Neal, Vainuku highlight new wave of impact Huskers
CHICAGO - Since the day Nebraska hired Scott Frost as its newest head coach on Dec. 2, 2017, the Huskers have gone through a massive roster overhaul.
In fact, in the past 237 days since Frost and his staff took over, there have been 51 new player additions via scholarship recruits, transfers, and walk-ons.
Among those 51 newcomers include two defensive pieces that should make an immediate in 2018.
The first was defensive tackle Vaha Vainuku, a graduate transfer from Utah who has two years of eligibility remaining and joined NU back on June 1.
A little more than a month later, Frost landed another familiar grad transfer in former Central Florida safety Tre Neal.
While it remains to be seen where exactly both players end up on the first game week depth chart, Vainuku and Neal will almost certainly take on major roles for the Blackshirts this season.
Vainuku, who originally committed to Utah in 2012 and then went on a two-year LDS Mission, had briefly medically retired from football last season due to injuries.
According to senior defensive tackle Mick Stoltenberg, the 6-foot-3, 295-pound native of Salt Lake City, Utah, has immediately impressed in his short time in Lincoln thus far.
“He's just a big dude,” Stoltenberg said. “He's not like sloppy; he's lean. He looks good, he's got a good physique to him. He looks like a natural d-lineman. He moves well. He's pretty athletic. Just going out and working on the sleds and stuff, he's got a good strike.
“I think he's a big, powerful dude. He benches a house. That's obviously going to be awesome too. I don't know exactly where he's going to play yet. I've talked to (defensive line coach Mike Dawson) a little bit about it, but he's not 100 percent certain. Wherever we put him I think he can help us out a lot.”
Neal obviously comes to Nebraska with a strong pre-existing relationship with Frost and his staff, having played for the coaches the past two seasons with the Knights.
The Atlanta native was fourth on the team with 68 total tackles last year at UCF to go along with three interceptions and was the Knights’ second-leading tackler returning for the 2018 season
The 6-foot-1, 215-pounder started all 13 games in 2017 and saw action in 38 contests the past three seasons, making 18 career starts.
Even though Frost projected that Neal might not be in UCF’s starting lineup this season, he thinks his former safety could give Nebraska’s secondary a major boost in leadership, experience, and knowledge of the defense.
“Tre’s going to be great for us,” Frost said. “We’ve got to fix the culture at Nebraska, and we’ve come a long way toward doing that. One of the rooms that needs leadership is the defensive back room. We love Tre… That’s a big piece.
“That’s a guy who already knows our system, a guy that we care about, a guy that can make all the calls and provide leadership for us in the back end and can play. That’s a big addition for us. He’s going to give us flexibility and leadership on the back end.”