By Neil Patrick Healy
National signing day has come and gone. Every team in the country is undefeated, everyone thinks their recruiting haul is what will bring the program to the promise land and all parties are excited. Nevada is no different. The Pack has worked over a year to reel in the recruits that can propel the program over the top. It is time to highlight some of the key storylines in Nevada’s 2016 class.
Nevada lands fifth year back
The surprise for Nevada on signing day was the commitment of graduate transfer running back Akeel Lynch. Lynch played his last four years at Penn State and will be immediately eligible to play in 2016. After coming into 2015 as the go-to option for the Nittany Lions, Lynch suffered from injuries and eventually lost his starting position to true freshman Saquon Barkley, who ran for 1,076 yards and seven touchdowns. Head coach Brian Polian said during the signing day press conference that he likes the size and strength that Lynch brings.
“He’s a grown man,” Polian said. “He’s had four years in a Power 5 weight room. He looks like a grown man. He’s a downhill guy. He’s not going to outrun you around the edge. He is a downhill, one-cut runner who is fast enough to run away from safeties and we’ve seen it on film in the Big 10.”
Lynch will help share the load in the backfield with rising star James Butler as the Wolf Pack looks to continue the trend of a two running back offense.
Adding talent and depth to the secondary
If there was one position that Polian showed the most excitement about, it was the secondary. Nevada adds five players in the defensive backfield and Polian noted that some will command early playing time despite the fact that the current core of defensive backs are already young.
“I think this DB crop is really good,” Polian said. “I really do. I think one or two of these freshmen will end up in the depth. Hopefully not starting, but they might have to be in the two-deep early on.”
The Wolf Pack adds four cornerbacks in Daniel Brown, Kevin Howell, Daq Irby and Marcus Lucas as well as safety Daylon Johnson.
Offensive line help
Nevada’s offensive line play was a question mark all year due to a lack of depth and rash of injuries. Polian responded by adding five offensive linemen to help fill in the holes. Sean Krepsz and Jake Nelson come in via junior college, Carl Burton-Hill finished his senior season at Dixon High School in California, Ilya Lopez is a blue shirt that earned a scholarship as a preferred walk-on and Nate Brown enrolled this past January after delaying his enrollment six months.
Polian noted that he and Brown wanted to wait on Brown’s enrollment so he could get extra time to develop without wasting his eligibility.
“We felt like he needed six months of physical growth and maturity, and darned if it wasn’t the best decision that he and I made because he showed up here 20 pounds heavier,” Polian said.“He showed up at 280 pounds and it’s not bad weight. He looks really good.”
Hidden gems at running back
With the addition of Lynch, Nevada landed two running back prospects that seem to be flying under the radar around most recruiting circles. Nevada went way beyond its borders in picking up Jaxson Kincaide from powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and may have found a gem. Kincaide started his senior season as the third option at running back (both running backs ahead of him have signed with Division I programs), but injuries thrust him into the starting role. Kincaide finished the season with 1,289 yards and 12 touchdowns while averaging 8.2 yards per carry.
Sacramento native Isaiah Hamilton was forced to miss his senior season due to transfer rules, which may have cost him bigger schools taking a look at him. Polian and the rest of the staff showed interest in Hamilton and were impressed with how he handled the situation.
“We really thought highly of him as a player off his junior film and extended an offer to him from that evaluation,” Polian said. “Our feelings only got stronger as we watched him deal with the frustration of losing his senior season. He showed significant maturity and proved himself to be a great teammate as he went through a difficult situation.”
Nevada has continued to recruit in the state of Texas with relative success by adding two prospects from the Houston metro area. Wide receiver David Harvey and safety Daylon Johnson make up nine recruits from Texas that Polian has signed from the Lone Star State.
Defensive end Max Christensen III from Smithfield, Utah, signed his letter of intent, but is deferring to go on his Mormon mission, and will enroll in two years after the mission is complete.
Defensive linemen Nick Gregg is the lone northern Nevada prospect to sign with the Wolf Pack. Gregg hails from powerhouse Reed High School and is the two-time Division I North Region Defensive Player of the Year.
Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @NP_Healy.