools, they jumped on him,” Taylor defensive coordinator J Jensen said. “And there’s a premium on good kids with high GPAs that are football players like he is. He’s the total package of a student-athlete.”

Willie Canty, 6-6, 290, OL, Belle Glade (Florida) Glades Central: Nebraska wants an offensive tackle, and he was the first the program offered in late January before follow-ups to Robinson and Bobby Lawrence (St. Joseph, Missouri). His high school coach, Jessie Hester, told The World-Herald the three-star player according to 247 and Rivals is down to Louisville and Nebraska. A lineman who can quickly recognize stunts and fronts and uses his athleticism to keep rushing ends in front of him, Canty will visit with his mother and make a decision in the days after.

“He has such great upside because he really didn’t attack the weight room the way that he should,” Hester said. “So once he gets introduced to the weights at a higher and more consistent level, his play is going to be extremely stellar. Once he gets his hands on a guy, he can really control them. Right now he just uses his athleticism to keep in front of people. Once he learns to use his hands and do all those other things coaches ask you to do at the point of attack, he can only get better.”

Andre Hunt, 6-0, 175, WR, Lancaster (California) Paraclete:Once committed to USC from June up until right before the early signing period in December, Hunt received an offer from Nebraska two days before Christmas and is finally ready for an in-person evaluation of the Huskers. He’s a consensus three-star receiver ranked as high as No. 60 at the position by Rivals and coming off a season in which he made 67 catches for 1,185 yards and 18 touchdowns (21 overall) in 14 games. He would be NU’s sixth receiver if juco signee Jaron Woodyard qualifies academically and provide extra insurance if Woodyard doesn’t.

“They said they like me both inside and out,” Hunt told The World-Herald this week. “They think they could use me in a lot of different ways, special teams also. It’s pretty much open. They said I can come in and compete, possibly get on the field early. But it’s pretty much all up to me — the opportunity will be there and I just have to capitalize on it if I choose to come there.”

Ken Montgomery, 6-1, 155, CB, Tampa (Florida) Hillsborough: Quick to break to the ball and physical with receivers at the line of scrimmage, Montgomery has four stars from 247 and ESPN, who respectively rank him the No. 33 and No. 31 corner nationally. Nebraska gets his final official visit over Penn State after he toured Maryland last weekend and previously at Florida Atlantic, Louisville and Oklahoma. He recorded nine tackles, three interceptions and two pass deflections in nine games last season. Montgomery has a scholarship offer total into the 40s that includes Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, USC, Wisconsin and Penn State.

Bits and pieces

» The Huskers’ 20-player 2018 recruiting class ranks as high as No. 20 (Rivals) and as low as No. 24 (ESPN), with 247 putting NU No. 23. According to the 247 composite service, Big Ten schools ahead of the Big Red are Michigan (16th with 21 players), Penn State (fourth with 23) and Ohio State (first with 24). Wisconsin is 40th with 19.

» Nebraska sent out at least six more offers Thursday — mostly to top 2019 prospects from Oregon and California — and is up to at least 29 to future-class recruits since Monday. Among the latest were a pair of Eugene (Oregon) Sheldon four-star teammates in quarterback Michael Johnson Jr. and tight end Patrick Herbert, who is the brother of Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert.