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Mike Matya

Nebraska Legend
May 29, 2001
Bellevue, Nebraska [formerly Omaha]
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Once again, it is time for another installment of the TUNNEL TALK. As always, I'll begin with this session with the ground rules for those of you who might be new. Everything that is reported in the TUNNEL TALK must stay in the TUNNEL TALK. That is the way this deal works. Sometimes some of the info is sensitive enough that it simply doesn't need to be passed on beyond the doors of this thread. This is a special feature for subscribers ONLY. Subscribers found to be passing this information to other sites or by e-mail will be blacklisted. The reason why it is posted on the Premium Board is because it is the only way to ensure that the info is exclusive to HuskerOnline.com. This will only work if everyone helps make it work.

Callahan's weekly nuggets

***I'm not saying AJ Bush is going to come out of the spring ahead of Tommy Armstrong, but he is the first quarterback I've seen at NU in quite some time that has the skill set to push the starter for the job. He's a better physical athlete than Armstrong and he has a stronger arm, but the intangible still remains Armstrong's game experience.

Talking to a coach on the former staff this week, he told me they felt this spring Bush has a legit shot to put some heat on Armstrong. As for Johnny Stanton, he said he's a great kid and everybody thinks the world him. What his drawback is he almost "tries too hard" and "puts a lot of pressure on himself."

***When speaking to this former coach about the running backs, he said last year Adam Taylor would've probably played over Imani Cross if he didn't get hurt. His thought right now is Taylor and Mikale Wilbon have the most potential of any of the backs.

***Talking to somebody about the new staff, he said behind the scenes the culture of the program is much different. He feels like the meetings are more effective as far as teaching and the atmosphere just feels much more positive.

***Looking at the tight end position obviously Cethan Carter has jumped out, but both David Sutton and Luke McNitt have been pleasant surprises. I would say they both look as good or better than Sam Cotton and Trey Foster who played over them a year ago.

***When I talked to Zach Hannon this week I almost didn't recognize him. He's down to 295 pounds and he's slim and trim. He used to weigh 350 pounds as a true freshman. You can tell his focus level has changed.

***You can tell Mike Cavanaugh is really excited about his young linemen in DJ Foster, Nick Gates and Tanner Farmer. I would not be surprised at all to see at least one or two of those guys starting or playing heavy snaps this fall.


Thoughts from the California visitors

This past Monday was a very big day for Nebraska in terms of recruiting as they hosted 10 of the best 2016 and 2017 players in Southern California for a very quick, but extremely productive unofficial visit.

The coaches and support staff did an unbelievable job with not just all 10 of the prospects that were visiting, but with Keyshawn Johnson Sr. and the three other assistant coaches for the Team 19 All-Stars 7-on-7 squad that were also on the visit.

Every single visitor that I talked to told me that Nebraska was way more than they ever imagined it would be and that they loved the facilities and the coaches. Almost every prospect I spoke with told me that the visit to Lincoln was their favorite trip. Better than Texas, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma. The only other schools that really came close to matching the Nebraska visit was Texas according to most of the players I spoke with.

Some quick thoughts…

***Having a guy like Keyshawn Johnson Sr. on campus is something that people and prospects take notice of. Having a guy like Johnson Sr. be so outspoken about how highly he thinks of Mike Riley is something that people and prospects remember.

***The players that visited all highly respect Keyshawn immensely. He has been an All-American, up for the Heisman Trophy, the No. 1 overall draft pick, an 11-year NFL veteran, made millions in the league, and has been able to transition into being on ESPN and a terrific businessman that is involved in everything from owning a ton of Panera Bread restaurant franchises and having his own winery among several other things.

He's a guy who has traveled down the path of success for the last 20+ years and when he tells kids he owes much of it to Riley, they listen to him.

***One of Nebraska's biggest non-football related recruiting tools is the academic support and Life Skills programs. These are two things that Keyshawn preaches to these kids that they need to be looking for as they go through the recruiting process. So when all of these players got on campus and learned what Nebraska had to offer in those areas they were instantly validated. That's huge for the Huskers because now not only do those kids know what Riley can do for them as a coach, but they also know what Nebraska can do for them academically and with life after football.

***A number of these players will be making return visits to Lincoln which is huge. I've said it a thousand times, 'If Nebraska can get a kid on campus they'll have a shot.' Well, you get a kid on campus more than once and your chances multiply by a great deal.

***Not only has Nebraska positioned themselves well with all of the players that visited, but this should have a ripple effect with a number of other players from Southern California and perhaps even nationally if/when they land any of these highly touted prospects. Kids talk and having guys that carry as much clout as a number of the visitors that were in Lincoln on Monday do, other players will definitely listen. That should open some new doors for NU going forward.

***I think Nebraska is right at the top of Keyshawn Johnson Jr.'s list. He'll be coming back for the spring game and I would expect to see him take in a game this fall as an unofficial visitor as well. I would not be surprised if he commits to Nebraska at some point next fall.

***Nebraska is also sitting towards the top of UCLA WR commit Khalil Tate's list as well.

As of today I do not see Pittman ending up at UCLA. I think he believes that he committed way too early and is now feeling like he wants to leave California. He flat out told me that he thinks he needs to go to a place like Lincoln where he can concentrate on football and school without distractions. He'll definitely be coming back for an official visit in the fall and there is a slight chance he makes it out to the spring game.

Tate had his eyes opened to Nebraska and the idea of being a receiver and being utilized as a wildcat QB in certain packages. There is a very good chance that Tate comes back to Lincoln for the spring game along with Keyshawn Sr., Keyshawn Jr., and 2017 5-star DB Darnay Holmes.

***It's going to be tough to land Holmes, but Nebraska is right in the thick of things right now and if they can land Johnson Jr. and either Pittman or Tate (or both) then I think NU will have as good of a shot as anyone with him. Holmes is very close with Johnson Jr. and is good friends with Pittman and Tate.

***In addition to Coach Riley, receivers coach Keith Williams and secondary coach Brian Stewart made a huge impact on the visitors.

***If I were to rank for the visits for all of these players went I would say: Nebraska, Texas, Texas A&M, and then Oklahoma. The feeling I got was that the only school that came close to matching NU was Texas and that was because their coaching staff was as straight forward and "real" as Nebraska's. The players did not like the feeling they got from the cities of Norman and College Station. They really liked Austin and Lincoln the best.

Like I've said, Nebraska really could not have done any better with this visit than what they did. They played their cards perfectly by not coming on heavy with the recruiting pitches and they showed all of the 10 players enough love that no one felt alienated. The NU staff kept it fun and loose and focused on showing off the program and building relationships. Nearly all of the kids talked about how much they loved the interaction with the coaches and players on their trip to Nebraska.

I think it is a very real possibility that we look back at this visit and can say that Nebraska landed four or players out of this group.


More from Keyshawn Johnson Sr.

Here are some more quotes few a few of my conversations with Keyshawn Johnson Sr. that I wanted to share with you guys.

Johnson Sr. obviously loves Riley, but he also thinks highly of the staff that Riley has hired. He mentioned several times that he thinks "Riley and his staff are going to do great things there."

Not only does he think highly of Riley's staff as coaches, but he thinks that Williams and Stewart will be dynamic recruiters. Especially Williams in the inner cities.

"I think it's great," Johnson said about Riley's coaching staff. "I know almost every single one of the coaches. I know Brian Stewart independent of 'Riles', I know Keith Williams independent of 'Riles', Banker was with us at 'SC and I know him from Oregon State. So I kind of know the staff pretty good. I think he's put a pretty good staff together.

"From what he and I talked about in conversation he has the base covered. I think when he goes into the inner cities - needs to go urban to get players - he has guys on the staff that can go and do it. People will feel comfortable with sending their kids to go play for him and his staff. He's definitely got a guy in Keith Williams that can recruit Southern California. Not just the suburbs, but the urban areas of California. When you go into L.A. to recruit in California suburbs are cute and cool, but no we're going in and getting some skill set and I think he has the guys that are capable of being able to do that."

One thing I found interesting is that Johnson Sr. is making sure that his players know that they don't have to go to a place that throws the ball 50 times a game in order to make it to the next level. He tells them that it's about the coaching they get and taking advantage of the opportunities that they do get within the system.

"Kids get it twisted about catching 100 balls a season and that's what they need to do, but that's not true," Johnson Sr. said. "You can catch 60 balls - if it's the right 60 balls - and be a dominant force to help your team win a national championship. You don't have to catch 100 balls to break records and make it to the league."

Another huge selling point for Nebraska with all of Keyshawn's 7-on-7 players is that they're running the same system that Riley runs. So all of these kids would step foot on campus and have a great understanding of the offense if they were to come to Nebraska.

"These guys, because of my 7-on-7 team, they're all getting ready to go into college football to play. By the time they hit the ground running they should be playing and if they're not playing it's because they didn't do what they needed to do to get prepared.

"All of the guys on my team, they all really understand my system and the system I run is pretty much the same thing that Mike Riley runs," Johnson Sr. said. "I run what I know. So a lot of them can get accustomed to it going out and playing in the passing league which is fun. It's fun, it's competitive, and it gets them ready for their high school teams. When they go back (to their high school teams) it's a different speed, things tend to slow down for them because this stuff is really fast."

Keyshawn talked to me about how people automatically assume his son will end up at USC. That's not necessarily the case. Distance and location really won't factor into the decision at all and he explained to me why.

"He can go to any school in the country because he doesn't have a lack of geographic experience," Johnson Sr. said about his son. "He's lived all over the country because he's my son and I played football and I work over on the east coast. So it's not out of the question that he can leave the Pac-12 Conference. I work at ESPN, so I work away.

"Sometimes with kids, they don't have the financial wherewithal for the families to be able to travel. Fortunate for me and my family, I put us in a position as an NFL player to earn a living so I can afford to travel to get to him and he can afford to travel home over break and do those things.

"So geographically, he can go anywhere and play football and be fine. He won't be a homesick kid. He's been around and lived in the Carolinas, he's lived in New York, he's lived in Florida. So it's not like he's got to be stuck in L.A.

"I think everybody is assuming that he's going to go to USC which is a far from a forgone conclusion as far as I'm concerned. That's just because I went there. He's his own person, he's his own guy and will make his own decision - when that time comes - about what school he really wants to go to.

"I have the ability because I put myself in the position so that he doesn't have to wait to take official visits. I was blessed enough that he doesn't have to wait for an official visit. He can go on unofficials and get it out of the way."


TT recruiting thoughts & tidbits

*** During the entire Bo Pelini head coaching tenure, Nebraska only signed one high school prospect out of the state of Indiana in long snapper Gabriel Miller who's college career was cut short by injury. NU also signed Randy Gregory from the junior college ranks and he was an Indiana native, but other than that the Hoosier state was not a priority in recruiting for the previous coaching staff.

However, this new set of Cornhusker coaches are casting a wider net on the recruiting trail. The NU staff has already offered the top three prospects in Indiana for the Class of 2016, and receiver Brandon Peters all plan to visit Lincoln this spring. Peters will be attending the Red-White game and Mack and Robertson intend to visit for a spring practice.

In the update we did of him last week, the top recruit in Indiana Mack said that he didn't know much about NU yet but a friend of his was putting in a good word for the Huskers.

"I know about Ameer Abdullah," Mack stated. "That's pretty much what I know about Nebraska, but I do have a friend who has family there and he's a big time Nebraska guy, so he will come up and tell me things. But other than Coach (Keith) Williams and Abdullah, I don't know much."

That friend of Mack's is three-star quarterback Aidan Smith from Fort Wayne (Ind.) Carroll High and Mack said the two occasionally train together. Smith currently has offers from Ball State, Buffalo and Toledo.

The Rivals250 Mack said that he also is friends with Husker quarterback target Brandon Peters.

"Oh yeah, that's my boy," Mack said about Peters. "We've talked a couple times. I think he's a real good pocket passer. He throws a really good ball. I haven't seen him in a real game situation, but he's definitely a guy I would want to catch for."

Mack and Robertson confirmed that they plan to commit on June 7 at an RAS camp in Indiana, so the Nebraska staff will need to work quickly to make a good impression and to develop a relationship with both of them over these next few months to have a chance to land them.

*** With the change in offensive systems at Nebraska, we checked in with some of the quarterbacks the prior staff was targeting to see if they have heard from the new coaches in Lincoln. Two of them who had offers from the old staff have not heard from Coach Riley or the new staff so we removed their offers from the database:

Xavier Gaines from Frostproof (Fla.) Lake Wales
Bladrick Veal from Baton Rouge (La.) Southern Lab

Also, two of the better border state signal callers have yet to be contacted by the NU coaches, but are still hoping they'll reach out to them.

Brock Monty, from Wichita (Kan.) Kapaun Mt. Carmel, made an unofficial visit to Lincoln last season for the home game with Purdue and he said he was blown away by the experience, but he has yet to hear anything from the new staff at Nebraska. He just received his first offer from Harvard.

And Independence (Mo.) Ft Osage product Skylar Thompson has acquired offers from Kansas, North Dakota State and Illinois State after throwing for nearly 2,400 yards and rushing for 400 as a junior, but as of yet he's not been contacted by the new regime in Lincoln.

*** There's no doubt that under this new staff Nebraska will continue to heavily target the state of Louisiana in football recruiting going forward. The Cornhuskers have already offered 13 recruits from the Pelican State, including Bastrop receiver Isaiah Graham. The 6-foot, 170-pound Graham said that he is acquaintances with incoming Husker freshman receiver Stanley Morgan from attending camps with him, so we asked him to give his scouting report on Morgan.

"I think he runs his routes well and he has great ball skills, so I think he will fit in well there," Graham said. "Like any receiver who goes to college he will have a little bit more to work on, but I think he will end up being a great receiver at Nebraska."

*** Rivals250 defensive tackle Garrett Rand, who has a Husker offer and several Nebraska ties, won the MVP honors for his position of defensive line at the Los Angeles, California "The Opening" regional this week.

*** In my update with Fort Pierce (Fla.) Central linebacker Greg Simmons this week, he brought up that former Nebraska Blackshirt Wonder Monds was a mentor of his who would like to see him play for the Huskers.

"One of my mentors is Wonderful Monds who attended Nebraska way back in the day," Simmons stated. "He also played for [Fort Pierce] Central high school way back in the day."

Monds' college career in Lincoln occurred in the mid 70s, so I asked Simmons if Monds had spoken to him about his time at Nebraska. He had in fact done that frequently, according to Simmons.

"He said he loved it and that I've just got to experience it for myself," Simmons recalled what Monds had told him about NU. "He's the type of older guy that, you know what I'm saying, really had a great football history.

"He played a couple years in the NFL. Mostly, he was just telling me to go with my gut feeling and to just go out there [to Nebraska] and 'if you like it, you like it'. He said it all comes down to my decision and to go with my gut."

Simmons said that he is aware Monds was an All-American player while at Nebraska.

"Yes sir, he tells me all the time that he was an All-American," Simmons said while laughing. "He keeps rubbing it in my face."

Simmons has also seen Monds' college pictures with his big Afro.

"Oh yeah, it was like way back in the day," Simmons said. "I know that he had the big 'fro. Yes sir, he has fond memories of Nebraska."

*** In doing some of our calling and texting with recruits over the past couple of weeks, the below is what we learned about where some of the prospects we were in contact with have visited and are planning to visit:

Iowa OL John Raridon [Nebraska commit] -- He plans to attend a Nebraska spring practice and/or the spring game. He has also been invited to visit Oklahoma, Stanford, Iowa State and Iowa, but he's not sure if he will visit any of them.

Colorado LB JoJo Domann -- He will be in Nebraska this weekend for the Junior Day. He has already visited Colorado, and he will also be unofficially visiting Kansas State and TCU. Wyoming, Utah and every school that's offered has also invited him to visit.

Louisiana ATH Devin White -- He's visited Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M and Ole Miss. He's been invited to TCU, Notre Dame, Louisville, Auburn, Florida State, Clemson, Texas and Baylor. Over the summer he will be visiting Ohio State and Oregon.

Illinois LB Tuf Borland -- He has not heard anything from the new Husker coaches, but he will be visiting Notre Dame on March 21.

Ohio TE Luke Farrell -- He's going to be visiting Boston College, Penn State and Ohio State this spring. He plans to visit Michigan State in the summer.

*** While checking in with some of the top in-state players, there were a few of them who were not invited to the Nebraska Junior Day, but they did plan to take other visits. Those we learned of are listed below:

WR Makoor Arop; (6-foot, 160), Omaha South -- He was invited to the Iowa State Junior Day.
OL Alexander Bruner; (6-foot, 290), Lincoln Southeast -- He's been invited to Morningside and Doane.
OL Aidan Burroughs; (6-4, 275), Norfolk Catholic -- He plans to visit South Dakota State.
DB Ruon Chuol; (6-1, 185), Lincoln High -- He plans to visit South Dakota State.
OT Luke Curl; (6-10, 295), McCook -- He plans to visit South Dakota State in April.
WR Trystn Ducker; (5-10, 165), Omaha Creighton Prep -- He has already visited Iowa State and South Dakota State, and he has been invited to Wyoming's spring game and camp, and to South Dakota.
LB David Engelhaupt; (6-4, 220), Norfolk Catholic -- He has already visited Iowa State and South Dakota State, and he has been invited to Minnesota.
DT Shane Henderson; (6-foot, 290), Elkhorn South -- He's been invited to Kansas State's camp.
OL Corey Hoelck; (6-3, 255), Giltner -- He's been invited to the Wyoming and South Dakota State junior days.
WR Todd Honas; (6-foot, 190), Aurora -- He's been invited to visit North Dakota State on March 28.

*** We are approximately one month away from the Red-White spring game and I'm more confident than ever in predicting that Nebraska will have a top 15-20 recruiting class this cycle. For those of you waiting for the coordinated, meticulous and relentless effort of this Cornhusker coaching and recruiting/personnel staff to wane and for "reality" to set back in, you just need to get used to this being the new reality under Mike Riley and this staff. This is "the new normal" at Nebraska that a lot had been hoping and longing for.


Update on Aguek Arop's road to recovery

2017 Omaha South guard and Nebraska verbal commit Aguek Arop's sophomore campaign wasn't even a full three quarters in before a devastating knee injury sidelined him for the year during the Packers' season opener on Dec. 5.

Arop ended up suffering a slight patella tendon tear and a broken bone on top of his tibia right at the growth plate in his left knee. The timetable for his recovery was projected anywhere from three to four months or possibly even longer depending on his rehab and how his injuries healed. Now just over three months following his surgery, Arop looks to be right on schedule with his recovery.

Arop told me prior to South's win over South Sioux City in the first round of the 2015 Boys State Tournament on Thursday that he already started running again about a week ago and is scheduled to be cleared to play basketball again by as soon as late May.

Arop said he made sure to keep a positive attitude during his rehab, even though he admitted he got "a little depressed" after initially realizing the gravity of his injury. His road to recovery started with lots of stretching and light joint movement, and when he finally got rid of his crutches he began adding things like squats, lunges, band work and riding a stationary bike.

"When I first started walking on it, my leg was just so weak," Arop said. "Every once in a while it would just give out. I wouldn't fall or anything, but I would just lose my balance… (But) I was thinking that it could be worse. I just decided to stay positive with it and not let it get me down."

Currently the lone commit in Nebraska's 2017 class, Arop said NU head coach Tim Miles called him the day after his surgery to check in and offered some encouragement for his youngest future Husker.

"He was just telling me that they're still with me and that I've got to stay positive, don't let it get me down, and told me to support my team 100 percent," Arop said.

Arop was eventually able to make it down to Lincoln for his first unofficial visit since his injury to take in Nebraska's home game against Iowa on Feb. 22. "That was a tough one."

When he announced his commitment back in August, the Huskers were coming off their best season in more than a decade and were a projected preseason top-25 team. Obviously 2014-15 didn't go nearly as NU had hoped, but Arop said the disappointing season had zero impact on his commitment.

"No, no," he said. "No it doesn't. Not at all."

Once he is finally cleared to return to the basketball court, Arop said he will join up with his Omaha Elite AAU squad this summer. Even though he's no longer looking for college offers anymore and doesn't necessarily need to rush back to action, Arop said he is counting down the days until he can get back to the game he loves.

"I'll be playing in the summer," Arop said. "I still love playing, and I just miss it."