How two Martin players landed at Nebraska with the help of a coach-turned-recruiter

Shortly after Bob Wager held a team meeting in December to tell his Arlington-Martin football players that he had accepted a job on Matt Rhule’s staff in Nebraska, he pulled Ismael Smith Flores aside.

“He was like, ‘I just want to let you know that I’ll be back in a couple of weeks and I can talk to you then,'” Smith Flores recalled.

Smith Flores laughed.

“I can kind of see where this is going.”

Wager, who was officially named Nebraska tight end coach on Jan. 11, returned to school two weeks later that he had won hundreds of games and lived his friday night lights Dreams on and offered a scholarship to Smith Flores, a three-star tight-end recruit. Smith Flores signed to Nebraska through Iowa, Michigan State and others, and on Wednesday signed his national letter of intent to play for the Cornhuskers.

So did Martin’s three-star wide receiver Jeremiah Charles, who, like Smith Flores, received a scholarship from Nebraska shortly after Wager’s hiring. Even Wager’s son Gage, an all-district player with Martin, will be in Lincoln as the preferred walk-on running back.

In the often tumultuous and unpredictable world of college football recruiting, relationships matter.

Wager spent 17 years with Martin. It wasn’t long before he remembered those connections when he arrived in Nebraska.

“If you go to… [Martin], you know Coach Wager, right?” said Smith Flores. “He’s the biggest name there. I had always heard of him but never really spoke to him [before I played football]. When I got there I had this picture of what I thought was him. Turns out he’s a really great guy, a really nice guy. He’s just down to earth.”

Lewisville defenseman Jaydan Hardy (1) tackles Arlington Martin wide receiver Ismael...
Lewisville defenseman Jaydan Hardy (1) tackles Arlington Martin wide receiver Ismael Smith-Flores (15) during the first half of a Class 6A Division I playoff game at Ford Stadium in University Park, Texas, Friday, November 18. 2022.(Elías Valverde II / Associate Photographer)

Both Smith Flores and Charles have similar stories. Smith Flores — a standout on Martin’s state-recognized basketball team — had never played high school football prior to his senior year, but joined the team because he was not recruited heavily for college basketball. The 6-5, 210-pound senior emerged as one of the top tight-end prospects in the nation in a matter of months.

Smith Flores, whose father Leroy was the 1991 Iowa Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, caught 15 passes for 362 yards and 3 touchdowns for Martin (10-2) and caught Wager’s attention, so much so that Martin’s coach had brought Smith Flores to Nebraska before he was even hired there.

“Before I hired Bob, he called me about Ismael,” Rhule said Wednesday at a news conference on the signing in Nebraska. “He said his dad is in the Iowa Football Hall of Fame, you should check him out… Bob came [to Nebraska]he showed it to us and we said ‘holy smokers’.”

Now the man who sold Smith Flores to Nebraska will be his positional coach there.

“Those are the hardest things about going to college,” Smith Flores said. “You go in when you’re 18, you don’t know anyone. Everyone else is grown men and they know what they are doing, it can definitely be intimidating. You’re thinking, ‘Oh, will my coach like me,’ well I already know what he’s like.”

Charles, a 6-2 receiver who also plays basketball, joined Martin’s football team before his senior year for the same reason Smith did Flores. He caught 23 passes for 452 yards and 5 touchdowns but still wasn’t sure if college football was in his future.

Rhule came to Arlington in January to watch Smith Flores play for Martin’s basketball team. He’d stopped by Wager’s house earlier, and Wager mentioned that Charles — who tripled from 46 to 8.75 in the spring — was still unsigned and without offers.

Charles athletics caught Rhule’s interest. His basketball athleticism may have sealed the deal.

“The game started and my husband just started dunking everyone,” Rhule said of Charles. “I thought, ‘I see it coach.’

“Bob certainly had a big influence on that.”

Arlington Martin wide receiver Jeremiah Charles (11) races ahead on the sideline...
Arlington Martin wide receiver Jeremiah Charles (11) dashes down the sideline in front of Lewisville defenseman Cameren Jenkins (2) during the first half of a Class 6A Division I area round playoff game at Ford Stadium in University Park, Texas, Friday, May 11-18 .2022.(Elías Valverde II / Associate Photographer)

Charles scored a team-high 22 points in Martin’s 73-54 win over Arlington that night. He was playing his heart out, but it wasn’t necessarily because Rhule was there.

Because Wager was.

“I didn’t get to say goodbye to him before he left for Nebraska,” Charles said. “I wanted to crank up my trainer the last time I saw him typing stuff. I defended hard, got steals, quick breaks. Immerse everything – how to immerse literally everything. Catching lobs, diving into people.

“Then the coaches came up to me, came to talk to me and I was like, ‘Ooh’.”

Wager offered Charles a scholarship that evening. He visited the Nebraska campus three days later and committed three days later.

Nebraska signed the nation’s 29th recruit class with a staff now laden with Texas flair, according to There’s Wager, former president of the Texas High School Coaches Association. Rhule coached Baylor and the Carolina Panthers (and once wore a THSCA hat on the sidelines of an NFL game). Nebraska hired UIL athletics director Susan Elza as chief of staff, and wide receiver coach Garret McGuire is the son of Texas Tech head coach and three-time state champion Joey McGuire at Cedar Hill.

Now add two Martin players to that list — two players who had never played high school football before joining Wager’s team last summer.

“I know a lot of people get homesick,” Smith Flores said. “But it’s almost like I’ve come home to Nebraska.”

On twitter: @McFarland_Shawn

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