Junior college players have always been a part of head coach Bo Pelini's recruiting plan. For 2015, it needs to become a crucial part.
Less than a month after arriving in Nebraska, defensive end DeAndre Wills left the program. Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald reported the decision was primarily determined by two family illnesses. Now that he's gone, the Huskers face an interesting predicament.
The depth at defensive end is now concerning. Randy Gregory and Greg McMullen are the only two players with experience at the position on the roster. But that doesn't mean it's time to panic.
Instead, it's time for Pelini to focus on recruiting JUCO players.
McKewon recently took a look at the benefits of doing so. He was clear that Pelini needs to build JUCO players into his bigger plan.
"Nebraska's done so well scouting that level of football it doesn't need to be a court of last resort," McKewon said. "It needs to be built into the plan."
McKewon even explained why JUCO players fit so well at Nebraska:
Why do junior college guys fit so snugly into NU's system? Probably because they're hungry, and thus self-starters. Examining Pelini's program over seven years, this much is clear: He and his staff tend to reject coddling. He's not a micromanager, outside of being a stickler for academics. So junior college players — who have already learned to fend for themselves in the cattle-call system of juco ball, where facilities can be sketchy and the meal plan can be fast food — come in ready to lift, ready to learn the playbook, ready to adjust to college life, arriving with a little extra maturity and humility. Those components matter to NU coaches.
The players that Pelini has recruited out of the JUCO ranks in the past fit that description exceptionally well, too. For instance, DeJon Gomes came to Nebraska from the City College of San Francisco. His two seasons with the Huskers were nothing short of impressive.
|DeJon Gomes: Stats at Nebraska (2009 and 2010)|
|Tackles||Solo||Sacks||Tackles for Loss||Pass Break Ups||Interceptions||Forced Fumbles|
Another example of success is Lavonte David. Coming from Fort Scott Community College in Kansas, David made a quick impact for the Huskers in just one season.
|Lavonte David: Stats at Nebraska (2010)|
|Tackles||Sacks||Tackles for Loss||Pass Break Ups|
What David and Gomes show is that Pelini knows how to recruit great players from junior colleges. That skill is going to have to be put to use for the 2015 class.
In addition to defensive end, the wide receiver position looks to be a concern after 2014. In the last few months, the Huskers lost Monte Harrison (recruited in the 2014 class) to Major League Baseball as well as Damore'ea Stringfellow and Spencer Tears.
When current seniors Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner graduate, the experience level is going to be a concern at wide receiver. That's what makes junior college players necessary.
Even JC Shurburtt, 247Sports' national recruiting director, believes the Huskers will find the needed players in junior college.
"There's always good JUCO wide receivers all over the place," Shurburtt said. "That's a position that's plentiful, and I certainly think the Huskers will find their share and replenish their numbers."
Pelini could replenish numbers from high school recruits, but the needs are much more immediate now. With the defensive end and wide receiver positions filled with mostly inexperienced players, junior college recruits could make an impact immediately.
With how Pelini works with junior college players, it only makes sense to put some time and energy there for the 2015 class. It may not be how Pelini envisioned things going at first, but the success of this class now relies on it.
The Huskers are now halfway through the recruiting cycle, which is another reason junior college players will be important. The 2014 season will bring out the best in those players, allowing Pelini to find just what he needs to make up some ground.
Junior college athletes are no longer nice-to-have pieces for Nebraska in 2015. At this point, they're a need-to-have. That's what makes it so crucial for Pelini and the Huskers.
All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.