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NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: The State of the Walk-On Program

By Huskerlocker @huskerlocker

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By James Stevenson

Many fans often get caught up counting four and five-star prospects when measuring a team’s recruiting success. One of the frequent “advantages” for Nebraska isn’t its ability to bring in the most highly-coveted prospects, but rather the tradition and utility of the vaunted walk-on program.
While debates rage about the appropriate class size and correct usage of the walk-on strategy, no one can deny that they contributed heavily at Nebraska this past season. These two-star (or less) prospects dot the roster and many eventually earned a scholarship.
Key players such as offensive linemen Mike Caputo and Spencer Long along with defensive backs Austin Cassidy and Lance Thorell are among these numbers. Of course, there was the immediate impact of walk-on kicking specialist Brett Maher.
The Huskers walk-on effort is led by Assistant Athletic Director for Football Operations Jeff Jamrog. While some questioned Jamrog’s coaching ability when he was hired in 2007, he has proven himself a solid administrator, receiving high marks for his coordination and handling of several aspects surrounding the football program. One of these is the recruiting of the Cornhuskers’ walk-ons, which is appropriate given that Jamrog was one himself.
Nebraska looks across the state to find some of the best athletes who either didn’t get an FBS offer or didn’t receive one they felt comfortable accepting. It’s likely that most of these players won’t contribute, but the idea is that if one out of ten each year contributes substantially over two or three years, the Huskers have some extra scholarships in their back pocket.
Sometimes it’s a matter of convincing these players to stay home instead of heading to a lower division school where they might receive a full or partial scholarship. Nebraska continues to build a substantial walk-on class even this year.
A great example is Grand Island QB Ryker Fyfe. Ranked as a two-star pro-style quarterback by, Fyfe shined as one of the best quarterbacks in the state during his senior year, and had some light interest from mid-major programs.

He ultimately decided to walk-on at Nebraska, shunning a scholarship from Nebraska-Kearney. Fyfe brings depth and a unique skill set to the roster. He completed 120 of 204 passes for 1,921 yards and 20 touchdowns and rushed for 746 yards and 15 touchdowns while leading Grand Island to a 9-2 record in 2011.
Fyfe’s favorite target, two-star wide receiver/safety Sam Foltz, turned down scholarship offers from South Dakota State, South Dakota, and North Dakota to walk on at Nebraska. Some would argue Foltz is a better athlete than Fyfe, and it will be interesting to see which side of the ball he eventually contributes on.
Other key walk-ons include players like three-star running back King Frazier from Lee’s Summit, Missouri, who also turned down the Dakota Schools. He’s joined by Omaha Burke running back Jordan Nelson, Elkhorn running back Graham Nabity, Omaha Burke fullback Carson Collins, Oakland fullback Taylor Hoffman and Gretna fullback Andy Janovich.
Perhaps the highest expectations surround the Nebraska walk-on kicking legacy. Kearney kicker Spencer Lindsay was recruited by Barney Cotton and John Papuchis, and will hope to get a transfusion of the ice-cold blood that flows through fellow walk-on Brett Maher veins much like Alex Henery’s before him. Papillion offensive guard Dylan Utter and Aurora center Gerret Johns look to join the group of walk-on offensive linemen that Nebraska either played or started in 2011.
With 16 total commitments, Nebraska currently has more pledged walk-ons than future scholarship players. The quality of the athletes is impressive despite what their lower-tier offers might suggest. It’s not hard to imagine several of these players making an impact at some point in their careers.
However, these prospects are walk-ons for a reason. Regardless, Nebraska’s staff has done a fantastic job in locking down this tier of in-state talent and convincing them to forgo other opportunities. While fans and pundits may question the Huskers’ scholarship recruiting, when it comes to walk-ons, Nebraska’s class is five-star quality.
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