Recruiting in college athletics is big business. It’s no secret. According to Forbes, nearly every school in the Power 5 conferences spends more than $1 million per year to bring in new athletes. Over the past two-and-a-half years, dozens of schools around the country have dedicated a portion of the millions spent to gain the signature of Omaha Burke’s Nick Henrich.
There are good reasons why. Henrich is 6’4″ and weighs in at around 210 pounds. His highlight film is littered with explosive hits, acrobatic tackles, and a general disdain for opposing runners. He’s rated as high as fifth among inside linebackers in the 2019 class. The big-time schools took notice early.
“It was the winter of his sophomore year,” said Burke head coach Paul Limongi. “January or February, right around there.” But Limongi saw something before the letters filled Henrich’s mailbox.
“We knew he was a different kind of player probably the first practice in pads his freshman year,” Limongi said. “It wasn’t hard to see.”
And seeing it might have been a sight for sore eyes. In 2015, Henrich’s freshman season, the Bulldogs won only three games. The year before, they’d only won four. But when Henrich and his classmates (including fellow four-star recruit Chris Hickman at tight end and current three-time state wrestling champion James Burks at running back) took the field as sophomores, things changed. Over the last two seasons, Burke has a 17-6 record and came in atop the Omaha World Herald’s preseason ratings for 2017 and 2018.
As a standout player on a winning team, Henrich saw that an opportunity to play college football was becoming a reality. “It was a real dream come true,” he said. “It was crazy.”
The “crazy” only intensified. Henrich put together a stellar Junior season, tallying 119 tackles (31 for loss) in 12 games. His list of offers ballooned and included a litany of top tier programs. Notre Dame, Florida, Wisconsin, LSU, Iowa, and, of course, Nebraska were all vying for a commitment from the state’s top prospect. In total, more than 20 schools offered a scholarship.
With the attention came chaos, as Henrich describes it. “I’ve had to block reporters,” he said. “They wouldn’t stop calling me when I couldn’t talk.”
The whole country seemed to want to know where Henrich would suit up in the Fall of 2019. Wisconsin looked like an early leader, but then Notre Dame came on strong. The local media buzzed with anticipation. Where was Nebraska on Henrich? On June 15th, Henrich took an official visit to Wisconsin. The Badgers looked to be back in front. But three days later, Nebraska got a visit. The situation was still murky at best. Then, suddenly, on July 21st, everyone got their answer. Henrich tweeted his commitment with a familiar hashtag: #GBR
— Nick Henrich (@nickhenrich_42) July 22, 2018
Henrich has been quoted explaining that he was unsure about the previous Nebraska coaching staff. That doubt is gone today. He says the current staff, led by Scott Frost, is the primary reason he’s staying in state.
“It was really just a perfect fit, honestly,” he said. “Even the strength coach. Everything was just perfect.”
With his recruitment done, Henrich is left to focus on the 2018 season alone, something he expresses with relief. On his mind is the disappointment of finishing last season without a championship. Burke lost by a solitary point, 29-28, to eventual state champion Omaha North in the semifinal game.
“It sucked,” he said, matter-of-factly. “We played our butts off, but we just came up short.”
There can only be one winner. Everyone else comes up short. That’s the cruel truth of sports. That truth extends from the field of play all the way to the realm of recruiting. In the end, Nebraska won Henrich’s commitment. Only time will tell if Henrich and company can win a title for Burke.