Nebraska vs. Penn State football, 11.12.11 49

Nebraska offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles (right) and quarterback Taylor Martinez leave the field after a 17-14 win at Penn State in 2011.

Jeremiah Sirles winces as he thinks back to his first preseason camp at Nebraska.

It was a wonderful time in his life. Just wonderful.

"Ndamukong Suh literally tossed me around like I was a 5-year-old," Sirles recalled of his true freshman season in 2009.

I asked Sirles and fellow former Huskers Josh Banderas and Jordan Westerkamp what advice they would have for incoming freshmen who are preparing for preseason camp, which at Nebraska begins July 30.

Sirles, who started 10 games last season as an offensive lineman for the Minnesota Vikings, said he would tell them to avoid thinking they're going to shock the world.

"I would say that applies more to the (incoming) class now than when I was a freshman because the recruiting game has changed so much," he said.

I was pretty sure I knew where he was going with his spiel, and I was right.

"It's just what I see (on social media)," Sirles said. "You've got these kids posting videos saying, 'I'm coming here (to a certain school) because the coaches tell me I'm going to be the best thing since sliced bread.'"

Sirles is exaggerating. At least I think he's exaggerating.

But you get his point.

"Coaches have to tell them that stuff because if they don't, there are other schools that are telling them that kind of stuff," he said. "I think when these kids show up to camp, they're thinking, 'I'm going to rock everyone.' And it's actually an eye-opening experience."

Lamar Jackson, the heralded four-star recruit in Nebraska's 2016 scholarship class, recently told Brian Christopherson that he went home in tears after the first couple days of preseason camp last August.

Sirles, a three-star recruit in the class of 2009 who became a full-time starter in his final two seasons at NU, understands firsthand what Jackson endured.

"I was like, 'OK, I played really well in high school (in Lakewood, Colorado). I did well in the summer (at NU)…'" he said.

Then, during the second week of preseason drills, Nebraska starting guard Ricky Henry went down with an injury. The coaches asked Sirles to play guard even though he had never played there.

He remembers someone shouting "2's versus 1's!"

That meant the second-string offense was to face the No. 1 defense.

That meant Sirles would square off against Suh, who in 2008 became the first Nebraska defensive lineman to lead the team in tackles since 1973.

"There were a bunch of NFL scouts out there," Sirles said. "It was bad. He thoroughly dominated me. I was like, 'Is this the way it is?' I called my dad after that practice and said, 'I don't know if I'm cut out to play in this league.' But then as I watched Suh do the same thing to every single person over the next 12 weeks, I was like, 'Maybe I'm all right.'"

But he knew he was no longer atop the food chain. It was a harsh reality.

"You've got to earn your stripes," he said. "And these kids nowadays, it's driving me bonkers because it's carrying over into the NFL — the entitlement. It's bad. These kids are coming to school entitled, and I think it's all because the recruiting game, because of what it's turned into."

He began to see it turn within the last few years — for instance, the elaborate videos of players announcing their college decisions, adult fans interacting with prospects on Twitter, the list goes on.

It's not just occurring at Nebraska; it's at many places. The reason is social media, Sirles said.

"It's all the instant gratification," he said. "Kids are like, 'I want it on my phone now. I want to see how many 'likes' I can get when I tweet something out. I want to see how many schools react.' Blah, blah, blah.

"Think about all the stuff Ohio State and Nebraska tweet out about their fan days and this, that and the other thing. There was none of that eight years ago when I got recruited."

Thing is, I think Nebraska's recruiting operation has to be ultra-aggressive on social media in part because of NU's geographic challenges and in part because, well, it hasn't exactly been racking up conference championships lately.

"Everyone has to do it, or they're going to lose out on recruits," Sirles said.

He discusses the recent evolution of recruiting with his peers in the sport.

"We love the game of football," he said. "We love to teach the game of football. I love talking with young kids about it. And I think being a college coach would be so much fun, but I refuse to walk into a 15- or 16-year-old's house and tell him that he's the best thing in the world. But you have to do that now or else they won't come to your school. It's ridiculous. It blows my mind."

It apparently blows the mind of former Iowa State men's basketball coach Fred Hoiberg, now the coach of the Chicago Bulls, who recently said he "absolutely f---ing hated recruiting."

Banderas, a four-star linebacker in the class of 2013, said the recruiting game can create a false reality for young players.

"These kids on Twitter, everyone's loving on them and loving on them," he said. "And then you get thrown into camp, you realize football has a lot more to do with thinking — it's a mental game. You have to know plays and schemes and what the other guy is doing. It's not just go out there and play cover-four the whole game and go get the ball.

"All of a sudden, there's so much new to the game, and there's so much more at stake that the tensions get a little higher."

Westerkamp, a four-star receiver in the class of 2012, remembers the inherent tension in wanting to play right away before ultimately redshirting. Westy finished his NU career second on the all-time career receptions chart with 167.

"I was frustrated at first. I didn't understand it," Westerkamp said of sitting out as a freshman. "I was young, a bit rebellious. As time went on, I started to understand it more. I used it as motivation. I learned the playbook like the back of my hand. I studied the older guys."

Sirles also wanted to play immediately. He had big plans.

Then a big man, Suh, altered those plans.

"You just give it your best and if you're not the best, you work to become the best," Sirles said. "Give it two or even three years. There's nothing wrong with that."

Not everyone can shock the world.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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