Omaha, Neb. — If you can't join the Huskers, beat them.
That's the approach some Nebraska high school football players are taking as Iowa State increases its recruiting efforts in the Cornhusker state.
"As far as we're concerned, Nebraska is just like a home state for us," said ISU wide receivers coach and former Husker quarterback Mike Grant, who is in charge of recruiting in Nebraska.
Six Nebraskans are on the Iowa State roster, including starters in split end Jon Davis of Papillion-La Vista, I-back Stevie Hicks of Omaha Creighton Prep and nose guard Nick Leaders of Millard North.
Caleb Berg of Henderson is a backup strong safety. Defensive lineman Brandon Johnson of Rushville and nickel back Brandon Gunn of Omaha Central are reserves.
Iowa State often is the closest Division I-A football program for Nebraska high school players who aren't offered scholarships by NU - or don't want to go there.
For ISU's Nebraska imports, there is no bigger game than the annual meeting with the Huskers, which will be played for the 100th time on Saturday in Lincoln. Leaders, a senior, will be going for his third win over the Huskers in four years.
"This is a big game for me, just like the Iowa-Iowa State game," Leaders said. "Being from Nebraska, it's great to be able to go back home and play in front of all my friends and family."
As far back as 1909, when E.C. Harte of Omaha was a starting offensive back for the Cyclones, Nebraskans have had a presence at ISU. From 1983 to 1997 there was at least one Nebraskan in the starting lineup, and again each year since 2001.
Grant said when he arrived at ISU three years ago he encouraged head coach Dan McCarney to renew the emphasis on plucking players from Nebraska.
Grant's playing career with the Huskers ended in 1992, and he stayed in Lincoln as a recruiting assistant and graduate assistant until 1996. Grant, a Florida native, said he found Nebraska high school players to be hardworking types who can go from being good to great players.
"We've been able to get some of those guys that maybe no one else wanted," Grant said. "We try to find the guys we know are going to be hard-nosed kids with a Midwest background.
"You know the weather isn't going to be a factor when you try to recruit those kids."
Grant said many high-quality prospects from Nebraska aren't noticed by the so-called major football schools, including NU.
"There was a crack. Now the damage is done," Grant said. "During my era there, Nebraska was shut down to the outside."