As a clipping north breeze held the wind chill in the single digits on Wednesday afternoon, men in hardhats and gloves busily worked on Nebraska’s $165 million North Stadium expansion project. Though just the skeleton of one part of the massive project has been erected since ground broke last spring, there is now iron and concrete rising out of the ground where only weeks ago there was just a big hole.
Progress, day over day and week over week, is easy to measure.
Over in West Stadium, NU coach Scott Frost provided a wide-ranging update on what is not so much a construction project but rather an extensive, on-the-fly home renovation of his program.
In the past 90 days, Frost has changed out half of his full-time coaching staff and reimagined his own role in his program, said goodbye to a four-year starter at quarterback and welcomed in three new signal-callers, and oversaw the recruitment of a class that now features 28 new scholarship players, 22 of whom have committed to the program since Nov. 6.
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“It’s been a lot of changes. Some of it, I think, was needed, but some of it was not a lot of fun to do,” Frost said, referring to firing four of his offensive assistants in November. “Some of the guys who aren’t here anymore were my best friends. They’re great guys and good coaches. But I’m also really comfortable with the guys we have now and, like I said, it’s been a lot of fun for me to be in the room talking some new ideas and new ball with people.”
The staff is in place and as of Wednesday, Nebraska has 27 players in its 28-man recruiting class signed, with only transfer kicker Timmy Bleekrode still to enroll later this spring.
The heavy lift in terms of personnel is now in the rearview mirror. Frost still has to sort out the exact breakdown of work between his defensive staffers and special teams coach Bill Busch and has some off-field hires to make and the Huskers are going to continue to mine the transfer portal for help, particularly in the front lines on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
There is still, however, a long way to go and a lot to do.
Frost and the new offensive coaching staff have been on the road extensively recruiting over the past three weeks, but they’re also headlong into figuring out how all of their ideas mold into a cohesive system.
“I’m really comfortable with where it is, but we have a lot of work to do,” Frost said. “You don’t realize how many individual line calls based on looks and how many rules and how many protection changes and names of routes and everything that there are and how much our kids have to learn. It’s really like learning a language and it’s like learning sign language when we’re signaling plays in. So we’ve got to get our coaches comfortable with our terminology and married as much as we can, and then the kids are going to have to learn a few new things, too.
“That’s a process, so we won’t be completely done with that for a long time. I’m sure there will be things that come up. There’s a lot of work ahead, but I’m really comfortable with how it’s going and where we are.”
The players, meanwhile, are more than halfway through the formal winter conditioning program. On Feb. 28, they begin five weeks of spring ball that Frost hopes will be as competitive as it is wide open on offense.
“We did a lot of things right last year and a lot of little things wrong when we needed it the most,” he said. “When you’re doing little things right it becomes a habit. A lot of people talk about it, but you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training. I want guys to have those type of practices every day, weight-lifting sessions every day. The little things that are going to help us win and the attitude that’s going to help us win.
“With the numbers we have now at some of those positions, those guys better take advantage of their reps if they want to be on the field. Competition is going to help stimulate effort in practice.”
Frost hopes the competition, particularly on offense, will be as intense as it is wide open. It is conceivable that when the Huskers get on the plane to Dublin in August, the two-deep will feature at least one or perhaps more new quarterbacks, a pair of new running backs and three or more new receivers along with an entirely reworked offensive line.
It is conceivable that a starter at every one of those position groups will have joined the program from the portal somewhere between early December and early February.
“This is kind of where it’s going. There’s so many kids getting in the portal, so many changes, people jumping around and I expect that this year will kind of be the new normal going forward,” Frost said.
If returning players like linebackers Nick Henrich and Luke Reimer, safety Myles Farmer and defensive linemen Casey Rogers and Ty Robinson are the foundation of the program, then this transfer class is a major part of the remodel.
NU had not taken more than four scholarship transfers in a year under Frost, but this year has already more than doubled that and will continue to mine the portal through the spring semester.
There is more long-term change on the horizon, from navigating name, image and likeness policy to adding a full-time scouting department to keep up with the rapid rate of transfers.
“Pro baseball teams have scouting departments for high school kids and college kids, and then they have to scout each other’s teams, too,” Frost said. “There’s a lot of schools in the country to try to scout all the rosters and then you’re trying to anticipate who might jump into the portal and who might not, and it could be a full-time job, absolutely.”
Most of Frost’s focus on Wednesday, though, was about what is right in front of him. New staffers. New players. New energy. All here to breathe new life into a program that in his first four seasons has not become a winner.
The tricky thing is that new doesn’t guarantee success. It’s not as easy to measure the progress of a roster or a program as it is the progress of a building as it moves from being a hole in the ground to being a football palace.
The whirlwind has settled, though the churn never fully stops in college football, and now Frost and the Huskers will try to take all this change and channel it into progress.
Keeping up with the transfer portal. Here's who the Huskers have coming to Lincoln
Casey Thompson, QB
Chubba Purdy, QB
Trey Palmer, WR/Returner
Hunter Anthony, OL
Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda, WR
Brian Buschini, P
Timmy Bleekrode, K
Omar Brown, CB
Kevin Williams, OL
Tommy Hill, DB
Ochaun Mathis, DL
Devin Drew, DT
Kaine Williams, S
Stephon Wynn, DL
Marcus Washington, WR
Contact the writer at email@example.com or 402-473-7439. On Twitter @HuskerExtraPG.