LINCOLN — Turns out the legion of boom started before the Super Bowl. Never has a random, chilly Saturday night in February seemed so profitable for Nebraska football.
The Huskers landed one of the key, final pieces for their 2014 recruiting class — Florida defensive lineman Blake McClain — and started the 2015 class with pledges from the top prospects at running back (Kendall Bussey Jr.) and cornerback (Eric Lee Jr.).
NU coaches, fond of using the hashtag “#BOOM” on Twitter to signify a new commitment, were plenty busy on social media. So were the commits themselves.
One of them, McClain, will give the Huskers the most immediate reward for their efforts. The 6-foot-4, 285-pound three-star prospect from Jacksonville Sandalwood recently decommitted from national champion Florida State.
He kept writing “TIC” on his Twitter feed until the “BOOM BABY!!!” arrived at 7:35 p.m. McClain said he'd play tackle and end at Nebraska for position coach Rick Kaczenski.
“Coach said with my speed I could kill guards inside, and I can pass rush outside, too,” McClain said.
Just as important for NU, McClain said he wouldn't delay signing with Nebraska to take additional visits to South Carolina and Georgia Tech. The Gamecocks tried to coax McClain for a visit, but the Huskers — already in Jacksonville trying to win over wide receiver prospect Desean Blair — spent seven hours with McClain after his decommit from Florida State.
“This whole week has been hectic,” said McClain, who said NU's facilities and academic support were the best he'd seen. “Crazy. Stressful. But I'm happy with my decision. This is where I want to be.”
McClain dropped FSU when the Seminoles asked him last week to accept a grayshirt — which would have meant delaying his enrollment until January. McClain, who had originally committed to FSU defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt before Pruitt left for Georgia, declined. Sandalwood coach Adam Geis said the Seminoles are trying to find a spot for an end from Michigan — presumably Southfield, Mich., five-star Malik McDowell — and had to clear room in their class.
“After what Florida State just put him through,” Geis said, “he's not doing that to someone else.”
“Florida State has this ‘star thing’ now,” Geis said. “You gotta be a five-star. We don’t play Michigan football down here in Florida. There’s nothing better than (Class) 8A football in Florida. It’s top of the line. When Blake lines up in college, there won’t be a type of player that he hasn’t seen somewhere in high school.”
Geis said Nebraska would be getting a “heck of a steal” in McClain, who can play any spot on the defensive line. McClain’s commit, he said, will be “front-page news” in North Florida.
The 2015 prospects committed with far less drama. But familiar ties brought both to Nebraska and could pay significant dividends for the Huskers' next class.
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For Lee, a 6-foot, 180-pound four-star cornerback from Highlands Ranch (Colo.) Christian Valor High School, the decision was really more than a decade in the making. He lived in Lincoln as a grade-schooler while his dad, Eric Lee, earned his doctorate from Nebraska. Eric Jr. was childhood friends with current Husker tight end Trey Foster and 2014 offensive line pledge D.J. Foster. The family moved to the Denver area, but Eric Jr. remained a Husker fan.
“That actually played a big role in my commitment,” said Lee, who was at D.J. Foster's Lincoln Southeast basketball game as he talked to The World-Herald. “It's nice to have those relationships to fall back on.”
Lee is ranked as the No. 84 overall prospect for 2015 by Scout, and in the top 250 of the other three major recruiting services.
Though he had met new secondary Charlton Warren only a few times, he said he bonded quickly with his “disciplined” personality. Further, Lee said, he liked the Huskers' aggressive, man-to-man style of pass defense. Lee's high school position coach is former NFL safety Brian Dawkins, whose son, Brian Jr., plays at Valor.
“They like how physical I am and how I can switch up my coverages,” Lee said, who said he liked watching Alfonzo Dennard and Ciante Evans in recent years at Nebraska.
New Orleans Isidore Newman running back Bussey enjoyed watching current Husker Ameer Abdullah last year. And when he visited NU Saturday with his dad, Kendall Bussey Sr., Nebraska coaches watched Abdullah's high school highlight tape and Bussey's.
“There were a lot of similarities,” Kendall Sr. said.
“I might be a little faster,” Kendall Jr. said, chuckling.
He was certainly explosive for Isidore Newman. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the 5-foot-9, 195-pounder had 974 yards and 18 touchdowns on 79 carries and caught 31 passes for 408 yards and eight touchdowns. Bussey said he sat out 11 quarters — nearly three full games — because scores were so lopsided.
Bussey committed to Tulane well before his junior season, but flipped to Nebraska, he said, because “they told me I'm the first running back on their board and the only running back they're recruiting for the class of 2015.”
He expects NU to stick to that pledge unless injuries or an unexpected exodus of running backs occurs. So did Dad.
“Nebraska really wants him, which is nice,” Kendall Bussey, Sr. said. “They made a presentation that showed that. It’s one thing to be recruited, and another to be really wanted.”
If Bussey eventually signs one year from now, he’ll continue building a nascent pipeline to the Big Easy. Nebraska tight end Cethan Carter started as a freshman this year. Three more New Orleans natives — Glenn Irons, Jariah Tolbert and Jaevon Walton — committed from Edna Karr for the 2014 class. Kendall Bussey, Sr., said he coached his son, Carter and Irons in youth league football.
“Ages 9, 10, 11 and 12,” Bussey, Sr. said. “Kendall was my running back, Glenn was a wide receiver and Cethan was a tight end and defensive lineman. The kids are winners.”
So was Nebraska on Saturday night.