LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska’s class of 24 prospects, unveiled on Wednesday, ranked 39th nationally and No. 7 in the Big Ten after coach Bo Pelini’s staff added a flurry of commitments on the final weekend of the recruiting season.
The Huskers lost defensive tackle Blake McClain of Jacksonville, Fla., to South Carolina on signing day and still await a letter of intent from committed receiver Robert Lockhart of Hinds (Miss.) Community College.
Pelini praised the signees, his seventh class at Nebraska.
“I feel good about them, what their potential is,” the coach said. “I can say right down the line that these kids love to play football, and they’re a good group of young men.”
Pelini answered questions for more than 40 minutes on Wednesday. Here’s a synopsis of some topics discussed:
Go south: The Huskers signed nine players from the states of Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. The trend to the southeast, Pelini said, comes as Nebraska identifies areas that work with its changing identity as a three-year member of the Big Ten.
Nebraska failed to sign a recruit from California, though not for a lack of trying. It maintained a connection from its old Big 12 days by snagging four players from Texas.
“We’ve kind of moved east,” Pelini said. “You have to acquire data, and you have to evaluate it. You’ve got to look at the facts as much as you can.”
From his observations, the image of Nebraska has shifted since leaving the Big 12.
“Some recruits perceive Nebraska as if it’s going to playing in the snow every week,” Pelini said.
Strong up front: Nebraska’s highest-rated signee, guard D.J. Foster of Lincoln (Neb.) Southeast, headlines a group of recruits on the offensive line who rank as a highlight of the class. The Huskers also signed Tanner Farmer, an Under Armour All-America Game participant out of Highland, Ill., and Nick Gates of Las Vegas Bishop Gorman.
“That’s a good group of offensive lineman,” Pelini said.
Additionally, Mick Stoltenberg of Gretna, Neb., could play offense or defense. Stoltenberg, who missed much of his senior season with a knee injury, will begin his college career at the spot that allows him to play most quickly.
Fast start: Secondary coach Charlton Warren, hired in mid-January, hit the ground running as a recruiter. His boss was impressed.
“He’s going to be a huge benefit to our staff, not only as a secondary coach but as a recruiter,” Pelini said. “He communicates very well. He works hard. He couldn’t get out (to recruit) fast enough.”
Two quarterbacks: Pelini said the addition to this class last weekend of Georgia prep QB A.J. Bush was unrelated to the status of fellow newcomer Zack Darlington, who missed all but the first game of his senior season after suffering a head injury.
The Huskers had long considered pursuing a second QB, according to the coach.
Darlington, of Apopka, Fla., joined the program in January. He is participating in Nebraska’s winter-conditioning program and is scheduled to take part in spring practice.
“I think he’ll be fine,” Pelini said of Darlington. “I wouldn’t anticipate wanting to get him hit through spring practice. That doesn’t make a lot of sense.
“He’s a winner. He’s a heck of a football player. He’s a guy who, I think, could be a really good football player for us.”
Big decision: Receiver Monte Harrison of Lee’s Summit, Mo., is considered a top prospect this spring for the Major League Baseball draft. Pelini, though, said he expects Harrison to choose football in college over professional baseball.
“We’re so excited about him,” Pelini said, “and I think he has every intention of coming here to play football and also to play (college) baseball. If that changes, who knows? I know one thing, it would have to be something pretty significant to keep him from doing it, because I know in his mind, he sees himself as a football player.”
Nebraska dealt with a similar situation in 2011, losing quarterback Bubba Starling to the Kansas City Royals. The Royals drafted Starling in the first round and signed him to a contract in August after fall practice had opened in Lincoln.
Nebraska won’t have to wait as long to learn of Harrison’s decision as the deadline to sign this year falls in July.
Talent vs. character: Pelini struck down the suggestion that Nebraska values high character in recruits over talent. He said he had heard recently of such a theory.
“That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard,” he said. “We want both, so any notion that we don’t care (about talent) . . . we want both. Anything that’s being portrayed any other way is ludicrous.”