Recruiting starts near home for Nebraska

Michael Decker doesn’t get into football recruiting.

Actually, he’s entrenched in it as a coveted 2015 offensive lineman prospect at Omaha (Neb.) North who committed to Nebraska two weeks ago.

But Decker doesn’t study recruiting in the manner many recruits and fans do. He knew little about the Cornhuskers’ class when he turned down Kansas State and likely deterred others from making him a priority next fall.

Decker weighed his options and determined that nothing could beat what Nebraska offered.

Refreshing, huh?

Same goes for defensive end Daishon Neal of Omaha Central, who committed within hours of Decker on April 9. Neal accepted on the day Nebraska offered, even after he had just returned from a visit to Oklahoma State with the expectation that it would offer a scholarship if he returned for camp.

“It’s always been a dream of mine,” Neal said of his pledge to the Huskers.

While their commitments might look like formalities -- Nebraska built its championship pedigree on backs of homegrown talent -- these decisions were not routine.

“A lot of people think if you’re from Nebraska, Nebraska is where you’re going to go,” Decker said. “But I wasn’t dead set on them. I was definitely going to think it through.”

Decker and Neal don’t rank as the most touted recruits in the Huskers’ 12th-ranked class. It sits second in the Big Ten to Penn State with 10 members, unprecedented results for Nebraska during this period of spring evaluation.

The group includes ESPN 300 cornerback Eric Lee and quarterback Kevin Dillman.

The Nebraskans perhaps best illustrate the changes at work for the Huskers in recruiting.

Neither was a shoo-in for coach Bo Pelini’s program. Decker’s family roots wind to Michigan and the East Coast. He was born in Indiana. Neal moved to Nebraska two years ago from Texas to pursue a football scholarship and train with his father, Abraham Hoskins Jr., a former receiver at Purdue.

Recruits are more aware of what lies outside the borders of their states than in the time Tom Osborne built his dynasty in Lincoln.

The trends are no different in Nebraska than Michigan or New Jersey.

But the Huskers, after slipping a step with prospects close to home, are making the necessary adjustments.

Nebraska aggressively pursued the pair of Omahans.

Decker pondered his offer for about three months.

Neal said he expected the Huskers to play him slowly. His dad warned Neal that Nebraska rarely offers in-state prospects. When he received a message in class on that Wednesday afternoon this month to call Nebraska assistant Barney Cotton, Neal knew the Huskers meant business.

His father thought he was joking.

Maybe Nebraska has learned from recent failures. It waited too late into the summer last year to offer defensive end Harrison Phillips of Omaha. He had already grown close to coaches at Stanford and Kansas State and committed to the Cardinal after the Huskers joined the pursuit.

Iowa has signed a handful of Nebraskans in recent years, several of whom were not offered by the Huskers. Quarterback-turned-receiver Daryle Hawkins left for Oregon, linemen Trevor Robinson and Harland Gunn for Notre Dame and Miami, respectively. All three are from Omaha.

The Huskers signed three Nebraskans in February after just one apiece in 2012 and 2013.

Has the lack of in-state blood contributed to the school’s conference-title drought? It hasn’t helped.

History shows that when Nebraska finds difference-makers from its home state, championships follow. Heisman Trophy winners Johnny Rodgers and Eric Crouch, two-time Outland Trophy winner Dave Rimington and Ahman Green, Nebraska's No. 2 all-time rusher, share Omaha as a hometown.

It’s not a simple formula, of course, and the local high schools must produce the talent for Nebraska to recruit.

But the willingness to adjust as times change, even inside the borders of its state, bodes well for Pelini.

The coach added to his recruiting staff this offseason with the hiring of former Southeast Missouri State assistant Kenny Wilhite, an ex-Nebraska defensive back, and UMass assistant Brian Crist.

They’ve helped with the acceleration of evaluations, organization and offers.

“Recruiting is speeding up,” Pelini said as spring practice concluded recently. “That’s reality.

“The more we can get out ahead of things, the deeper we can make our boards, the more stones we can turn over and make sure that we get exposed to guys a lot faster, [the better it serves Nebraska]."

Recruiting successes like Decker and Neal won’t alone take the Huskers to a conference title, but at Nebraska, there’s no better place to start.