Grind recognizes grind. And Trev Alberts is seeing a lot of it from his new football coach.
Speaking on his monthly in-house radio show Tuesday, the Nebraska athletic director said the relentless fervor coach Matt Rhule and his staff have shown on the recruiting trail and in North Stadium has stood out. He’s seen the energy invigorate fans, players and even NU administrators.
“This is a group that is a group of workers — they’re passionate, they’ve got a vision, they push,” Alberts said. “They’re leading the way culturally in terms of work ethic within our department. I think that’s really important.”
The commitment earlier Tuesday of 2023 receiver prospect Demitrius Bell out of Nashville brought the newcomer total in the class to 37, with another potential add or two before the Feb. 1 signing period. Rhule, meanwhile, has continued to assemble support staffers and found time for various appearances, including one that also dropped Tuesday with a prominent national podcast, “Bussin’ With The Boys.”
Rhule — not yet two full months on the job — and Alberts were in Omaha on Monday meeting with area donors.
“Let me tell you something: He’s far surpassed my expectations in terms of work pace,” Alberts said of Rhule. “It’s been great to watch.”
The more Alberts sees the new staff operate, he said, the more he believes it can “thread that needle” between genuinely respecting Nebraska’s tradition while also being innovative in strategy for future success. Coaches continue to be spread out making offers to prospects in the 2024 class and beyond — they even issued one to a 2027 running back out of Florida on Tuesday.
Rhule also is prioritizing in-state players, Alberts said, noting that NU’s best teams historically had 20-plus native sons on its rosters. Special teams coordinator Ed Foley has been touring around the state, including Monday stops in communities like Cozad, Lexington and Gothenburg.
“I think they’re going there for the food, let’s be honest,” Alberts joked. “Every small town has an incredible restaurant. They’re just going out there to eat.”
With recruiting services now ranking Nebraska’s class near the back of the top 25 — a jump of 20-plus spots since he took over in late November — Alberts said the effort is already bearing fruit.
“In our best days, people felt like they could see, touch and feel and be part of this program,” Alberts said. “That’s what I want too and I think that’s what Coach Rhule will bring is that humility that allows everybody to feel like they’re a part of rebuilding a great tradition at the university.”
* The April 22 spring game will be a key event for recruiting and fan excitement as Nebraska unveils its team in the Rhule era, Alberts said. Around 3,000 tickets will be donated to military personnel and families while children in 12th grade or younger can purchase tickets for $1.
Alberts said the on-field activity will resemble actual football.
“It’s going to be a game; it’s going to be football,” Alberts said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what this new version of Husker football looks like under Coach Rhule’s leadership.”
* Nebraska has fielded more than 6,700 unique requests from people wanting to join as football season-ticket holders this offseason.
* Unlike previous Rhule rebuilds at Temple and Baylor, Alberts said the transfer portal will allow for an expedited transition. Nebraska has added 11 transfers thus far including three from Georgia headlined by former top prospects in edge rusher MJ Sherman and tight end Arik Gilbert.
“Players want to play,” Alberts said. “There are players that are at institutions that might play in the NFL that aren’t going to get the playing time because there are five-stars in front of the four-star. The transfer portal gives them the opportunity to go to a great school like the University of Nebraska and be part of a great turnaround.”
* Asked about season-ending injuries hitting both the men’s and women’s basketball teams, Alberts said all were gut punches to tenacious playmakers as well as coaches Fred Hoiberg and Amy Williams.
“Both Fred and Amy have some challenges here and they’ll show great leadership in holding their teams together and to continue fighting,” Alberts said. “But I feel sorry for the student-athletes.”
* Nebraska football will continue to practice in the morning, Alberts said, though “it might look a little bit different in terms of time.” The Huskers made that transition from evenings under former coach Scott Frost in the spring of 2018.
* Regarding the ongoing 389-game sellout streak, Alberts said it’s largely been fans and donors who have risen up when necessary to purchase tickets during recent lean seasons.
“If we don’t have a football program representative of the ideals of our fans, the sellout streak isn’t going to last,” Alberts said. “We recognize the importance of this year and we’ll do everything we can to have the kind of product that we don’t have to worry about our sellout streak. But I’ll tell you, in recruiting and other things, it’s a big deal.”
* Alberts noted the turnover in leadership across all levels of college athletics, with new faces coming in atop the NCAA, Big Ten and at Nebraska with the upcoming retirement of Chancellor Ronnie Green. Replacing B1G commissioner Kevin Warren, set to become the president and CEO of the NFL’s Chicago Bears, will be “critically important.”
The league ADs, presidents and chancellors continue to work through whether they will appoint an interim commissioner and how the search for the next permanent one will begin.
“I think the Big Ten is in great shape,” Alberts said. “We’ve got great institutions. I think we’ll be able to attract a really high-level candidate to lead our conference.”