Oh, it was a scene, man.
There was an awareness already by some that Nebraska’s head football coach could pop into the gym. He wasn’t coming alone either. Matt Rhule was with his assistants Evan Cooper and Bob Wager, the latter recognizable to everyone there. Wager had long been the football coach of the very high school the Husker staff was visiting.
Nebraska’s coaches were about to receive some fine hospitality on this Tuesday night. They were about to receive quite a show too.
“I’m siting behind the bench and here comes Matt Rhule. And Matt Rhule comes here and the place erupted. The fans just went nuts when they saw him,” said Brady Cagle, who coaches the wide receivers and the freshman hoops team at Arlington Martin High. “And here comes Coach Wager, his first time coming back to Martin after being at Nebraska, which is really cool to see that.”
So the place was already buzzing before the hoops action heated up.
Whatever struggles Husker football has had in recent years, it’s still a big deal when Nebraska’s head coach is in your building. Not to mention Rhule has built a strong reputation in Texas high schools going back to his time at Baylor. Then there’s Nebraska’s new tight ends coach Wager, who had led the football program at Arlington Martin for 17 years.
Their appearance brought out the noise, but things were just getting started.
Husker coaches already had their eyes on Ismael Smith Flores, who had a Big Red offer, as a tight end/receiver prospect. But Wager also knew about a freaky athlete who would be on the court named Jeremiah Charles.
Hoops and the triple jump had been more Charles’ specialty until this final year, when he played his first season with a strong football focus after having got a taste of it as a freshman. The 6-2, 170-pound prospect had 23 catches for 452 yards and five touchdowns.
“He was wanting to do it. He was wanting to learn, so I was able to spend that time with him during spring football … and got to catch him up for the most part on the knowledge of it and stance and start, releases, route-running – all that stuff,” Cagle said. “It was a big change for him but he had a good understanding to begin with. So I was easily able to coach him and he is very, very, very competitive.
“That’s the cool thing about him. Because he grew up with an identical twin brother, and you know those guys have been fighting and clawing each other their whole lives.”
That’s right. Twin Josiah is a heckuva athlete too, having signed with New Mexico State in December.
In Jeremiah’s case, he showed some natural gifts even as a football beginner. Long strider. Springy. People couldn’t cover him. “He was dynamic, whether it was running a route or fly sweeps to him … he was hard to take down,” Cagle said.
But, you know, he had just one year of film. North Texas has been a possibility for him, and remains so, but it’s hard to get a lot of attention with just one season of work. Wager knew about him, of course. And Rhule was about to see a spotlight performance from him too.
On this particular night, with Husker coaches in the gym, “Jeremiah had probably the best game that I’ve ever seen a high school basketball player have,” Cagle said. “He went completely off. … Really, they were there to hang out with Ismael’s family and do that, and surprise enough, Jeremiah like I said, he went off. It was just incredible. Dunking. And athletic plays and blocking shots, which caught the attention of them. That’s how it happened.”
Cagle could sense something special might be brewing even before Charles put up 22 points on four dunks, with defensive highlights sparkling throughout. “Just from the warmups alone, he was feeling it. Sure enough, he showed out.”
Now both Smith Flores and Charles are visiting Nebraska with offers in front of them. We’ll see how it plays out, but something to remember already happened on that Tuesday.
After the game was over, the offer came from Husker coaches to Charles, bringing tears to his eyes. And before the game was over, Nebraska’s head coach was connecting with more than just the prospects.
Cagle’s son was at the game and he and others knew Rhule would be coming. They were eager and well prepped for the visit.
“So they had their Sharpies. They had their footballs. They wanted to get down there and meet Matt Rhule. And really — love who he his,” Cagle said. “He brings an energy where he goes. It’s incredible. When he walked into that gym that night, he went straight to the student section. That was the first thing he did. And the kids just all stood up. They went berserk. And then Coach Wager followed him in and it was the same reaction.”
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Oh, it was a scene, man.