LINCOLN — The commitment of Joe Keels, Nebraska’s latest star junior-college defensive prospect, was sealed over a meal.
Keels’ mom, Reynell, hosted Husker coaches Bo Pelini and Rick Kaczenski on Sunday night in Kenosha, Wis. Keels — a 6-foot-4, 275-pound end — was still pledged to Wisconsin at the time and busy with studies at Highland (Kan.) Community College. Pelini and Kaczenski flew in a private plane through a snowstorm, Keels said, to see his family. They had to wait for clearance to land at Kenosha Regional Airport.
“Family is everything to me, so for the Nebraska coaches to do that meant a lot to me,” said Keels, a high three-star/low four-star prospect. “My mom liked the coaches a lot, as much as I did. She thought (Nebraska) was the place for me.”
And NU’s promising defensive front seven got another key junior college piece Tuesday.
Keels is the 18th commit of NU’s 2014 class, the fourth junior college commit and the second junior college defensive line commit. The first, Dodge City (Kan.) defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales, is the No. 5 overall juco prospect according to 247 Sports. Keels is No. 16.
The Badgers landed Keels in October, but he still took an official visit to Lincoln for NU’s 41-28 loss to Michigan State. His coach at Highland, former Husker walk-on Ryan Held, knew Keels would like Nebraska. Keels did, too — especially the plans Husker coaches shared with him.
“They wanted a guy who can come in and grab somebody’s facemask and get their head in the game, and that’s me,” Keels said. “I’m easy to get along with, but on the field, I don’t care if the score’s 52-0, we’re playing until there are zeros on the clock.”
Keels, who had offers from Ohio State, Alabama, West Virginia and Oregon, among others, said he’ll play at end but is “very versatile” and will play with “good technique.” He’s talked with Clinkscales and current Husker defensive end Randy Gregory. Keels plans to enroll at NU in January and compete in spring drills so long as he can find and complete an online algebra class that ends before second semester begins in Lincoln on Jan. 9. He’s scheduled to sign with NU on Dec. 18 if he can find the class; otherwise, he’ll arrive in May.
Other Huskers scheduled to enroll early are Apopka (Fla.) high school quarterback Zack Darlington and East Mississippi Community College cornerback Byerson Cockrell.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Cockrell, whose team won the junior college national title Sunday by beating Georgia Military College, said in a phone interview that Nebraska will initially work him at cornerback and nickel. Cockrell’s skillset recalls that of fifth-year senior corner Stanley Jean-Baptiste.
Keels said he’s working on recruiting another junior college defensive back, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community cornerback Josh Keys, who visited NU the same weekend Keels did.
“I’m gonna call him, text him, tell him to get on board,” Keels said. Keys has offers from Arkansas, Ole Miss, Georgia and Auburn, among other schools.
The Huskers lost commit Chance Waz just days after he pledged to NU. A safety from Pflugerville, Texas, Waz received an offer to Baylor and committed Tuesday. An offer to Texas has also been rumored — but he appears ready to stay in-state. Waz’s high school teammate, cornerback Trai Mosley, remains firm with the Huskers.