Michigan State vs. Nebraska, 11.17

Nebraska running backs coach Ryan Held greets his fellow coaches during warm-ups prior to the Michigan State game on Nov. 17.

Let’s take a drive through some random pockets of the United States with co-pilot and navigator Ryan Held.

1. If you follow Nebraska football closely, particularly on social media, you’re probably aware of Held’s recruiting exploits. The Husker running backs coach crisscrosses the country in search of talent and isn’t afraid to venture to some very small dots on the map to get his guys.

By his Twitter profile, you’d think Held is never happier than when he’s on the road across Kansas — not exactly the end destination to most family summer road trips — or in some other back-road locale. Asked if he really likes it as much as he’d have us all believe, Held more than doubled down. Of course, he mentioned that recruiting is the lifeblood of any college program. You want to win? You have to have dudes.

But there’s something else to it, too.

“It’s peaceful when you drive across Kansas or when I’m in Mississippi and I’m driving through the woods and these trees are (huge) and you’re just like, ‘Man, where am I?'” he told the Journal Star last month. “And I love semi-trucks. You’ll see in a farm like an old semi truck that’s parked off in the field. I just look around and just get lost sometimes.”

Think about visiting Matthew Anderson in Leesville, Louisiana, one day, or Mike Williams at East Mississippi Community College last year. Then, a day or two later, you’re checking in on Rahmir Johnson, who goes to school in New Jersey and lives in the hubbub of Brooklyn.

There’s no time to tour Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty or to stop off in New Orleans for a couple of days, but man, you see a lot of neighborhoods and random country roads and city streets.

“That I’d never see ever unless I do this,” said Held, a Kansas City native. “You’re in New York and you’re sitting in Brooklyn traffic and you’re not moving and you look up and you see these old buildings and you see the exit for Yankee Stadium and you think, goll-ee, this is what these people do every day. I have no idea how they do it.”

2. It would be easy to say the same about Held, whose first son with his wife Katie was born in late October. The recruiting grind isn’t always private jets and helicopters and flashy entrances.

Sometimes you’ve got to do laundry.

Such was the case for Held, who found himself on the road for two straight weeks, including some junior college bowl games in Kansas and the national title game between Garden City (Kan.) Community College and EMCC.

“Once at the hotel and then when I was in Kansas," he said. "And I had to find a spot, so I’m in there, popping quarters in there, recruiting.”

A piece of advice from a laundromat expert:

“The thing is, those dryers, you’ve got to be careful because they’ll burn your clothes up,” Held said. “I had to put it on low. I’ve got these nice (team-issued) sweatshirts and I don’t want to burn them up and shrink them.”

3. What would it take for Held to miss a recruiting visit with a prospect?

Well, he almost found out in Mississippi.

Held is a self-professed lover of ’80s music and hair bands and, even though he’s not the type of guy to spend a free afternoon in the garage working on a reclamation project, he does have a soft spot for a big engine block.

"I love muscle cars,” he said. “I’m not a car guy, but I’m going to get like a black, 1970 Chevy Nova and drive around Katie and I with (cassette) tapes and listening to Winger and Cinderella."

When he decides to pull the trigger, he knows where to look, too. There’s a field somewhere out there in the sticks in Mississippi that has an outrageous collection.

“I was driving and I looked over and it was like the Holy Grail,” he said. “It was a farm lot and it had probably 100 classic cars in it. Old. I wanted to say, ‘Forget recruiting.’ One of the few times I was like, ‘I might miss this stop just to go over.’

“Or I’ll look up online like barn finds and stuff. Like someone had this mustang sitting in a barn for 100 years or something like that.”

Held, of course, did not miss the recruiting visit. The Nova and the Winger will have to wait a bit longer.

4. Shifting gears a bit — pun firmly intended — a familiar face is set to play indoor football in Nebraska this year.

Former Husker quarterback Tommy Armstrong has agreed to play for the Nebraska Danger, a Grand Island team in the Indoor Football League, the team announced Wednesday night.

Armstrong threw for 8,871 yards and 67 touchdowns and rushed for 1,819 and 23 more scores in his NU career from 2013-16, then briefly appeared in preaseason camp with the Minnesota Vikings before being waived.

He had previously agreed to play for Salt Lake City’s Alliance for American Football team but isn’t currently on the roster there. Both leagues play in the spring. On the Salt Lake roster: former Huskers Kenny Bell, Josh Banderas, Tyler Hoppes, Terrell Newby and De’Mornay Pierson-El.

The Danger opens its season at home Feb. 23.

5. Naturally, much of the recruiting brainpower recently has been centered on the 2019 class. If we peek ahead just a bit to 2020, several themes become clear. One of them is the talent — particularly in the trenches — present in the region.

All of the following prospects have four-star rankings by either Rivals, 247Sports or both and are in a state that borders Nebraska:

Offensive lineman Turner Corcoran (Lawrence, Kansas), defensive lineman Nash Hutmacher (Chamberlain, South Dakota), offensive lineman Andrew Gentry (Littleton, Colorado), offensive lineman Reece Atteberry (Aurora, Colorado), defensive tackle Aiden Keanaaina (Denver) and defensive lineman Kevon Billingsley (St. Louis). The Huskers also already have offers out to three-star offensive linemen Tyler Miller (Jefferson, Iowa), who recently verbally committed to Iowa State, Roger Rosengarten (Highlands Ranch, Colorado) and Carson Lee (Greenwood Village, Colorado).

Plenty of opportunity to make some hay in the trenches close to home in 2020.

6. Wandale Robinson is in San Antonio for Saturday’s All-American Bowl with fellow NU signees Ty Robinson and Bryce Benhart, key target Noa Pola-Gates and many of the most heralded high school seniors in the nation.

Robinson posted this to Twitter this week:

I think Husker fans are going to like this guy.

Contact the writer at pgabriel@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. On Twitter @HuskerExtraPG.


Sports writer

Parker joined the Journal Star as the University of Nebraska football beat writer in August 2017. He previously covered Montana State athletics for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 2012.

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