Nebraska football recruiters are showing they are not afraid to venture into SEC territory — Georgia, specifically — to try to pull as much talent as possible from the state that has become a recruiting hotbed in the last decade-plus.
In the 2019 class, the Huskers have honed in on one program specifically: Grayson High School in Loganville, which is about 40 miles northeast of Atlanta. Of Nebraska’s 29 offers out in the class, eight have gone to Grayson players.
That is not much of a surprise to Kenyatta Watson, who knows how talented the 2019 class at Grayson is. He has coached most of them since they were 9 years old, when he created a travel team called the Gwinnett Chargers. The nucleus of that travel team now stars for Grayson. Watson, whose son Kenyatta Watson II will be a senior on the Grayson team in the fall, said the school has been a stomping ground for other programs, such as Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan and Tennessee. That is what happens when you have nine prospects in the ESPN 300.
“It’s pretty much status quo with everyone else around the country,” Watson said.
Watson is the college recruiting coordinator at Grayson, as well as the Southeast recruiting coordinator for Under Armour, serving on the Under Armour All-America Game’s selection committee. Watson said he anticipates that 16 to 18 Grayson graduates will sign with Power 5 programs and that 35 to 38 Grayson products will go on to play college football.
“This Class of 2019, the kids that we have, is without question the top class in the country,” Watson said.
The fact this team has been together for a long time helped catalyze development, Watson surmised. At the same time, though, there is no explanation why there are so many talented players at one school.
“They’re all like abnormally long, athletic-type kids,” Watson said. “And they stayed together for so long. It’s just been the recipe for success. Grayson’s always been a great program. Colleges are coming in and took notice to that. It’s just like the perfect storm.”
Nebraska’s connection to Grayson started with Huskers inside linebacker Mohamed Barry, who was in the Class of 2015.
“He’s done a really good job with coming back on home visits and talking about the University of Nebraska,” Watson said of Barry.
Nebraska identified 5-star outside linebacker Owen Pappoe first. Then, Watson’s son picked up an offer. The Watsons visited Lincoln two summers ago and “fell in love with the campus,” according to the elder Watson, who now tells everybody who will listen that the state of Nebraska should have a better reputation in the Southeast than it does.
“You think of cornfields, and that there’s nothing to do,” Watson said of Nebraska. “It’s totally not like that.”
Watson said he found himself impressed with the facilities, the education — noting how many Academic All-Americans that Nebraska produces — and just about everything else the school has to offer.
What has his attention even more now is Nebraska’s coaching staff and the aggressive manner in which they’ve been recruiting. Every member of the on-field staff made the trip to Grayson during January. During the fourth period of the school day, Grayson’s football team has a weight-training session. Nebraska coach Scott Frost and the staff made sure to check that out.
“Scott Frost was like, ‘I’ve been all around the country, in several different places, and never, ever have I seen a group of kids that look like this that are all in one class,’ ” Watson recalled.
Tight ends coach Sean Beckton, who is the area recruiter for Georgia, has assumed the lead with the school, but he is not alone. Inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud and running backs coach Ryan Held also have been around. Watson described it as a collective effort from Nebraska.
The work has its rewards. Pappoe, the nation’s top outside linebacker, will take an official visit in the fall. Allen Smith, a 3-star linebacker, also will take an official. Four-star receiver Kenyon Jackson, who is 6-foot-6, is thinking about taking an official visit, Watson said. The other Grayson prospects who have received Nebraska offers are cornerback Jalen Alexander, tackles Wanya Morris and Trente Jones, and athlete Ronald Thompkins.
The staff’s success at UCF helps, Watson said, but the key is they are recruiting to Nebraska now. It’s big-time, Big Ten football.
“This is a totally different animal at Nebraska now,” Watson said. “It ups the ante. Obviously, Nebraska is going to have your attention more than Central Florida, no disrespect to Central Florida. They’re just two totally different programs, from a historical standpoint, from tradition, everything.”
And the man in charge has a lot to do with it.
“The kids took notice of what Scott Frost has done, especially offensively,” Watson said. “He’s just a good man. He’s just a good person to talk to. He’s honest. He’s genuine. That’s what I get from the entire staff.”
Watson then offered a bold prediction. He said he sees Nebraska signing three to five players from Georgia every cycle if the staff commits the time there.
“They’re going to do damage here in Georgia,” Watson said. “At the end of the day, like I tell everybody, Georgia can only sign 23 to 25 kids every year. That’s why you see so many other schools coming and getting really good kids out of the state.”