As Nebraska prepares for the biggest game of its young season Saturday night in prime time against No. 5 Ohio State, it is simultaneously preparing for its biggest recruiting weekend of the year.
Certainly, the Huskers have had other significant sets of visitors in recent months — seven official visitors in late June around a summer barbecue and six more two weeks ago for a night game against Northern Illinois — but this will easily be the largest group.
The Huskers are expecting somewhere in the neighborhood of 11 official visitors if all goes as planned, 10 of whom the Journal Star has confirmed. In addition, several key class of 2021 targets will be on hand unofficially. Two weeks ago, NU had more than 50 total recruits on campus. This weekend will be even bigger than that.
The anticipation has reached even those who are coming to campus to visit.
“I can’t wait for this weekend. I know the atmosphere is gonna be bananas,” four-star wide receiver Lavon Bunkley-Shelton told the Journal Star on Tuesday morning while confirming he’ll be on an official visit.
Bunkley-Shelton, listed at 6-foot and 180 pounds, plays for Junipero Serra High in Gardena, California. He’s considered the No. 57 overall player in the country and the No. 9 wide receiver by Rivals, while 247Sports pegs him at No. 224 and No. 38, respectively.
He’s got offers from more than 20 schools across the country, including Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Ohio State, Oregon, Texas and TCU.
And he’s not the only highly regarded prospect making the trip. Minnesota outside linebacker Kaden Johnson (No. 115 247Sports, No. 134 Rivals), Alabama linebacker Jackson Bratton (No. 161 247Sports), California defensive back Darion Green-Warren (No. 191 Rivals, No. 227 247Sports) and Husker verbal commit offensive tackle Turner Corcoran (No. 42 247Sports, No. 55 Rivals) all carry four-star ratings from both major recruiting services.
In addition to that group of official visitors, the Huskers are set to host inside linebacker Rodney Groce (Pleasant Grove, Alabama), offensive lineman Chandler Durham (McDonough, Georgia), defensive lineman Marquis Black (McDonough, Georgia) and athlete Ronald Delancy III (Miami), who is currently verbally committed to Louisville.
Oh, and don’t forget about the Husker quarterback for the 2020 class, Logan Smothers, who is using his official visit and making the trip with Bratton, his teammate at Muscle Shoals (Alabama) High, who is currently verbally pledged to Alabama.
“I think it is a great timing with all the official visitors we have coming in,” Husker head coach Scott Frost said Monday. “They are going to get to see a show. They get to see what Memorial Stadium in Lincoln looks like on a big gameday. I think it is good timing. I know the fans are going to turn out. Fans here are always great. They are the best in the country and we need them to be at their very best this Saturday and at (ESPN’s 'College) GameDay.'”
Nebraska was able to host 11 class of 2020 prospects over the spring and summer before the annual allotment of 56 officials reset in late July. If the Huskers host 11, they’ll be up to 17 used so far this fall and will likely be at 20 or more after hosting Northwestern for an afternoon game Oct. 5.
Using 20 as a rough guide, that’s more than a third of the Huskers’ available official visits being used over a four-week span, which makes this stretch — and this weekend, in particular — a critical one in the recruiting cycle.
“A big part of our job and the lifeline of this program is to recruit," defensive line coach Tony Tuioti said. "When you've got opportunities like this, the venue is going to be awesome. Nebraska's unique in the sense that it's always great, but just the added incentive where you've got all the extra bells and whistles that come along with this type of weekend, we've got to use that to our advantage."
Nebraska currently has 11 verbal pledges for its 2020 class, most recently adding four-star defensive back Henry Gray (Miami) after he visited officially for NU’s win over Northern Illinois.
Besides the 2020 official visitors, Nebraska's lone 2021 verbal pledge, pass-rusher RJ Sorensen (Fort Lauderdale, Florida), told the Journal Star he plans to attend the game. He'll be there with other 2021 NU targets, including outside linebackers T.J. Bollers (Tiffin, Iowa) and Travion Ford (St. Louis), offensive lineman Teddy Prochazka (Elkhorn), tight end A.J. Rollins (Omaha) and others.