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What if Nebraska's 2021 QB is right down the road? Meet Kearney Catholic's Heinrich Haarberg
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HUSKER RECRUITING

What if Nebraska's 2021 QB is right down the road? Meet Kearney Catholic's Heinrich Haarberg

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Nebraska quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco wrapped up his class of 2020 recruiting early when Logan Smothers verbally committed in July 2018.

Verduzco spent as much time as he could with the Smothers family in Alabama between then and early National Signing Day on Dec. 18, when Smothers finally put pen to paper and officially became a Husker. That lengthy span also gave the veteran quarterbacks coach a chance to work on 2021 recruiting and beyond.

High and low, East Coast to West and many points in between, Verduzco has evaluated 2021 signal-callers. Some, like Dematrius Davis of Houston, have pledged to other schools. Others, like Peter Costelli (Mission Viejo, California), Ty Keyes (Taylorsville, Mississippi) and Santino Marucci (Jupiter, Florida) remain uncommitted.

Wouldn’t it be something, though, if the Huskers’ 2021 quarterback was right down the road the entire time?

Kearney Catholic’s Heinrich Haarberg doesn’t have a scholarship offer from Nebraska at this point, but the way he’s progressed in his short time playing quarterback — and his recent meetings with Verduzco and head coach Scott Frost — seem to show a path toward potentially earning one.

“Coach Frost told me straight-up that he just needs to see me throw,” Haarberg told the Journal Star. He recently took an unofficial visit to Lincoln alongside four-star defensive back Avante Dickerson (Omaha Westside) and got to spend extensive time with Verduzco and Frost. “He said that’s one of the key things. If he sees that everything matches up on film and I didn’t doctor up my highlights or anything, then there’s a scholarship for me. …

“They said I fit their offense perfectly.”

Haarberg only started playing quarterback two years ago, when he replaced Husker walk-on Matt Masker at Kearney Catholic. At 6-foot-5, though, the son of a former NU running back and an Oklahoma State track and field athlete took to the position well as a sophomore starter in 2018.

“Coach Verduzco told me that he saw my sophomore year film and they were going to keep an eye on me,” Haarberg said. “He told me they saw the athleticism, but I just kind of looked like a baby doe out there, just running around and having fun.

“That was a good summary of my sophomore year.”

Before his junior season, Haarberg, who spent much of his childhood living in Nashville, Tennessee, took a camp tour around the South. He ran in the 4.6-second range in the 40-yard dash at an Iowa State camp and said he threw in camps next to four- and five-star quarterback prospects from the South. Although he understood the differences, he saw the similarities, too.

“I told my dad, just give me six more months to prepare for this, and I felt like I can be on that level,” he said. “I’ve always been a little bit behind the curve because those guys have been prepping since they were 8 years old to play Division I football, and they live in the spots to get noticed and make it work for them. … I don’t have anything against those guys, those guys are great, but I know I’ve been blessed with pretty good genetics and I know I’m probably more athletic than some of those guys.”

Verduzco’s modus operandi is to find a skill set he likes and then set about developing it at the college level, regardless of what other evaluators think. That’s why, even though Haarberg doesn’t currently have an offer, the idea doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

Every quarterback has work to do when he arrives in college. NU quarterback Adrian Martinez had to accelerate his throwing stroke, with a focus on “the initiation of motion," as Verduzco calls it. For Luke McCaffrey, the major work so far has been on footwork. The commonality, of course, is overall athleticism.

Said Haarberg this week, “Coach Verduzco told me, ‘I couldn’t give a crap about your footwork. I just want to see you run and what kind of an athlete you are.’”

The athletic senior-to-be has a 36-inch vertical and has spent time in Denver working with Jenkins Elite, a quarterback development program. He knows his recruitment is developing a little slower than some, but he’s also confident in where he’s at. While he’s reeling off schools that have shown interest, he speaks fluently about the current status of the quarterbacks rooms in different places. It’s clear he thinks his recruitment is going to take off and he’s going to be a scholarship quarterback in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

He’s hearing from Vanderbilt and Iowa State, TCU and Wyoming. He calls Kansas offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon “an RPO specialist and guru.”

Nebraska’s quarterbacks room, of course, is loaded. Martinez is a two-year starter and Noah Vedral is a steady presence who impressed this fall. They will both be juniors, while McCaffrey — like Haarberg, a wide receiver early in his high school career before switching to quarterback — is an exciting player who will only be a redshirt freshman. Then four-star Logan Smothers arrives in January. It’s a deep group and also a young one, with an established starter, yes, but also something approximating a quarterback battle taking place over the coming months.

All of that may or may not impact recruiting the position for the 2021 class. Perhaps a more heralded player jumps on board. Or maybe, just maybe, the stars are aligning for an interesting, athletic in-state option.

“I’m perfectly fine with where I’m at right now and I know this summer is going to be a big one in my recruiting,” he said. “… It will all fall into place.”

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

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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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