Ross Els could find reasons a recruiting coordinator might panic, even in June.
But in the days just before another Big Red Weekend -- a weekend in which at least a dozen recruits in the 2014 class with Husker offers are expected to visit campus -- Els says those reasons don't apply to what Nebraska coaches have going on in this recruiting cycle.
"I think you start panicking when you don't have a large number (of commits) and you don't have anybody else that's interested," said Nebraska's second-year coordinator. "We're not in that situation right now."
Els will freely admit he'd like to have this class fuller than it is. "If we're going to sign in the low 20s, maybe 20 or 21 this year, I want to have 20 or 21 committed now. And obviously we don't."
As it stands, the Huskers enter Big Red Weekend with four pledges, a low figure at the moment when compared with some league counterparts.
Michigan, Ohio State, Northwestern and Penn State all have at least 10 commitments. Michigan State has eight. All five programs are currently ranked as top 25 classes, or just on the fringe, by all the major recruiting sites.
But, with Signing Day still more than seven months away, Els remains confident in the direction of this Husker class and how it will stack up when all is said and done.
"I would be worried about not having very many commitments only if we didn't have good relationships with some good players," Els said. "And we do have those kind of relationships right now. We feel really good about a number of kids that are really, really good players that just haven't held their hand up yet."
Will another hand or two go up this weekend? While waiting to see, here's more of Els' thoughts on Husker recruiting in a Q & A with Husker Extra's Brian Christopherson.
BC: I know you said you'd have 20 in this class right now if you could have them. But realistically, is there a target number of commits you want to reach by the start of the season?
Els: No. Our staff has never said you have to have that. Because I'll tell you what happens. Sometimes you start pushing or maybe backing off just because of a number. Last year, we had I think 10 committed by the season. Let's use that as a standard. If we were at six, we might start offering kids that maybe we shouldn't be offering just to get to our goal. Or if we're at 15, maybe we start getting really, really picky and we turn down some kids that we probably should have taken. So we're not going to set a number. We'll worry about that number on Signing Day, and up until that point, we're going to keep going with the best players we can possibly get.
BC: You've had some really strong peer recruiters in recent classes. I think of Josh Banderas and Michael Rose. How important is it to not just gain commits, but also pick up that guy or two who other recruits might rally behind?
Els: It is big because a kid wants to go to where he feels comfortable family-wise. It helps if he keeps hearing from guys like the two guys you mentioned -- and Johnny Stanton out in California was another one -- that just keep talking to these guys, going, "Hey, I wanna play with you. You're a great player. I'm a great player. Let's go do this thing together."
So it is important to get those committed kids to get on the phone and do it. And they want to do that because that's going to make their team better. We certainly can't direct it. We can't say, "Hey, call these guys." But with all the recruiting services out there, they read that, they know who we're after.
BC: You know fans and media are always comparing how you're stacking up with other league schools. How closely does the staff follow what other programs in the Big Ten are doing in recruiting?
Els: Well, you follow it because you are usually recruiting the same kids. ... So you have a pretty good idea of the numbers they are at. Again, if you want to compare the number of commits that some schools have to us right now and say that they're doing a better job than us, maybe that is the case. But let's evaluate it more, not only on Signing Day, but two or three years after Signing Day, to see which of these kids stuck around and which of these kids ended up playing.
BC: How do you think the staff has communicated with some of the more notable in-state recruiting prospects?
Els: Good. Good. And I think the camp that we'll have all week is good. We'll have probably more kids in this camp from the state of Nebraska that are possible scholarship kids or really good walk-on kids. This is only my third camp here and I'd say that is definitely true that as we went through the registration list, there was a larger number of guys that we wanted to make sure we got a really, really close eye on. So I'm pleased at what's happening with the guys in-state.
BC: You know there's often a strong sentiment from Nebraskans about having in-state representation in a class whenever possible. It's also understood you don't want to just give out scholarships for sentimental reasons. Does the staff view in-state kids any differently than the out-of-state kids you are evaluating?
Els: If they're equal, we're taking the in-state kid first. Plus, remember, you're talking to a guy who played high school ball in this state. So I understand exactly what the people around the state of Nebraska feel. I also understand that from a recruit's standpoint where that disappointment comes in where you don't receive a scholarship. And certainly I wasn't going to receive a scholarship. I wasn't that type of player. But in the back of your head, you're going, "Gosh, I wish Nebraska would have (offered)." So I understand what's going on there.
But if it's even, we're going to take the Nebraska kid. But we're also not going to sacrifice the caliber of ball that we play just to take a kid because he fits into a certain category.
BC: The 500-mile radius is a phrase that has kind of become part of the Husker recruiting lexicon. What's your evaluation of the footprint you're making within that circle right now?
Els: I think pretty good. When a kid goes from a fairly local area goes to another school, we don't like that. We feel like if you start getting out a couple hundred miles away from Nebraska, that's still the state of Nebraska to us. We still should be the dominant program, and we feel we should be able to get every kid from that area. Does that happen all the time? No. Just like Florida doesn't get every Florida kid. ... Some kids will leave home, but we definitely want to stay as local as we possibly can.
BC: There are already three games on the schedule this year (UCLA, Illinois and Iowa) with 11 a.m. kickoffs. How annoying is that in terms of recruiting?
Els: "I don't like it, but I'm not getting a good voice. From a recruiting standpoint, it's hard. A kid plays on Friday night, doesn't get out until Saturday morning, and then can't get in here until kickoff. But hey, I think from a TV standpoint, it's worth it. As much as we can get on a national TV network, the better. Because then kids all over the country will see us. So we'll play whenever. But from a recruiting standpoint, yeah, an evening game works a lot better with our schedule."
BC: If you could make one change to the recruiting calendar, what would it be?
Els: I think it would be to allow official visits in the month of June. A majority of the kids in the Big Ten will have made their decisions about where they're going before schools are allowed to do official visits. So therefore, you need to get kids on campus before the school can pay for it. And for schools that don't have a great population like us, it's a little bit of a disadvantage.
So if there was one rule, it's to let us bring kids in in June. Let us bring at least one parent or one adult with him so we can get a more mature person helping on the decision, and not just an 18-year-old kid deciding the biggest decision of his life.
It would also take away a lot of the pressure from the high school football programs. I grew up with my dad coaching at Northeast, and even though the recruiting wasn't as big back then, I understand what his thought would be. If one of his best players had to get up early Saturday morning after playing a late Friday night game, get on a plane, fly halfway around the country, go spend a weekend with the team, get back Sunday evening, then get up Monday and go to school, when's a kid going to do homework? When's a kid going to recover from that game? So I think the high schools would be definitely in favor of it also.