The list of Iowa recruits out of the state of Nebraska in recent years is long and distinguished. Noah Fant came to Iowa from Omaha, mostly because Nebraska only wanted him as a defensive end and not the all-conference tight end he became. Guys like Drew Ott and Nathan Bazata, both defensive linemen from small Nebraska high schools, were overlooked by the home state coaches and scooped up by Reese Morgan. All of those guys were either misunderstood by Nebraska coaches or overlooked altogether.
Obviously, that was going to change with Scott Frost. The third-year Nebraska coach grew up in the state and played for the Big Red. He understood the importance of in-state recruiting, of locking down the borders of an albeit small state before looking elsewhere. And with Morgan retired, and his eye for talent gone, the days of Iowa poaching under-the-radar Nebraska kids and turning them into multi-year starters were clearly over.
Um, about that.
I spent many nights praying about this decision. Im blessed to be in the position Im in today. I want to thank my family, coach, and teammates. Without you guys this isnt possible. With that being said ... Im committed to the University of Iowa pic.twitter.com/C5iaNfvDwT— keagan johnson (@_keaganj) May 6, 2020
That's Keagan Johnson, three-star receiver recruit from Bellevue West in suburban Omaha, the Nebraska state champions for 2019. He had 116 total yards and two touchdowns in that championship game. He's among the top three players in Nebraska this year, a three-star prospect at both of the recruiting services. He's hardly under the radar. Not only did his dad, Clester Johnson, play for Nebraska, but he played with Scott Frost. Nebraska had offered him a scholarship, and he was scheduled for an official visit in June. If there was ever a lock for Scott Frost's Nebraska, it was this guy, a player at a position where Iowa has always struggled to recruit talent, with all those geographic and legacy ties to the Cornhusker program.
Today, Keagan Johnson is an Iowa Hawkeye, and Clester is wearing black and gold.
Introducing @_keaganj in case you didnt know!! congratulations Im here to support YOUR journey to the next level- family and friends support you 100% now lets go to work!!! #Swarm21 pic.twitter.com/hktcK5R5SN— Clester Johnson I (@Tresvantstreet) May 6, 2020
Each recruiting story is different, and extrapolating any sort of sea change from an individual recruit's decision is folly. Iowa and Nebraska are making completely different pitches to a player like Johnson -- really, to just about any player landing in the middle of those two programs' Venn diagram of recruiting interest -- and Iowa's pitch apparently worked.
But the entire premise of the Scott Frost hire was to restore Nebraska's position in the national pecking order to its 90's heyday. Three years later, he apparently hasn't even restored that position for kids born and raised in the shadow of that program. The fact that Iowa's pitch worked shouldn't cause Nebraska too much heartburn, but the fact that Iowa was even able to make that pitch, that its recruiters were given an audience at all, should be agony.
Johnson's commitment, the fifteenth of Iowa's 2021 class, brings it to sixth nationally at both Rivals and 247. That number is going to come down as other classes fill in, and it would be surprising if they remain in the top 15 by Signing Day in December, but for now, it's a damn fine day to be a Hawkeye.