LINCOLN — Nebraska is getting more help at its thinnest position on defense.
UCF safety Tre Neal — who started all 13 games for the Knights last season and made the game-ending interception in the conference championship game — told The World-Herald on Friday via text that he intends to join the Huskers after he graduates from UCF this month.
Neal has one season of eligibility left. He initiated contact with Nebraska about becoming a graduate transfer, and UCF did not restrict him from joining the Huskers.
Because Neal still has to graduate from UCF, Nebraska can’t confirm his arrival. It is unlikely coach Scott Frost will be able to do so at Big Ten media days.
But Neal could stabilize a secondary that stands as one of Nebraska’s biggest question marks.
A three-star recruit in the 2014 class, Neal redshirted his first year in Orlando before playing in 38 games with 18 starts as a safety. Neal logged 68 tackles, three interceptions and three pass breakups during his junior season in 2017. His interception in the second overtime against Memphis in the American Athletic Conference championship game sealed the win for the Knights.
“I’m excited for the next chapter of my career at the University of Nebraska!” Neal wrote on Twitter. “I hope I can just be a small building block of getting this program back to the greatness it once achieved. I’m just ready to work!”
He will join a Nebraska secondary that returns two seniors at safety with starting experience — Aaron Williams and Antonio Reed — but little experience behind them after sophomore Marquel Dismuke. Williams has battled injuries throughout his career, including a shoulder tweak sustained in the spring game, and Reed also missed time last season. NU’s situation got so dire in 2017 that then-defensive coordinator Bob Diaco played an undersized cornerback, 5-foot-10 Dicaprio Bootle, at safety in a 56-14 loss to Ohio State.
Neal would give Nebraska flexibility at the position. The Huskers could move junior college transfer Deontai Williams to cornerback — where defensive backs coach Travis Fisher said he may be of use — instead of playing him exclusively at safety. Williams played both positions and some nickel back during spring practices.
“When I took the job, I realized how quickly we needed help back in the back end,” Fisher said in June about Nebraska’s lack of secondary depth. “Just from a depth standpoint and a playmaking ability standpoint. I felt like, when we got in, we had eight guys on scholarship — four corners and four safeties — and that’s definitely not enough to go into a game with. Out of those four (safeties), some of those guys were banged up. It was really light from the beginning.”
Nebraska has added four freshman defensive backs — corners Cam Taylor and Braxton Clark and safeties Cam’ron Jones and CJ Smith — along with junior college transfer cornerback Will Jackson, and now Neal. Fisher had wanted to add another corner over the summer, and the Huskers came close to doing so with a couple of graduate transfers.
Fisher said in June all newcomers were expected to compete for starting jobs.
“They’re not here to be babysat,” Fisher said.
Neal already knows Nebraska’s new defensive scheme since coordinator Erik Chinander ran it last year at UCF. NU wouldn’t have to rely as much on just two safeties as a result and may even be able to install the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Neal as a fixture at strong safety.
The Huskers are up to 83 scholarship players on the roster, although two freshmen — Maurice Washington and Dominick Watt — have not yet arrived.
Nebraska brings back Dave Ellis, the ‘leading professional’ in his field, as director of nutrition
Dave Ellis is returning to Nebraska as the new director of performance nutrition for the athletic department, Nebraska announced Friday.
Ellis started the Nebraska nutrition department in 1994 and served as its director for eight years before leaving in 2001 for the private sector. He was at Nebraska from 1982 to 2001.
“Dave Ellis is the leading professional in the sports performance nutrition field, and will be a great asset to Nebraska Athletics,” Frost said in a statement. “Fueling our student-athletes correctly on a daily basis will be a key part of our success, not only in the football program, but across all of our sports. Nebraska is committed to being a leader in this area and having Dave on staff ensures that will be the case.”
Ellis is the second former Nebraska figure to return to Lincoln this week. Ron Brown, a former assistant at Nebraska for more than 20 years, was announced as the new director of player development on Wednesday.
In his new role, Ellis will oversee the “nutrition services and education” for all 24 of Nebraska’s sports.
“Outworking the competition with the power of a solid nutrition plan is what high performance fueling is all about,” Ellis said in a statement.
As an undergraduate at Nebraska, Ellis served as a strength and conditioning coach. He graduated from UNL in 1988 with a degree in human nutrition and started Nebraska’s nutrition program in 1994. He returned to school to become a registered dietitian in 2000.
“You just don’t replace a Dave Ellis,” Nebraska director of athletic performance Boyd Epley said at the time. “He is, in my opinion, the very best in the country.”
Ellis has spent the past 17 years at his own company, Sports Alliance Inc., as a sports nutrition consultant.
His most recent gig was with Major League Baseball, where he helped regulate policies in the collective bargaining agreement with the players union.
“We set the bar in this space during the Osborne era and now we will set it again in the Frost era,” Ellis said in his statement. “This is an opportunity to bring all of my key learnings from working 35-plus years in sports to the table for the welfare of our student-athletes.”