Steven M. Sipple: Pelini eyes key recruiting weekend for Huskers

2013-06-09T23:50:00Z 2013-06-15T23:17:05Z Steven M. Sipple: Pelini eyes key recruiting weekend for Huskers

Game on.

That's right, in June.

This is a significant week for the Nebraska football program. The Big Red Football School's first session for high school players begins Monday, with a second session starting Wednesday.

The Big Red Weekend, a crucial recruiting event, is Saturday. As it stands, an estimated 20 prospects will be on campus.

Don't be surprised if Nebraska's scholarship class of 2014 — currently with three commitments — grows by at least one by early next week. That's an educated guess.

Husker sixth-year head coach Bo Pelini told me last week his staff feels a sense of urgency.

"Recruiting has sped up so much," he said. "Kids are making decisions earlier now. It's just a fact: Our chances increase greatly when you get kids on campus.

"You really can't emphasize that enough. We have to try to get kids to our campus, and the earlier the better."

Nebraska's recruiting challenges in that regard are well-documented. In at least one respect, NCAA rules work against outposts like Lincoln, in that schools can't pay for a recruit's official campus visit until the fall of a high school player's senior year. The prospects traveling to Lincoln for Big Red Weekend pay their own way. That can stretch the budget for a lot of folks who are coming from substantial distances.

Some suggest there should be a period during the summer when high school seniors-to-be could get their campus visits paid for by schools -- June, perhaps. Such a rule would seem to help Nebraska and other places not surrounded by BCS-level talent.

Pelini isn't necessarily sold on the idea.

"Theoretically, I guess it makes sense," he said. "'But it depends on how it was set up. I'd just say it'd have to be set up the right way, and leave it at that for now."

As for the Big Red Weekend, this year's list of visitors is impressive. Here are five that interest me most, ranked in order of intrigue:

1. Tony James, running back, Gainesville, Fla. A four- or three-star prospect, depending on the recruiting website, the 5-foot-9, 175-pound James recently released his top five (in no certain order): Ohio State, Nebraska, Oregon, Florida and Kentucky. He says distance from home isn't a factor. What is a critical factor is that he wants to play in a fast-paced spread offense.

2. Cameron Sims, wide receiver, Monroe, La. I like that Nebraska aggressively recruits in SEC country. The 6-4, 200-pound Sims is being pursued by most of the SEC. His mind is wide open, he says. A four-star prospect, his imposing size, strength and fluid athleticism remind me of Maurice Purify. That's enough to get Nebraska fans' attention.

3. Peyton Newell, defensive lineman, Hiawatha, Kan. He recently narrowed his list of 34 scholarship offers to six finalists (in no certain order): South Carolina, Georgia, Nebraska, Southern Cal, Kansas and Kansas State. Can the Huskers close the deal on a player in their backyard? Hiawatha is a two-hour drive from Lincoln. He says he knows NU has him "high on its priority list."

4. Freedom Akinmoladun (ah-keen-moe-lah-din), tight end/defensive end, Grandview, Mo. He has a cousin on Nebraska's track team and an older brother who plays on Nebraska-Kearney's offensive line. Josh Harvey of Fox Sports Next says he wouldn't be surprised if Freedom pulls the trigger this week. Might he become commit No. 4 for NU's class of 2014?

5. Matthew Jordan, quarterback, Jackson, Ala. He intrigues me in large part because he's rated as only a two-star prospect yet Nebraska is obviously very interested. The 6-2, 190-pound Jordan told, "I would describe my style of play as pass-first but don't force anything."

Don't force anything. Music to Pelini's ears, no doubt.

Two quick strikes and I'm outta here:

*'s strong credibility as a recruiting website hasn't formed by accident. To wit: More than 100 four- and five-star prospects gathered this past weekend at Soldier Field in Chicago for the Rivals Five-Star Challenge. The athletes' trips were paid for in full. Lovie Smith spoke to the group Friday night.

The best pure prospect? Da'Shawn Hand, a defensive end from Woodbridge, Va. — the nation's top-ranked player by Rivals — was at times "unstoppable" in drills, says Sean Callahan of, who was on hand.

Word is, Hand has Michigan high on his list of possible schools. Of course he does.

* Zack Darlington of Apopka, Fla., another Husker quarterback target for the 2014 class (the top target?), made an unofficial visit to NU this past weekend. He promptly left for a mission trip to the Bahamas, telling recruiting reporters he wanted to talk things over with family before doing any extensive interviews. Gotta like the priorities.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or

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