Despite the Nevada football team being on a bye this week and not having a game this weekend, it will be one of the busiest weeks of the season for the Wolf Pack coaching staff.
The team has still held practices Monday and Tuesday and will do so again Wednesday and Thursday, but the staff will start spreading out across the country to bolster their recruiting efforts for the 2022 class, which thus far has nine verbal commitments (teams are allowed up to 25 commitments per class).
"This is a big week for us," Nevada head coach Jay Norvell said. "That's the other reason I like having a bye week in September is because we can go out and see kids and recruit this week. We'll get all over the country to recruit some of the top kids that we're really looking for in this class, get a chance to see them in practice, go to their high schools, get to see them play Friday night."
Norvell said the Wolf Pack has had access to more quality players in the 2022 class as a result of the team's recent winning. Nevada has reached three straight bowl games under Norvell, including last year's 7-2 season, and has earned Top 25 votes in each of the last two years, although it is yet to break into the rankings. Additionally, quarterback Carson Strong and pass-catchers Romeo Doubs, Elijah Cooks and Cole Turner have earned draft buzz, which has been a selling point to prospects.
"It's been great," Norvell said. "We've had some success, obviously played in bowl games and then probably the notoriety that Carson's getting nationally, I think that really helps us. It helps us in different parts of the country. We're recruiting in the South right now. We're recruiting in the state. We've had some really positive responses in the north and south of the state and also California. But just the recognition of the success that Carson's had has really helped us with the quarterbacks. Quarterbacks are looking at Nevada as a place where they believe they can come and learn how to play the position, and we're going to give them an opportunity to throw the football and play great competition."
Norvell said Nevada had to develop an unheralded quarterback before it could sign a big-name one out of high school. That's exactly what it has done with Strong, who only had one scholarship offer out of high school but is now getting buzz as a potential first-round draft pick, with some publications put him No. 1 overall in early 2022 mock drafts. The Wolf Pack landed four-star quarterback Clay Millen in the 2021 class, and he impressed during his first training camp. Norvell said the development of Doubs, Cooks and Turner has bolstered the team's efforts in landing good skill-position players, too.
"Same thing with wide receivers," Norvell said. "We're getting a lot of success with receivers because they see what Romeo's doing and Elijah and Cole, and so we're getting a great response. We're really in on players that we haven't been able to get in on. And this is an important week. We haven't been able to get on the road for over a year (due to COVID restrictions) and actually go to high schools and see games. I had a chance to go to a local high school game two weeks ago, and it was great just to get out and see the coaches and the players. There's nothing like Friday Night Lights, but our coaches will really spread out all over the country and get into our areas this week and really get a chance to shake hands with coaches and see players in person."
Norvell cited Nevada's next opponent, Boise State, as a team the Wolf Pack thinks it can beat in some recruiting battles. Many of the Broncos' top players hail from California, a state Norvell has emphasized since getting the Wolf Pack job. His ability to recruit California was one of his major selling points when he interviewed with Nevada athletic director Doug Knuth for the Wolf Pack position in December 2016.
"When I came to Nevada, I was so excited because we're right on the border of California," Norvell said. "All those kids that Boise recruits, they have to fly over Reno to get to Boise. And so from our standpoint, I don't know why we shouldn't be one of the top programs in our league and and have a chance to do it consistently."
Per 247Sports, the Wolf Pack's 2022 recruiting class ranks fifth among 12 Mountain West schools and 90th out of 130 FBS schools. Here is an in-depth look at the class of verbal commitments, with a short summation of each player below (players listed in alphabetical order).
* CB Eric Butler II, 6-1/175 (three stars): Butler was an unrated prospect when he committed to Nevada in July but has since been bumped to a three-star recruit. He held offers from Kansas, Fresno State, New Mexico, Utah State and Yale in addition to the Wolf Pack. He also plays wide receiver and has been a starting quarterback at the high school level in Southern California, so Butler is an excellent athlete who Nevada will try and develop into an above-average secondary player.
* LB Stone Combs, 6-2/190 (unrated): The best-named commitment in Nevada's class, Combs doesn't have a recruiting profile on 247Sports, Rivals or ESPN, so he's an under-the-radar prospect who also held offers from Air Force and Army. He's also a lacrosse player and All-American wrestler, so the toughness and physicality should be there. A native of Park City, Utah, Combs had 103 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and three sacks as a junior.
* QB Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi, 6-3/200 (three stars): Fowler-Nicolosi is from San Diego but transferred to Aledo, Texas last October as California was not playing high school football at the time. He was originally third string on the team but injuries and COVID issues vaulted him into the starting spot, and he completed 74 percent of his passes for 1,600 yards and 18 scores for a 13-1 state championship team. He also held offers from Arizona, Oregon State, Pitt, Toledo and Arkansas State.
* CB KeeKee McQueen, 5-10/170 (three starts): McQueen was the first commitment in Nevada's 2022 class, picking the Wolf Pack over Utah State, UNLV and Eastern Washington. He's a four-year varsity two-way player who had 130 tackles, four tackles for loss, three interceptions and three forced fumbles in his first three seasons at Spanaway, Wash. Also a track star, McQueen fits the mold of Nevada's recent cornerbacks, which has emphasized speed and toughness over height.
* TE Jacob Newell, 6-5/220 (three stars): The highest-rated recruit in the class thus far, Newell hails from Thurston High in Springfield, Ore., a school Nevada has plucked a couple players from in its most recent classes. At 6-5, he fits the model of what Nevada has looked for in its recent tight ends (namely Turner and Carlton Brown, both being 6-6). He's a four-year varsity player who also held offers from Arizona, Colorado State, Fresno State, UNLV, Army, Hawaii and New Mexico.
* DE Ike Nnakenyi, 6-3/220 (three stars): A Las Vegas kid, Nnakenyi didn't play his junior season of high school because the pandemic canceled the season in Clark County. As a sophomore, he had 42 tackles and three sacks for Coronado High. He also held offers from Colorado State and UNLV. Nevada is losing a lot of talent off its defensive line this offseason, so the front four on defense should be a focus of the Wolf Pack's 2022 class.
* WR Justus Ross-Simmons, 6-3/215 (three starts): Ross-Simmons was a star basketball and football player in Rochester, N.Y., who moved to Inglewood this offseason to focus on football and get more recruiting attention. He has an excellent frame for a receiver and runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash. Nevada will look to develop him like it did Doubs, who was a quarterback in high school who the Wolf Pack believed could make a successful transition to receiver.
* LB/DE Christopher Smalley, 6-5/190 (three stars): Northern Nevada has a bevy of top prospects in the 2022 class, including McQueen's Robby Snelling (four stars) and Ashton Hayes (three stars) and Bishop Mangoue's Sioape Vatikani (three stars), but they all opted for out-of-state schools. Smalley, from Douglas, is staying home and is an excellent athlete who held offers from San Diego State, Fresno State, Air Force, Army and Yale. He must add weight and strength and is a long-term play.
* DT Kendall Williams, 6-4/285 (three stars): Williams was bumped from a two-star recruit to a three-star recruitment following his commitment to Nevada. His only other offers were from Idaho and Morgan State, two FCS programs. But he has a huge body and has played nose guard and left tackle for Lincoln High in San Diego. Williams has a rare height/weight combination for a Nevada defensive lineman and will be taught the technique under line coach Jackie Shipp.
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.