Recruiting: No Downside To Playing Freshmen

As fall camp winds down and Nebraska approaches their first game against Wyoming, one of the most dominant talking points – among fans, media, and coaches – has been the expected play of freshmen across the board.

Linebackers Josh Banderas and Nathan Gerry, Defensive Tackles Maliek Collins and Kevin Maurice, and offensive weapons Adam Taylor, Terrell Newby, and Cethan Carter have all had at least some mention of potential to play.  In addition, long snapper Gabe Miller enters the 2013 season being (rightfully) handed his position.

In light of the youth movement of Nebraska, I’ve been asked how this impacts our current – and future – recruiting. There’s no one way of describing how it may affect Nebraska. As with any other recruiting pitch, different players hold different views. In the most simple of terms, I’d say playing time breaks down into these three from a coach’s pitch:

Immediate Need

The program is recruiting a player, high school or junior college, for the intention of filling an immediate need. Gabe Miller, true freshman long snapper, will be handed the position after P.J. Mangieri started 55 consecutive games (also beginning as a true freshman) and was recruited as such. Miller himself said, “They’re expecting me to come in, and I’m expecting to come in, and win the job as a true freshman.”

Regardless of position, be it running back or defensive end, the need for an immediate difference maker does arise and recruits will be pointed to this season as evidence that the staff isn’t afraid to throw them into the mix immediately.

Anticipating Need

A player being pitched this approach won’t be expected to contribute immediately. At Nebraska, the most likely situation here is that they’ll be told they can compete – and Nebraska holds true to that – but a redshirt is likely.

In 2013, Nebraska will have more competent cornerbacks than they know what to do with. Because of that, younger players likely won’t see the field this year. In 2014, however, Nebraska will have lost Ciante Evans, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Mo Seisay, and Andrew Green. Their departure will open up a number of positions on the field and that’s the exact scenario coaches would explain to a recruit in this situation.

Building Depth

In this pitch, a player is being recruited for their future (read: 1-2 years later) contributions to the program. They’re not expected to come in immediately, and there is likely at least one other player on the roster who will be above them in the depth chart even after a redshirt season. Johnny Stanton, 2013 QB commit, knew he wouldn’t be unseating fifth year senior Taylor Martinez in his first year. Rather, Stanton was told to come add competition to an already strong position where he would have the chance to compete after a redshirt year.

In any pitch the staff may be giving a recruit, it’s hard to find a negative in playing competent players immediately. Those who want to compete for a starting role immediately have the evidence they’ll be allowed to do so: Despite returning a 1,000-yard rusher, Nebraska will be giving playing time to a pair of true freshmen in Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor.

In my opinion, you’re generally going to have two types of approaches from recruits: ‘I want to play now’ versus ‘I understand if I need to wait.’ In allowing more of his youth to get on the field, Bo Pelini betters his recruiting of both.

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