Ru’Quan Buckley’s 2020 started normally enough when he traveled from his home in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Lincoln for a Nebraska football junior day.
Little did he know — or anybody else, for that matter — what the year would have in store after that.
For Buckley, a talented two-way lineman at Godwin Heights High, that included frustration that the coronavirus pandemic-induced NCAA dead period kept him from seeing more schools, a senior season that got canceled and then reinstated, an original commitment date in October that got pushed back and a hard charge from a college right in his backyard.
Here’s the funny thing, though: Exactly one year after Buckley made that trip to Lincoln, he’s set to be right back in town, enrolled as a midyear freshman at Nebraska.
“I feel amazing,” Buckley told the Journal Star. “I had a lot of weight on my shoulders through my recruitment, but now that weight is lifted. That’s what it feels like. I feel good. I trust the process. I believe in the process and I believe in what (Nebraska head coach Scott) Frost is doing.”
He finalized that plan Saturday when he verbally pledged to the Huskers. He plans to sign his national letter of intent in a couple of weeks, then graduate from high school and be on campus at NU for winter conditioning by mid-January.
Nothing else about the year was normal, but this worked out pretty nicely for Buckley, who hit it off with defensive line coach Tony Tuioti, Frost and the rest of the Husker staff at the beginning of the year, and has been in consistent communication since.
“I feel like every coaching staff feels like a family and has that energy, but Nebraska, the coaching staff, they’ve got the family energy and all that,” Buckley said. “But I felt a different vibe from the environment surrounding it, compared to the environment I’m in now.”
In fact, Nebraska was the first school to offer the 6-foot-6, 280-pounder as a defensive lineman. He thinks he could play either way at the next level, but is excited to get to work with Tuioti on the defensive side of the ball.
“In my heart, throughout the years, I wanted to play defensive line, so I pushed myself to get bigger and faster,” Buckley said. “They saw that I’m a good O-lineman, but Coach ‘T,’ he saw that I could be a good defensive lineman and that he could coach me up to be the best.
“Both sides can be aggressive, but on the defensive side, you get to tackle. With me, tackling and trying to get the quarterback or wherever the ball is, my mentality is I want to kill something. I want to bring the energy and compete and be the best every day.”
The rangy Buckley said he played his freshman year of football at about 200 pounds flat but grew steadily through high school. Perhaps his biggest jump, however, came between his junior and senior seasons. His tape shows a much bigger looking player on the field. That tape, of course, nearly never came to be, considering Michigan almost didn’t have a fall football season.
“On a scale of 1 to 100, I feel like I improved 100%,” Buckley said. “I say that because I feel like I used to be a very skinny, undersized lineman. … I feel like I’m faster. I feel like my change of direction, quickness, stamina, all of that, I feel like I got better. I look at me from then to now, I look bigger.
“And I feel like a couple of years in the future, I’m going to look back at myself now and think I’m skinny now,” Buckley said.
The Huskers had to hold off a hard charge from in-state Michigan State and first-year head coach Mel Tucker, who made Buckley feel like a priority.
“I just wanted to make my own journey and be my own man, be my own soul and get out of Michigan,” Buckley said.
He is the second known defensive line prospect in Nebraska’s class, joining three-star Jailen Weaver (Antioch, California) and the 20th member of the class overall. Buckley is considered a three-star prospect by both Rivals and 247Sports.
Chalk it up to a weird year that ended up putting Buckley right where he feels like he belongs.
“I’m glad I got the opportunity to visit Nebraska and I love that place so much,” he said. “I feel like that was God’s will to make sure I visited there and then end up going there all along.”
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