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Talent on display

PHOTOS BY RYAN SODERLIN/THE WORLD-HERALD

From left to right, Seward's Adam Holtorf, Gothenburg's Tanner Borchardt, Bellevue West's CJ Johnson, Omaha North's Calvin Strong, Omaha North's Michael Decker and Omaha Central's DaiShon Neal.

Meet the 2014 World-Herald Super Six team

You couldn't have gone wrong with any combination of a dozen Nebraska high school football players. The 2014 Super Six — the six top college prospects among high school seniors in the Midlands — was going to be one of the most talented groups in years thanks to a number of athletes who have attracted FBS offers.

But the six we did pick have particularly good chances at college careers. They've already made their mark in high school.

Omaha North's Calvin Strong and Bellevue West's CJ Johnson — a Wyoming commit — were respectively the state's top running back and receiver last year. Omaha North guard Michael Decker — headed to Nebraska — plowed open those holes for Strong. He's a top technician, often blocking two guys on a given play.

In Seward, Kansas State commit Adam Holtorf has been a key contributor for the Bluejays since his freshman year. And three-sport star Tanner Borchardt is one of the biggest players in the state out in Gothenburg. Borchardt, who won the Class B shot put title in 2014 and has already set school records in basketball, is athletic enough to have once played corner.

Finally, Nebraska commit and Omaha Central defensive end DaiShon Neal might be the most impressive of the prospects, having made an impact as a pass-rushing junior, then gaining good weight this offseason to become a 6-7, 245-pound end who could shoot up the recruiting rankings with a big senior season.

The Super Six lacks a signature quarterback, as many of the state's best graduated last year, but what it loses in a signal-caller, it makes up for in athleticism, production and star power. This six is open for business.

— Sam McKewon

Tanner Borchardt

Gothenburg offensive tackle/defensive end

Height: 6-8   •   Weight: 265

2013 in review: Gothenburg has made it to the quarterfinal round of the Class C-1 playoffs each of the past three years, and Borchardt is a key reason why. He routinely takes up two blockers when he's on defense, and on offense, Gothenburg coach Craig Haake estimated that the Swedes ran 75 percent of their plays last year to the left side, where Borchardt played. Defenses still struggled to stop it. Borchardt was equally good in basketball last year, setting school records for points and rebounds in a season. He'll have a chance to eclipse Jay Novacek's career scoring record this year. Borchardt also won the Class B shot put title at the 2014 state track meet. He finished fourth in the discus.

2014 outlook: Football appears to be Borchardt's calling card from this point forward, however. He's received a bevy of offers — though none yet from any Power Five programs — with Colorado State and Wyoming leading for his services. Borchardt stands out on the football field; he's been on varsity since his freshman year, and he hasn't faced anyone taller yet, he said. A few guys have weighed more, though.

Academic standing: 4.0 GPA, first in his class.

College plans: Undecided, but offers from Colorado State, Wyoming and Ohio, among others.

Gothenburg coach Craig Haake on Borchardt's talent and goals in 2014: "He was the best overall football player on the field every game. He went across from some excellent linemen, I thought, but he was the best lineman in C-1. I'm totally convinced of that. He was one of our captains last year, but I want him to be more of a vocal leader this year. He's pretty quiet, pretty laid-back. We need him to take the reins and be more outspoken. Because, honestly, his play -- there aren't any problems with that."

Borchardt on his versatility: "One time I played corner. Two years ago at Chadron, they had a 6-7 kid who'd just tear up the flats, so the coach told me to play corner. And right after the ball was snapped, I'd jam him for 5 yards, and if he got away, I'd just go after the quarterback. He caught one pass."

— Sam McKewon

Michael Decker

Offensive guard, Omaha North

Height: 6-4   •   Weight: 285   •   40-yard dash: 5.27

2013 in review: Decker moved from tackle to left guard as a junior and helped trigger a North run game that included tailback Calvin Strong going for a Class A-record 3,008 yards. Decker showed a knack, with his mobility and footwork, to get to the second level, where he was then too big and too strong to handle. Still a little raw in pass blocking, but mostly because the Vikings were pretty simple with protections and didn't throw a whole lot.

2014 outlook: No longer an unknown as he heads into his senior season as the No. 1-ranked player in the state -- according to Rivals.com -- and a Nebraska commit after picking the Huskers over Kansas State. North coach Larry Martin said Decker continues to benefit from a solid work ethic and should become more of a leader for the Vikings.

Academic standing: 3.8 GPA, on track to meet all NCAA requirements.

College plans: Committed to Nebraska

North coach Larry Martin on Decker: "He can be a center or guard in college. Just a hard-nosed, tough kid that likes to finish blocks. We've been blessed to have a couple that have played down there (at NU), but just your typical home-bred offensive lineman."

Decker on North trying to make a third straight Class A final: "It's great what we've already been able to accomplish. But for me, it's one of those things where we don't want to have a letdown. I'd prefer to have another great year."

— Rich Kaipust

Adam Holtorf

Offensive/defensive tackle, Seward

Height: 6-5   •   Weight: 275   •   40-yard dash: 5.13

2013 in review: Holtorf was an iron man for Seward, leaving the field only on special teams. While the Bluejays struggled in 2013, finishing 2-7 in a tough Class B district, Holtorf was a disruptive force on both sides of the ball. A major contributor for Seward since his freshman year, Holtorf has grown into his body and both positions. He's one of the seasoned, tested players in the state.

2014 outlook: Expect no rest for Holtorf this year. Seward needs him to take on power teams like Aurora, York and Crete. Holtorf is up for the challenge, though, having had a successful summer at a variety of college camps. Though he was the best lineman in two sessions of the Huskers' football camp, Nebraska was already full at Holtorf's likely college position, guard. NU didn't offer, but Kansas State and Bill Snyder did.

Academic standing: 4.0 GPA, sixth in his class.

College plans: Committed to Kansas State

Seward coach Jamie Opfer on Holtorf: "At camps this summer, coaches would mention, 'Man, that No. 79, he's a player.' It's more than just his physical ability — it's his mental toughness, his willingness to go all out on every play and every snap, to go to that second gear, that third gear, to chase people down, to be relentless."

Holtorf on his work ethic and mindset: "In every aspect of football, you have to keep working harder and harder. Whether that's in a game setting or the weight room. It can be the Monday after the season or the middle of January — you always have to push yourself."

— Sam McKewon

CJ Johnson

Receiver, Bellevue West

Height: 6-1   •   Weight: 180   •   40-yard dash: 4.4 to 4.5

2013 in review: Johnson caught 79 passes for 1,364 yards, helping Bellevue West earn a spot in the Class A playoffs. He had 17 touchdowns, too. And much of his production came on short passes in the flat or near the line of scrimmage — because more often than not, teams were playing soft coverage against Johnson to take away the deep ball.

2014 outlook: Johnson's always been explosive. But speed workouts twice a week with the high school's track coach have increased his burst. He'll be a force on the outside within Bellevue West's offense again. Watch out for him as a kickoff and punt returner, too. And he might just get a few snaps at free safety. Johnson's all for that idea. Said Johnson: "People know me for catching the ball. I want to play some defense." The coaches just don't want to place too much of a workload on their star.

Academic standing: GPA is right around 3.5, on track to meet all NCAA requirements.

College plans: Committed to Wyoming

Bellevue West coach Michael Huffman on Johnson's strengths: "He's a really skilled receiver. Really smooth when he runs. He's got good hands. He's worked hard to get stronger, and that's going to help him break tackles. But he's already pretty slippery. He's got a good first move."

Johnson on his offseason regimen: "The coaches do a good job of organizing things. We lift every day no matter what."

— Jon Nyatawa

DaiShon Neal

Defensive end, Omaha Central

Height: 6-7   •   Weight: 245   •   40-yard dash: 4.6s

2013 in review: He seemed to be a bit underrated in recruiting circles before emerging as a constant disruptive force while leading Omaha Central to a Class A playoff berth. Neal was an offensive coordinator's nightmare last season, recording eight sacks. College coaches see the potential now. Neal's gained 15 pounds since, committed himself to a rigorous offseason training program and transformed himself into a more devoted student of the game.

2014 outlook: Probably a lot of double teams. That's Neal's expectation. Whatever comes his way, Neal feels more prepared for it now than a year ago. He's increased his endurance — which means he'll "be able to go much longer than everybody I'm going against." The sky is the limit for the Nebraska commit, who's doing his best not to think ahead. NU coaches told Neal they'll be putting him on the same workout plan as Randy Gregory. That's exciting. But Neal's focused on 2014.

Academic standing: GPA ranges between 3.2 and 3.4, on track to meet all NCAA requirements.

College plans: Committed to Nebraska

Coach Ball on Neal's offseason: "He's always been a motivated kid, really. But he's taken his workouts to a new level. ... The one thing he's continued to improve on is technique. He's always played with a high motor, but being a tall kid, he's had to learn how to play low."

Neal on his mentality this fall: "If I don't do my job, then we don't win games. I've got to make sure I make plays."

— Jon Nyatawa

Calvin Strong

Running back, Omaha North

Height: 5-9   •   Weight: 185   •   40-yard dash: 4.6

2013 in review: Strong put up turf-shattering stats as he became the first player in Nebraska high school history to rush for 3,000 yards in a season (3,008). He also set a Class A record with 43 touchdowns. At the end of the line for North was the school's first football state championship since 1967. Durable and dependable, Strong was there every week for the Vikings despite battling injuries.

2014 Outlook: North coach Larry Martin said Strong has had his best summer as a Viking, which should only complement what he already has going for him -- burst, toughness, balance, vision and the ability to utilize his blocks. Strong also hopes to be better with his strength and power running. Look for maybe a smaller number of carries in the early-season games, Martin said, in hopes of Strong having fresh legs for a run at a state title.

Academic standing: Martin said Strong is above a 2.0 cumulative GPA but still needs the necessary ACT score.

College plans: Undecided; offer from South Dakota.

North Coach Larry Martin on Strong dealing with expectations after 3,000-yard season: "He'll do very well with it, and he knows how to take care of the people that are going to take care of him. From a yardage thing, he doesn't mention that stuff much to us. Maybe the outside people might, but I know winning's the most important thing to Calvin."

Strong on running with the football: "It's natural, because I've been a running back for so long. It's just an instinct, when I have the ball, that I'm going to get past that first-down mark."

— Rich Kaipust


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