LINCOLN, Neb. — The 2017 recruiting cycle for Nebraska might’ve been the most anticipated in years.
It began with big-name commits from the West Coast and ended with a flip of a receiver from Ohio State to the Huskers. There were the firings of two coaches to manage, and two new coaches to hit the recruiting trail, plus two de-commitments.
There was a DUI arrest of Nebraska’s best recruiter, Twitter feuds with opposing teams and disappointments on national television at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
It was a lot to handle, but we broke down the 2017 timeline into six main parts. It starts with California, and it ends with a cliffhanger that will be resolved in two days.
But first, how the whole thing began:
The ‘Calibraska’ start
Following in the footsteps of the 2016 class, which had three commits from the state, Nebraska coaches hit California hard to begin the 2017 recruiting cycle.
And it paid off almost immediately.
Nebraska jump-started its 2017 class when 3-star wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson Jr. committed on March 23 in a video on Bleacher Report, choosing Nebraska over Alabama, Ohio State and USC.
The 6-foot-1, 175-pound receiver from Calabasas, Calif., became one of Nebraska’s best recruiters on social media, helping start the “Calibraska” movement.
That only amplified when one of Johnson’s teammate at Calabasas High School, 4-star quarterback Tristan Gebbia, committed to the Huskers on April 4.
— Tristan Gebbia (@tgeb13) April 4, 2016
The Calabasas duo became recruiting machines on Twitter.
They helped drive recruiting momentum among fellow 2017 recruits in California, and helped Nebraska recruit quite a few prospects in the state, including 5-star cornerback/wide receiver and Calabasas teammate Darnay Holmes, 5-star wide receiver Joseph Lewis and 4-star wide receiver Jamire Calvin.
The early push with the commitments of Johnson and Gebbia started Nebraska’s 2017 class on the right foot and led into a huge summer of recruiting.
Friday Night Lights camp
On June 24, Nebraska hosted recruits from around the country in its first-ever Friday Night Lights camp.
Among those in attendance were Gebbia, Lewis, Johnson, 2018 4-star corner Brendan Radley-Hiles, eventual commit 4-star wide receiver Tyjon Lindsey, 4-star wide receiver commit Jaevon McQuitty, 4-star corner Jaylen Kelly-Powell and other top targets.
The event was so popular it’s still, to this day, the pinned Tweet on Mike Riley’s Twitter profile.
— Mike Riley (@Coach_Riley) June 25, 2016
The event kept the ball rolling into the season, when Nebraska hosted some of the top recruits in the country.
The arrest, and fall football visits
The same weekend that Lewis was in town visiting Nebraska for the second time in August, wide receivers coach Keith Williams was arrested on suspicion of DUI.
In pretty dramatic fashion, Riley suspended Williams for four weeks without pay and kept Williams off the recruiting trail.
When players visited the first few weeks, Williams was not allowed to speak to them while they were at the stadium.
With Williams absent, Nebraska hosted some of the country’s best recruits at the beginning of the 2016 season.
In the home opener against Fresno State on Sept. 3, Nebraska hosted 10 recruits, including the No. 1 recruit in the 2017 class, 5-star offensive lineman Foster Sarell, and the No. 1 wide receiver in the 2017 class, Donovan Peoples-Jones.
Visits by commits Gebbia, Johnson and 4-star linebacker Avery Roberts were enough to convince the three to enroll early. Nebraska also hosted Calvin and 3-star DT Damion Daniels that day.
On Sept. 17, Nebraska hosted eight recruits, including two players who ended up committing. Three-star DT Deiontae Watts and 3-star linebacker Andrew Ward visited Nebraska for the first time, and both committed in the following months. Oct. 1 was Nebraska’s final major recruiting weekend, and the Huskers hosted 5-star Lewis, 4-star receiver Isaiah Hodgins and recent Iowa de-commit Chevin Calloway.
The drought and the low point
Nebraska went on a commitment drought for nearly three months between the commitments of Watts in September and Ward on Christmas Day.
The Huskers lost on the field three times, first at Wisconsin in overtime, then blowouts at Ohio State and Iowa. That made it a little more difficult to recruit.
That came to fruition on Jan. 7, when Nebraska missed on three different targets at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Calvin committed to Oregon State, 4-star OT Chuck Filiaga committed to Michigan, and 5-star Holmes committed to UCLA.
Days later, Riley fired defensive coordinator Mark Banker.
The first swing of the pendulum back in a positive direction was the hiring of Donte Williams on Dec. 5.
Williams, who was at Arizona, is known as one of the top recruiters on the West Coast. He had recruited Greg Johnson, the No. 1 athlete in the 2017 class, to commit to Arizona, and had an in with Holmes and a ton of top talent in Los Angeles.
Riley said he hired Williams to bolster Nebraska’s recruiting effort as well as add another coach on the defensive side of the ball.
Williams would become one of Nebraska’s top recruiters over the final few weeks of the recruiting season.
The things that changed the momentum completely came on Jan. 14.
In a matter of about two hours, Nebraska announced the hiring of Bob Diaco, the 2012 Broyles Award winner and former Notre Dame defensive coordinator, to lead its defense, and 4-star prospect Tyjon Lindsey, the No. 7 wide receiver in the 2017 class, committed to the Huskers.
Lindsey, a former Ohio State commit, reinvigorated excitement in the class. He also replaced what Nebraska thought it would get with Calvin, who had committed to Oregon State days before.
Lindsey joined 4-star McQuitty and 3-star Johnson to create a solid base of wide receivers for Nebraska’s 2017 class. He also joined forces with Gebbia and Johnson on social media, and began almost immediately recruiting for Nebraska online.
Calvin began writing this chapter on Friday.
Ten days after de-committing from Oregon State, Calvin committed to Nebraska, giving the Huskers a coveted fourth receiver.
A few days later, Kurt Rafdal, a 6-foot-7, 3-star tight end and former Indiana commit, also committed to Nebraska.
Nebraska now sits at 19 commitments. With signing day approaching Wednesday, Nebraska’s class looks to add some final pieces that could make a good class great. The Huskers could add four players or more on signing day.
Regardless, with the amount of drama that has taken place over the past 15 months, it’s no wonder Nebraska’s 2017 class will finish up with even more of it.