Personally, I thought this was one of the better press conferences for Mike Riley. I felt he was very direct and took time to answer specific questions about recruiting and recruits, especially POB, Farniok, and Jackson. Like him, I also chuckled at the question about the dreaded "silent commit." He spent a good amount of time addressing the 500 mile radius and continued to lay out his vision for that area.
All in all, I get the feeling that he felt that this is a very good/solid class, with some guys who could definitely be foundations to build upon and they did meet their goal of a Top 25 class for this year (24th ranked).
Signing Day Press Conference
Feb. 3, 2016
"All right, let’s go. A little football for a little bit. Then we’ve got to wait a month. I think this is the fifth day in the last 25 that I’ve spent in Lincoln, so it’s good to be back, and it’s great to be back on this day in particular. It’s a big day for Nebraska and an exciting day for Nebraska football. We went through the day, in one good way, we had no real surprises. Everybody that was supposed to sign, everyone we thought was going to sign, they did. We’ve got a pretty versatile class here, I suppose is one way to look at it. As you recruit and as you put your plan together, one of the plans is always to get the right person and the right football talent. You’ve got to start with that. That’s always a big part of it. The other part of that is trying to fit the needs of your football team and going through a year with the team, you’re looking at the number of players at each position, and what you would like, ideally, 12 linebackers that are on your team, something like that. You’re trying to hit those spots, and sometimes you don’t want to do that if it’s a big number you’ve got to get to, you don’t necessarily want to do all of it in one year with all of those kids in the same class. Like at linebacker, we’ve got three more guys and we still want to build that number up and we’re getting closer to it, so we’re excited about that. We graduated more starters in the offensive line than any other position, so we’ve got four offensive linemen. That’s a good deal. We’ve got some receivers that are going to continue to grow and help us. So we just about hit all the positions that way. We’re getting closer to having the right number at each position as we go along, and we feel like we have good players and the right people for this university and the state. It’s exciting.
"We’ve got some more news, Lane Hovey is going to transfer to Montana. I hate to lose Lane, a wonderful, great man and a really good football player who is making a decision for him to find more opportunities to play. He played for us and would get in the games, but maybe looking for a little more opportunity to play and I get that totally, but like I said, we just wish him the best because he’s a great, great young man and he’ll always be a Nebraska football alum. He’ll be connected with us. Joe Keels has found a place, he’s got a sixth year and he’s going to play at Eastern Michigan. Trai Mosley has transferred to Central Arkansas. Adrienne Talan has left the program, we think he’s going to end up at a junior college at this time. And then we’ve got our class."
On quarterback Patrick O’Brien
"The first thing that impressed me about Patrick O’Brien was seeing him throw the ball on tape. In general, the first thing you’re drawn to is talent. We had some good video on him last year, last spring sometime and we liked it. When we were able to go out and go through the evaluation time during the spring, that was one of (offensive coordinator) Danny Langsdorf’s first stops, because we’ve kind of had a general rule through the years, a personal rule, that we will not offer a quarterback until we see him throw live. The video was intriguing, watching him throw. Danny kind of confirmed what we saw and we made an offer. We got a pretty early commitment and were excited about that. The other thing that is very exciting about it, because talent is one thing, but production is another, and this guy has been productive and he’s taken a team, a relatively new high school in Southern California and helped them become a playoff team. In doing so, he was very productive. He had big games. The best predictor of production is past production, so we like that in players. We like the fact that Derrion Grim scored 34 touchdowns and caught a bunch of passes for a lot of yards. That’s a good sign. Production is a good thing. That’s what we saw in Patrick."
On the offensive line class
"I like the number, and I like the talent. As you look at guys, we probably have three interior guys, centers and guards and then (Matt) Farniok is a tackle. I think that gives us some versatility there. I think there’s some toughness in that group. I think that there’s talent in that group, and I like the number that we got, so that was a good job by our staff to get them."
On making sure early commitments stayed committed
"Those guys that had been committed for a while committed before we got here. The one thing that we did with them is confirm Nebraska’s commitment to them. From there, it wasn’t very hard. I think Nebraska draws people for whatever reason and for John Raridon, it’s a legacy deal. His dad (Scott Raridon) had a tremendous experience here, and so I can imagine growing up in that house, it was pretty easy to like Nebraska and to envision that possibility for John. The other thing I’ll say about those two guys, Bryan (Brokop) and John is that we appreciate that loyalty to their commitment, because through that time, they get approached a bunch of different ways, as time goes by, and for them to stick by what they told us they were going to do is a big deal. It says a lot about them, so we appreciate that."
On recruiting within a 500-mile radius
"I think that that is a really worthwhile topic for us, as far as we learn more about what we’re going to do and what that radius means. I think that radius is a real thing, and I think what we have to do now, like today and going forward, is really hit this thing hard and be able to get these guys here. I still think one of the keys is to get guys on campus early, before their official visit. Get them here this spring. We have a chance to do that in this radius, and we were close to that 50 percent mark, not quite there. We had our chances with a couple of guys. Those were, for me, some of the bigger disappointments, because I’d really like to own this part (of the country). We’ve got to work really hard and we have to have the right recipe for recruiting each individual.
"How our (recruiting) went with Matt Farniok is a good example of that. We had him here on an unofficial visit during recruiting time last year. Last January, he was here. He was upstairs in the stadium. I met his family, and then we had a good, long year to recruit him, developing that relationship, kind of the old fashioned way to do it. Gaining the trust and continuing to build it and that’s where we have to hit hard with the guys that are in our radius now, so that we feel really comfortable about where we are when we had the last bat with Matt and his family last Wednesday in their home. We had that last in-home visit. That’s what I wanted. I told him a long time ago, ‘I want the last bat.’ We went in there and we had a plan from the beginning, and so now, with looking at it for a year how that worked, and each guy’s a little bit different. They’re probably going to approach it a little bit differently. Matt’s plan was to take his visits and to wait it out, and he had older brothers that had been through it, so he had a lot of advice, and it was good advice, but it made everybody just continue to build and make sure to cover all the bases as you go, and we ended up with the player.
"That’s really my vision for this radius, and there’s a lot of good football players. We found more as we went. We want to do a hair better. I think it’s going to be natural for us, and we have found it easy from Nebraska to go to California and go to Florida. So we’ll get our bits and pieces like that, get the right guy and recruit him over a period of time. We’re going to make a big effort, starting Monday, on really getting players evaluated in the beginning of the recruiting process. Probably, in saying that, we’ve got to, for next year, get even further ahead. This thing has accelerated to the point where you’ve got to get in it fast, get the evaluations done and pick that active group of guys that you’re going to recruit – the active recruits. The guys that you’ve offered and you’re going to recruit, and we’ve got to know those names as soon as possible because those relationships are there waiting to be built so that you can get them. We’ve got 20 working days until spring practice starts, so we’ve got to make the most of those 20 days getting ready for next year."
On visiting with Matt Farniok last Wednesday night
"That was very encouraging to me. If we do this thing right, and we’re at the University of Nebraska, and we treat this with the respect in this area that we should, we can do this thing. It’s got to be the right process. It’s got to be individualized to the right people, but that was a very good get with us, considering his options and kind of the world that he has been surrounded with – through is older brothers. They know this deal pretty well. That made me feel good about the process. Coach Cavanaugh did a great job at being persistent and consistent with his relationship with Matt and the whole family. That to me was a good picture of recruiting. [There were] some old fashioned parts to it, but those things kind of pay off in the end that are important to people. I think you have to have grabbers in this business. There’s videos, all the stuff that can grab somebody’s attention. Then there has to be substance that follows that, and that was a good picture with that family."
On silent commits
"What I would say is, right now, you better keep recruiting at that position. I kinda get the idea. Like for instance, Lamar Jackson. I think Lamar’s deal was really well done. His announcement and the video. I think that was fun. I think it shows how important it is to these kids. They’re going to take the time with that. The hard part about it is that a lot of times, since you don’t know, you have to be able to continue to recruit and have a number of options there for yourself. There are so many rules around this recruiting and one of them in particular is limiting as to the number that you can actually sign. I think it’s good. I don’t’ think there should be an overabundance of over-signing, where you put a lot of people later on in limbo about what’s going to happen. So I think these rules, this regulation is good. It’s also very important that you have enough flexibility yourself to get the players you want. If you don’t have what you feel is a real solid public commitment that you feel is going to last, you better maintain some versatility in the numbers that you’re still recruiting."
On waiting for players to commit
"I don’t know in some cases that it will be our decision considering how long we have to wait. I actually think that there are some guys who, like Matt Farniok, who knew what they were doing. You weren’t going to get a decision from him until he had gone through the process that he wanted to go through and he had a plan for that. No matter how early you get in on it, you could have gotten in on it earlier than we did – we probably got in as early as we could because it was right when we got here that we got in on Matt -- but they control it and when they do, that’s alright by me. If you know the plan and you know how that’s going to go, but the thing is that by making early evaluations and knowing what you would like to do and giving yourself enough versatility with numbers that you feel good about, it gives you an opportunity to see what that individual wants to do. A lot of guys are going to tell us early on that they want to make a commitment before their season. They want to get that decision behind them, so you have to take that to heart and make a plan for that. Then there are guys that are very up front like Matt was – this is what I’m going to do, this is how I’m going to play it – and then you deal with that that way. It’s not really up to us, but we kind of have to know what it might look like and then approach it accordingly."
On if getting commitments from Florida and California makes up for not getting one from Texas
"[Not getting a recruit from Texas] does matter to me. I think we should get a guy from Texas, and we were talking about that today, not that it necessarily has to work out like that. I love this group. We’re right at the top number that we could get so there’s not much else we could do. Now, we had – it was pretty public – a surprise at the receiver from just a couple days ago. That’s what I was talking about earlier. What you should do in that case is have that other guy ready to go and maybe should have had that other guy ready to go three weeks ago. We had one in the Dallas area that I think we could have gotten, he ends up at a real good school, but we kind of trusted this situation to be what it looked like, so we didn’t do that. We had a chance to get a guy from Texas. We will continue to hit that hard, I’d like to keep that going in California. I don’t know if we’ll get four, but we’ll get a couple guys there and a couple guys in Texas, and Louisiana has proven to be pretty darn good for us, so we’re going to stay there and Florida is the same way. So I think yes, it balanced out nicely for us, but yes we want to be relevant in Texas for sure."
On David Engelhaupt
"It was a last-minute offer to David Engelhaupt, but it was not a last-minute thought. We had him in camp, we liked him, he was part of our conversation for the year. We never stepped forward with it because of our numbers and then at the end, when we were presented with an opportunity, we had a long talk, we revisited it on video and liked it. Here’s a local guy that is a really good football player, who performed well in camp. He ran well in the 4-5s and the 40 for a big guy. We never forgot that. He was always part of the conversation so with the opportunity at the end, we thought that this was a really smart thing to do. And it’s another good example of what an opportunity at a camp can do for a young man, because had we not seen him in person like that, we may not have revisited it like we did; but we liked what we saw and never forgot. We had an opportunity at the end and we used that opportunity to get what I think is a good football player."
On a common trait throughout all of the recruits
"I think that, in the football realm of it, I think we’ve got production here. Good football players with production. If you looked at that offensive line and were going to make a general statement about it is this will be a tough group, this will be a physical group of kids. The other thing that I like that I think is general is these guys – and I love this in recruiting, and you can do this over a period of time – they get Nebraska. This is a great place. We give them a combination of things that nobody can match, in terms of the life skills they get here, the academic support and the football part of it and the experience in football. The combination is awesome, and I think these guys get it. I think that’s why a guy like Lamar Jackson, who makes a visit during the season and sees a game with all the opportunities he has out there, he gets it. He knew what he saw there and he felt it and he’s excited to live it and I think that’s what this group is about. Quayshon Alexander, from New Jersey is the same way. He came here to our camp. He loved the place, he loved the people that were here, then he got to see a game. He really got a great feel for it. It was fun talking to him about Nebraska. I think in general, I think that’s what this group is about."
On Lamar Jackson contributing right away
"Physically, Lamar is ready. My general bit of advice is, ‘Come here ready to play. Get yourself ready to play and compete in the games. Don’t come ready to redshirt. Get yourself ready to go and let’s see where it takes us.’ A guy like Lamar, with his size right now and his development, he’s got that opportunity. A guy like Dedrick Young. He stepped in the door last year and physically, he looks the part. Physically ready to go. Some guys need a little bit more development. Some guys need to practice more. Some guys need to learn more and that’s kind of the separator for the guys that are physically ready to go. When they come into fall camp, if they can grasp what we’re doing and show that performance on the field at practice, then they’ve got a shot to move in. As I’ve told you before, our deal on freshmen is if we’re not going to redshirt them, then they are playing in the games. You will see them playing. They’re not going go in and mop up sometime and that’s going to be what they do. If we’re not redshirting them, we’re going to make sure they get a lot of value in that year. Those are big decisions for us in fall camp and we had quite a few freshman play a year ago and hopefully that makes us stronger for this year, I think for sure that it will, but those are big decisions we have to make in camp with this group."
On the defensive backs and how they can help reshape and rebuild the pass defense
"One of the key ingredients to us getting better is we have to rise up in the total defensive numbers all over the place and one of the reasons is we did not play good pass defense. Pass defense involves everybody on the defense, whether it’s a guy covering a guy or a guy trying to rush the passer. All of that has to get better as we go, but obviously with these last two groups, we’re expecting talent-wise to just pick up the competition. That every part of this should be real. We certainly expect those guys, like Eric Lee (Jr.) and Avery Anderson that redshirted to compete hard this spring in their entry into playing with us and we’ll see who we get out of this group. I think there’s good combination of speed, playmaking and physical football players in this group, that somebody may surface right away. I hesitate to say who that might be, we’ve already talked about Lamar (Jackson) being physically ready, this JoJo Domann is a bullet. He’s an interesting guy and I would imagine when he steps in, he’s a playmaker. He’s all over the field making plays. So we’ll see what he can do. (Dicaprio) Bootle’s got tremendous speed. Maybe he needs a little bit more development as a *defensive back), but he’s got some of those physical ingredients that make him an interesting guy, we’ll see if he can transfer it right away. Tony Butler has been a really good football player with nice size too, so we’ll see if anybody breaks in, but certainly our goal is to increase the talent level there and to build it up over the years."
On his approach in recruiting junior college players
"Very selective. We went after a few junior college guys, not many, because when we go through the process we’re not going to go out and shoot for a whole bunch of different guys, we are fairly selective to the guys we went after. We did not get them. In general and the long term deal, when we look at junior college guys we are looking for a guy that can help us immediately, so it’s very selective and in general what we would like to do is bring a young guy in and develop him and get him ready. And then build that up from year to year to year, so we have him longer. That would be philosophically what we do, now that doesn’t mean we’re not going to look again at what the season looks like and where we might need help and maybe pinpoint another guy or two that we are going to go after in JC (junior college)."
On satellite camps going forward
"That’s a great point, Dicaprio (Bootle) was at a satellite camp, that’s where we noticed his speed, then we find out more about him, liked him, offered him, went through the process and signed him. It was, again, the presentation of an opportunity, that’s why I told you guys a long time ago that’s why I kind of continue to be in favor of satellite camps. That’s why I like our camps on campus, I think that kids can learn but I think kids can also gain, possibly, an opportunity to play some place that they never envisioned and that’s what happened with him. So as long as we can continue to do it we are going to do it. We actually are not as productive in our satellite camps as I thought we might be. However, what is not seen in this group is that we did see some underclassmen that are still out there, that we have already seen, so that will help us, hopefully, evaluate and recruit them for next year."
On if there is a pass rusher in the 2016 class
"You know I think we might have found it in a linebacker here. We just signed a couple of defensive linemen. I think that those two guys (Collin Miller and Ben Stille) in that way are going to be good candidates to be ‘that guy’ or provide that for us, obviously we think that. That is a possibility there, I think with two really good football players with production. But in saying that, also, in the versatility that you have on defense these days on third down, three-men front, linebacker blitzes, Quayshon Alexander might be a good example of a guy that in situational deals gives you the pass rush deal you want on third down. So, I think that besides thinking of just the defensive end being that guy it could be another guy too."
On the nine walk-ons who were announced on Wednesday
"First of all, I have been really impressed through the year of the guys in our program that have walked on; what they bring to this program in a lot of different ways and the stories that have come up. A guy like Brandon Reilly, I think leads the league in yards per catch as a former walk-on player that has earned a scholarship and is being productive. I love those stories. I think this group, again, was a group that was selected to be here based on their talent and production from high school. I just met with them over the weekend and now they have the opportunity to see what they can do with it. Once they enter in they are just on the team so we will see where they can go."
On number of walk-ons he expects to be on the 2016 roster
"Well we are probably looking in that 50 range again. We are probably looking by the time we get to the fall right in that 130 to 135 total players. So, that’s about what we were this year, probably what we are going to maintain."
On the possibility of offensive linemen playing right away
"Offensive linemen, historically for us, for me, have been the least likely to play right away. We have had guys do that, but that combination of the number of things they have to learn, also coupled with what they have to be physically makes it harder for offensive linemen in general. We will see, a guy like (Matt) Farniok physically when he walked in, you would not know he is going to be just walking out of high school. Physically he has got a chance to be that guy, now how he actually comes in and performs and with all the stuff he has to learn and the adjustments they make and everything that goes with it, that’s another part that he is going to have to prove in fall camp."
On in-state prospects who chose to go elsewhere
"Well I don’t like that. I think that their reasons were great and all that, individual and personal. Like I told you before, we want to get all these guys in Nebraska, so we will revisit that, again, early identification of those guys is going to be a big factor and the right building of the individual relationships is going to be key there. We have already revisited those guys that you are talking about and like I said they are personal disappointments to me, but what we can do with it now is try to find out ways to make sure that doesn’t happen again."
On recruits’ announcement videos
"I like them. I like them when they put the right hat on at the end. That’s my favorite one. I guess, things have changed so much and the opportunity to do stuff like that. When I was looking at that, I was just thinking about the fact that this is an important time for this guy and in this world today they are able to do this stuff. They get it and that he would care that much to spend time with it is kind of just a culmination of everything he has been through for a couple of years. He has been one of those guys that everyone knew about for a while. I think that it is just kind of the sign of our times, and I am not going to over analyze it, it looked to me like it was fun doing it for him. And like I said I liked the result at the end."
On if he saw any of the stuff Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh did on the recruiting trail
"I did. You know you can’t help but follow Jim (Jim Harbaugh) a little bit and pay attention. Well I didn’t rank them, I didn’t really look at it as a favorite thing, I just kind of paid attention to it. For sure what it is, it’s the sign of the time, of trying to grab them and I think in the end, however, it still comes down to the substance of what you are trying to do. But I think that there is some stuff there that interesting and makes everybody think a little bit."
On adding style and flair to the recruiting process
"Well, I think that we talk about a lot of different things, and we have a lot of guys down in our offices that are very forward thinking. Our stuff that comes out from our athletic department and from our football program, I think that there is a lot of good stuff coming out. I think that they are thinking about that stuff there and how to basically get those attention grabbers going and having some fun with having people being able to follow us. I like that. Now when it comes to stuff maybe that you’re talking about, personally I think it still comes down to whatever might be you. I think that for some guys to do some stuff, like I heard about this one guy trying to copying what Jim (Harbaugh) did, with staying overnight somewhere. All of the sudden is it real for that guy, is it just a copycat? You probably have to be original with it. But I think in the end, once you get past all that part of it, these guys get why they are coming to Nebraska. So eventually after you get past all that, this is an important decision that involves real stuff, and it involves somebody’s child that has to be at the right exact place for them. And yes it does make us think about what we can do better and differently and do some stuff that is fun and that will grab somebody. But at the same time once you get past that you’ve got to have the real stuff, otherwise, you know, what do you really have?"
On if there is a difference in the way the staff interacts with players with more notoriety
"Do we have to adjust? I think that in the initial thing, just like I talked about, in order to get somebody that is going to be a national recruit, and you can take Lamar (Jackson) or (Matt) Farniok, these guys, I think that you’ve got to get something that kind of gets a hook in there. But, then I have found that these guys, even though they have a lot of notoriety and they are being recruited by a lot of different people, I think that the place and the people and the things that they’re considering come down to some real common denominators about final making a choice, because if it’s the wrong place all the flash in the world and all the gimmicks in the world fade away fast, so they’re going to be searching for some of the things we’ve always talked about, and that’s substance in the program, and the right fit of the university for them and the right place. Eventually, when you get down to that, it becomes a very similar message. We’re coming from a different place and obviously a place with different kinds of strengths that we’re going to be able to talk about with a prospect. But, it’s not going to change for us. Once we get in here, we’ve got a lot of good things to talk about that are really, really important to their future, and that’s what we’re going to focus on and that part of it won’t change."
On if going through the recruiting process once at Nebraska made it easier this year
"That’s been comfortable that way. We’re not done learning, because we’re learning about our process and we’re already talking about (next year). We’ve already tweaked it starting Monday what we’re going to do different, and we’ve already talked about some things today that we’re going to do different. It’s much more comfortable right now, having that year behind us. Now a year of football behind us, lots of different stuff in the football season that we had to deal with but we found out a lot about the people in our program and the team and then we went through a whole recruiting cycle which is very good. And then we’ve been here a year and found out even how much greater than we even knew this place is and the things that are available for kids and how good it is for young people, so that’s just really encouraging for me to go out there again and get another group of people and then again we’ve learned, we’ll tweak, and we’ll get back out there and go again. The greatest thing in the world for us in our business is to establish a program, to establish the values we want, to establish football that we want and that takes time. That’s why, frankly, at the last school I was at (Oregon State), that’s why I stayed for so long because I realized at some point in there how valuable the time is each year in the program to build what you think is important. The football part of it, and in the evaluation and recruiting part of it."
On what he liked about Ben Stille
"I love Ben, saw him in camp, explosive. He is, coupled with the fact that he has really good athletic ability and explosion, he is determined. He is a serious guy, and I think he’s going to do very good things here. And he’s a heck of a wrestler."
On if any players will miss the spring season
"Antonio Reed is going to miss spring ball. He had a knee that was scoped, and they did a repair on it, and the repair is actually going to take a little bit longer to heal rather than sometimes a regular meniscus does if it’s just snipped a little bit so he will miss spring practice. Michael Rose-Ivey I think will be okay for spring ball. Mick Stoltenberg, I don’t think he’ll be ready to go, but he’ll be ready for the fall, he’ll work extremely hard and we need him to get back at it, it’ll be good to have him back. De’Mornay (Pierson-El), I don’t think he’ll be in spring ball, but I think he’ll be full speed for the year."
On Tulane transfer quarterback Tanner Lee, who will join Nebraska this fall
"I really like this get. This was a call from a friend that basically knew the family and knew the situation that was starting to unfold at Tulane. New coach, new staff, with a major option football background. This guy, a passer, more of a drop back mode, had been very productive. I had actually heard about this guy from pro scouts that had been down to see him five months ago, not even knowing, strangely, that this thing was going to end up as a possibility of happening for Nebraska just in the last few weeks. So, as this thing took place, I had already just had knowledge of it, we had real knowledge of it through Keith Williams who had been there with him, and then we had the video. And then, we did not sign a guy last year so in a way, we’ve got a young guy in Patrick (O’Brien) and we’ve got a maybe intermediate guy in Tanner. He will not be eligible this year, he for sure has a year with the possibility that he is going to appeal for a second year we won’t know about for awhile. So he’s in the middle of that. Either way we are excited about it, it provides us more competition in a transition period after Tommy (Armstrong Jr.) graduates, we’ll have a very good young player in Patrick (O’Brien), we have the guys that are currently in the program, and we’ve added Tanner to that picture who has played in games and been productive. I think he is a very talented guy and so I think our quarterback picture really was improved with him deciding to come."