Certain promises are wonderful.

Others seem, well, fishy.

I'm guessing the vast majority of Nebraska football fans would prefer that NU coaches avoid making a lot of promises to recruits — promises of playing time, individual glory, girls, video games, whatever.

Straight talk. We like that.

Maybe you've noticed, new Husker coach Mike Riley doesn't come off as an SEC-style smooth talker.

"The way he recruited me, and it's been his line forever, he's never going to tell a kid that they're going to be a starter, that they're going to come in and play right way, that they're going to build a Heisman campaign around him, that they're going to do this and that," says Tim Euhus, an All-Pac-10 tight end at Oregon State in 2003, when Riley was head coach.

"He's going to simply recruit you on the basis that he's going to coach you up and give you an opportunity to compete in a top-five conference. He's going to coach you up and help give you everything you need to succeed. He's going to tell kids he just wants them to compete.

"I think that line of thinking will get him the kind of kids he wants."

Talking to former Oregon State players about Riley's recruiting style, you'll find that a pattern emerges. They'll tell you he's unfailingly polite, genuine and honest.

"Whatever he tells you, that's what it is," says James Rodgers, the former standout receiver who was lightly recruited in 2006-07 out of Lamar (Texas) Consolidated near Houston. He went on to become the first player in Oregon State history with 1,000 yards rushing and 2,000 yards receiving.

Riley, since taking over at Nebraska on Dec. 5 after 14 years at Oregon State, has done a fine job of holding together the 2015 recruiting class, as well as adding to it.

Granted, the Riley-Nebraska marriage is young. He can do no wrong, say no wrong. But we all know the bottom line around here. He eventually has to win at a high rate. That said, Husker fans should like Riley's style, says Adam Gorney, West Coast recruiting analyst for Rivals.com.

"The sense I always got was he was incredibly genuine," Gorney says. "You know, kids have an ability to sense when a guy's being a salesman to them. Parents and coaches have that ability as well, and they never, ever said that about Mike Riley or anybody on his staff at Oregon State.

"They were always very genuine about what their intentions were, what their expectations were. I think his personality's going to resonate well in the Midwest with kids and parents and coaches."

As with a lot of coaches, Riley's recruiting approach is relationship-driven, says Euhus (pronounced YOU-us). Former Oregon State wide receiver Shane Morales agrees. But forget recruiting for a moment. Riley puts a premium on relationships with players no matter the situation, says Morales, second on the team in receiving yards in 2008.

He thinks back to Riley's open-door office policy. There was a couch and a candy jar. Sit down, Riley would tell players, and let's chat. They could talk about anything, perhaps "random stories about his house in Texas," Morales says. It's easy to imagine Riley doing the same with recruits.

(Before Riley's time at Oregon State, one of his jobs was head coach of the San Antonio Riders of the World League of American Football. He purchased a home in South Texas along the banks of the Guadalupe River).

Morales says Riley actually listens to players.

"He remembers everything about everybody," Morales says. "It doesn't matter if you're the best player or a walk-on. That tells you a lot about him. It made you want to play for him."

Euhus, as is the case with many folks, raves about Riley as a talent evaluator. A native of Eugene, Oregon, Euhus has first-hand knowledge. He was first recruited by Oregon State during the spring of his junior year of high school, just as OSU was coming off 26 straight losing seasons.

Riley couldn't afford many recruiting misses. Oregon State already had too many years of misses.

"But they also couldn't go after the best players, because, well, it was Oregon State," says Euhus, who was a gangly 6-foot-5, 198-pound tight end. He wasn't highly recruited. But he became an NFL fourth-round draft pick who played four seasons in the league.

Riley can tell a lot of those type of recruiting stories. During his tenure at OSU, the Beavers landed only one five-star-rated player — defensive end Simi Kuli out of El Camino (California) Community College, in 2008. He ended his career at West Texas A&M.

During the past decade, Oregon State's recruiting classes have an average ranking of No. 51.

"What Riley was kind of forced to do at Oregon State was to go into California and other places and go after some under-the-radar kids — some kids who maybe weren't valued as much by other Pac-12 Conference schools — and really develop those players," says Gorney, the Rivals.com analyst.

"He had to find players who fit into his system and really listened to him. I think that approach has given him an advantage in terms of not having the luxury of having a lot of misses, because every guy really had to be valuable.

"He wasn't going in and getting four- and five-star kids. But he was getting kids who bought in."

Rodgers bought in. His only scholarship offers coming out of high school were from Texas State, Utah State and Oregon State. The 5-foot-7 speedster's lack of size scared away recruiters.

Rodgers remembers Riley coming to his family's home.

"He's somebody you want your kids to be around," Rodgers says. "Another thing I liked is he never talked bad about any other schools or nothing like that.

"I also remember asking him if I would get redshirted. He just told me, 'Come here ready to play.' That's all guys want, is for a coach to be honest with them instead of beating around the bush, and I think that's what really hit home with me."

That approach apparently hit home with Rodgers' younger brother, Jacquizz Rodgers, who from 2008-10 at OSU amassed 3,877 rushing yards and 51 touchdowns. Some folks would tell you the Rodgers brothers were the best players in the Houston area at the time. And they went all the way to Oregon. Think about that.

"Riley's the genuine article, and I think people appreciate that," Gorney says.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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