Just for a moment on Saturday afternoon, Nebraska’s football coaches — assuming they were tuned in to NBC — likely held their collective breath.
One of the Huskers’ prized signees, Wandale Robinson, hauled in a catch up the seam during the second half of the All-American Bowl in San Antonio, but took a vicious hit and clearly was in pain when he hit the turf.
Not only that, but the player who delivered the blow was perhaps NU’s top remaining recruiting target for the class: four-star defensive back Noa Pola-Gates (Gilbert, Arizona), who was also shaken up on the play.
Not to worry, though; Robinson popped up and jogged off under his own power, then returned to the game shortly thereafter.
Given the way the rest of the afternoon played out, Nebraska fans and coaches likely only saw their overall level of excitement grow.
Robinson, the dynamic do-it-all back from Frankfort, Kentucky, finished with three catches for 88 yards unofficially, a kick return for 36 yards and one carry for 6, good for 130 all-purpose yards for the East against some of the best high school talent in the nation.
— Parker Gabriel (@HuskerExtraPG) January 5, 2019
On the West team, Husker signee Bryce Benhart started at right tackle and showed the kind of athleticism and movement skills that most 6-foot-9 linemen lack. Defensive lineman and Nebraska signee Ty Robinson spent much of the week working inside and played most of his snaps there, lacking flash but holding up just fine.
The East blew out the West 48-14 behind five touchdown passes from game MVP and Wisconsin quarterback signee Graham Mertz.
Among the Huskers at the event, it was Wandale Robinson who generated the most buzz. The 5-9, 180-pounder who celebrated his birthday Saturday, travels to Lincoln on Sunday and begins classes at UNL on Monday morning as an early enrollee.
He returned the opening kickoff out of the end zone to the 35-yard line, then was supposed to throw a pass on a trick play on the game’s first snap from scrimmage. It didn’t develop properly, though, so Robinson cut back across the entire field and picked up 6.
His three catches came on a lightning bolt of a 35-yard tunnel screen and then receptions of 25 and 28 up the seam. Robinson absorbed the blow from Pola-Gates on the first, but returned quickly and ran another route to the same part of the field one series later for 28 more.
Robinson played mostly from the slot. NU is going to line him up all over the place, but he showed very natural pass-catching ability after spending the bulk of his high school career at Western Hills as a running back. Robinson rushed for 6,795 yards in his high school career and added nearly 1,800 receiving.
When Robinson signed on Dec. 19, Husker running backs coach Ryan Held told the Journal Star that the back would work mostly with offensive coordinator Troy Walters in the receivers room and also a little bit with the running backs.
After Robinson popped up from the hit, he and Pola-Gates exchanged a hug. The two have gotten to know each other well this week, as the trio of Husker signees have all spent extensive time recruiting Pola-Gates to NU.
The Huskers have 24 players signed to the class so far plus verbal commitments from junior college running back Dedrick Mills and juco offensive lineman Desmond Bland, and are thought to be in the market for four to six more signatures.
They would appreciate none more than Pola-Gates, who is slated to announce his commitment Jan. 19 at the Polynesian Bowl in Maui, Hawaii. His finalists are the Huskers, USC and Arizona State. During the game, 247Sports’ national director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong made a prediction that Pola-Gates would pick the Huskers.
Benhart played well at right tackle for the West overall. In the first quarter, he was beat around the end by five-star outside linebacker and Georgia signee Nolan Smith — the No. 1 overall player in the nation according to 247Sports — for a sack, but otherwise did not allow much in the way of pressure or penetration. Benhart is currently about 285 pounds because he is in the midst of wrestling season at Lakeville North High in Minnesota, but will likely return to 300-plus by the time he arrives on campus at NU this summer.
Ty Robinson is seen by most as a defensive end in Erik Chinander’s 3-4 system, but defensive line coach Mike Dawson puts a premium on versatility, and the 6-6, 285-pounder from Arizona showed just that during his senior season and again in San Antonio. He also will be arriving in Lincoln after the spring semester. Robinson, who played his high school ball for Higley — the crosstown rival of Pola-Gates’ Williams-Field, roomed with Pola-Gates all week before the bowl game.