Fourteen words may very well have changed the trajectory of Nebraska football. "I told you I was going to make my own path. Go Big Red.” Now’s the time to buy all of the Big Red stock you can.
No, the Huskers aren’t going to best Alabama in next season’s College Football Playoff. But thanks to the words of their newest commit, four-star wide receiver and legacy Keyshawn Johnson Jr., they’re inching closer back towards national relevancy.
One player can’t win a game or even make a recruiting class. However, all it takes is rolling a snowball the size of your palm downhill to start something big. That’s what Mike Riley has done in securing the prized recruit out of Calabasas, Calif.
Riley and his staff were shooting offers out to four- and five-stars left and right early in this cycle. They’re cultivating the relationships that will ultimately result in commitments.
If not for Riley, All-Everything five-star Darnay Holmes may already have chosen a future in Palo Alto with the Stanford Cardinal. He still may, but the point is that there is a legitimate chance he may wear a different shade of red.
The Huskers are hot on the trail of another legacy in Calabasas High’s quarterback and Johnson’s teammate Tristan Gebbia. It’s down to the Ole Miss Rebels, where his father played, and Nebraska.
Why is this happening? Riley. For all of the crap he’s dealt with following a disastrous 6-7 first year as the Huskers’ head man, there has to be something awfully tantalizing for this elite talent to want in. Keyshawn Johnson Sr. couldn’t have put it any better.
Yes, it’s that simple. No pixie dust, no sleepovers, nothing that’ll make headlines. Just honest relationship building and trust that boys will become men on and off the gridiron. What will make headlines is when players like Johnson commit to Riley’s cause – and there will be more.
With the talent infusion Riley will be bringing in, it would take a monumental effort to fail and he is simply putting in too much hard work to do that. If there were an area where he and his staff were cutting corners, that would be a lie or at best blowing smoke. Despite what some Nebraska fans may think of last season’s outcome, Riley does know what he’s doing.
Don’t take one high-profile commitment as proof. Let them build up. If that’s not enough to allow the cynicism let up a bit, that’s fine. Many fans prefer to let the win and loss columns do the talking. That’s totally understandable.
However, to think that Riley is merely stockpiling talent before he’s escorted out following poor performances a la Bill Callahan before Scott Frost is hurriedly given the keys to the Big Red castle is misguided.
He’s an excellent judge of talent and he sees it not only in the players he coaches, but in the program he represents. Despite fans’ disdain and harsh words for him last year, he agrees that he, his coaching staff and his players must do better, that they must expect better of themselves and perform to a higher standard.
He wants what all Nebraska fans want, but there’s still a disconnection because some think he’s just some schmuck from Corvallis who can’t make it in the big time.
There will be a day, maybe a year from now, maybe a few when people will be able to point to Johnson’s commitment and realize something. It didn’t mean Nebraska was “back,” but it gave notice that the Huskers were anything but dead all thanks to Riley.