CHICAGO — As much as wide receiver might have appeared to be a position of need for Nebraska this offseason, coach Scott Frost insists the Huskers were not searching high and low for one.
In fact, Frost multiple times during his time speaking at Big Ten Media Days here has made it clear he doesn’t expect his program to take a large number of transfers at all in the future, regardless of position.
And yet among all of the ground covered and all of the topics discussed here two weeks before preseason camp begins, transfer wide receiver Kanawai Noa stands out as one who has the potential to have a significant impact on the 2019 season.
The graduate transfer from Cal arrived on campus earlier this summer and has done nothing but impress so far.
“I’m hearing really good things about him,” Frost said. “I don’t get to watch them when they have a ball out there, but the quarterbacks are telling me that he already knows three receiver spots and is very reliable and understands how to run routes and get open. He’s a good addition to that room.”
In fact, sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez was telling Frost about the 6-foot, 200-pounder’s swift progress on the plane en route to Chicago.
Noa had a big sophomore season in 2017, catching 56 passes for 788 yards and four touchdowns for the Bears. Last fall, he missed some time to injury but finished with 30 catches for 369 and a pair of scores.
“We were keeping our eye out and weren’t necessarily going to do anything, but we were keeping an eye out for someone that could help replace the production we had with Stanley,” Frost said. “It would have taken the right guy, and I think he’s the right guy.
“He’s experienced, he’s made plays before, he’s smart enough to learn our system, fast, reliable enough to be a dependable weapon for us. The reports I’m getting back on him are really good.”
Perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise, considering the praise lavished on Noa by Cal head coach Justin Wilcox late last season.
"He's a fearless guy, he's a clutch guy," Wilcox told Bear Insider. "It seems like when you need it the most, he shows up. That is a great quality to have. That is just part of his DNA.
"We try to put him in spots where we can maybe isolate him. The defense does things to take away certain people, and there is a comfort level for the quarterback with a guy like that who's proven it on third down, or any down, he can come up with a big play. He's done that for us."
Most of the work the NU players get done over the summer is on their own and without formal instruction, but Martinez said he’s already finding a good rhythm with the Hawaii native.
“He’s really good. He’s a really smart player, which is something I can appreciate,” Martinez said. “He already knows how to play all the receiver spots and he’s real reliable. He runs solid routes, catches the ball and he’s already left an impression, a strong impression, on all of the quarterbacks.”
It’s probably a reach to think one player can replace Morgan’s production. After all, the now-Cincinnati Bengal left campus as NU’s all-time leading receiver and compiled a school-record 1,004 yards in 2018. In the past two years, he racked up 17 touchdown receptions. Not only do the Huskers need reliable targets beyond talented junior JD Spielman, they also need enough dangerous options to keep defenses from being able to focus their attention too heavily on him.
The list of possibilities is a long one, from freshmen like Wan’Dale Robinson, Demariyon Houston, Jamie Nance and Darien Chase to seniors like Mike Williams and Jaron Woodyard to options in between like Jaevon McQuitty and Andre Hunt.
Noa might be the newest to the program, but it certainly seems like he’s going to be tough to unseat.
“He’s been lining up at X, Z and R for us in 7-on, apparently,” Frost said. "… That will allow us to keep him on the field in more situations.”