Barrett Ruud is one of the best Nebraska football players in the program's glorious history, an expert in the art of tackling.
He was as reliable as the U.S. mail in that regard, seemingly always in the right position to make a play. He seldom missed tackles, essentially always closing the deal.
Sort of like he's done as a recruiter for the Huskers.
"I've been dealing with recruiters for quite a while," says veteran York High football coach Glen Snodgrass, whose son Garrett Snodgrass was recruited to Nebraska by Ruud. "Sometimes Division I coaches try to big-time you a little bit. But with coach Ruud, he's just very humble and genuine. As a coach, when he sits down and talks to you, you don't feel like he's this big-time guy talking down to a little high school coach.
"He's right there on the same level. It feels comfortable and genuine talking to the guy. It brings forth trust. Sometimes college coaches can come across as used-car salesmen. But with coach Ruud, he wasn't going to tell you something that wasn't true."
Let's be clear on a couple of things: There are plenty of used-car salesmen who you can trust. Thank heavens for that. As for Ruud, yes, he is strikingly unassuming for someone so accomplished in America's highest-profile sport. The 35-year-old is a devout Grateful Dead fan, drawn to the band's unique, improvisational style. Excuse my stereotyping, but if a typical Grateful Dead fan is laid-back, intelligent and thoughtful, well, Ruud fits the bill.
Whatever he's doing as a recruiter -- he's Nebraska's in-state recruiting coordinator -- it's been working well. He batted 1.000 in the class of 2019 as the Huskers offered scholarships to five players, and got five signatures: from Snodgrass, Garrett Nelson of Scottsbluff, Ethan Piper of Norfolk and the Omaha Burke duo of Nick Henrich and Chris Hickman.
One could say Ruud is merely doing what's expected in getting homegrown talent to play for NU -- except that we've seen example after example of Nebraska high school players heading off to excel in other programs. Perhaps you've heard of Noah Fant (Iowa), or Drew Ott (Iowa), or Harrison Phillips (Stanford), or Trevor Robinson (Notre Dame), or Easton Stick (North Dakota State). Who am I missing?
Folks may overlook Nick Lenners of Lincoln Southwest, a projected starter at tight end for Kansas State this coming season, or even Adam Holtorf of Seward, who will be a third-year starter at center for the Wildcats.
Ruud has said his goal is "to put a little fence around Nebraska." At the moment, that means locking down a verbal commitment from class of 2020 receiver Xavier Watts of Omaha Burke, who also holds scholarship offers from Notre Dame, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, Iowa State, Purdue and Louisville, among others. The Huskers already have a verbal commitment from 2020 receiver Zavier Betts, a four-star prospect from Bellevue West.
Watts and Betts are the only two in-state players in the class of 2020 who hold scholarship offers from Nebraska. That could change, but for now Ruud is trying to go 7-for-7 in 2019 and 2020. It's an intriguing story to monitor: Ruud, a low-key personality in only his second season as a full-time college coach, playing a lead role for NU in a critical area of recruiting that Husker fans watch with rapt attention.
If you don't think it's a critical area, check out fan reaction if a high-profile in-state recruit heads elsewhere.
Ruud's recruiting chops aren't fully developed. But Bellevue West coach Michael Huffman isn't betting against him.
"First of all, he has instant credibility," says Huffman, referring to Ruud's playing days at Lincoln Southeast and Nebraska as well as his eight-year NFL career. "But he walks in the room and he's just like you and me. He's super-easy to talk to. He's just really good at his job. You watch him interact with the kids, and he's still young enough to jibe with them.
"I see a lot of recruiters come through our school. With some of them, the kids are like, 'Who's this dude?' With other coaches, the kids look forward to seeing them."
Huffman appreciates that Ruud shoots him straight. For instance, Huffman recently wondered why former Bellevue West standout running back Jaylin Bradley is buried on Nebraska's depth chart. He said he got the answers he needed from Ruud.
Snodgrass envisions in-state recruiting thriving with Nebraska head coach Scott Frost and Ruud paving the way. After all, they both are proud Nebraska natives who genuinely care about the high school programs in the state. Frost starred at quarterback for the NU national championship team in 1997 that had eight -- yes, eight -- in-state players as starters on offense alone: Frost, Fred Pollack, Jon Zatechka, Eric Anderson, Tim Carpenter, Vershan Jackson, Joel Makovicka, and Ahman Green.
A younger generation of Nebraska fans can hardly imagine that. Ruud, though, can educate high school players about the program's rich history. After all, he was a part of it. It's in his blood. His father, Tom, and uncles Bob Martin and John Ruud played for the Huskers in the 1970s. So did great-grandfather Clarence Swanson, back in 1918-21.
There are coaches throughout the nation who regard their current job as merely a job before the next job, such is the unstable nature of the business. Ask most any high school coach with whom Ruud interacts, he'll tell you that his passion for NU is evident, albeit in a quiet way.
"It's not like Barrett has the gift of gab, by any means," says Omaha Westside coach Brett Froendt. "There's not always a natural flow of conversation, but he's pretty good at setting the kid at ease."
Trust obviously is a critical word in this conversation.
"We visited probably 20 or more different places," the elder Snodgrass says of his son's recruiting process, "and there were a lot of places where we walked away saying, 'I don't know if I trust that guy.'"
It's hard to imagine that sort of conversation occurring after a meeting with Ruud.
In an age of inauthenticity, he's as genuine as they come.