Ethan Piper is now officially a Husker.
Surrounded Wednesday morning by family members, high school coaches, his entire class and even a couple of special guests, he signed a letter of intent to play football at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as of next school year.
"I wouldn't be the man I am without all of these great people around me," Piper said. "I think it was only fitting to have the senior class here because they are a great group of kids. I wouldn't want to do it with anyone else."
Also on hand were two younger Norfolk Catholic students — Jack Johnson, who had “signed” with the Huskers as part of a Make-A-Wish ceremony, and sixth-grader Tyson Risinger, another student Piper has worked with in recent months.
Unofficially, the Norfolk Catholic senior has been a Husker for much longer.
He verbally committed to NU on March 5. Before that, it was simply Piper’s longtime dream to play at Memorial Stadium.
So Wednesday’s signing press conference at the Norfolk Catholic cafeteria simply made official the allegiance that has been a lifetime in the making.
"We were going through pictures this past weekend, and he had his little 1-year-old pictures with a Husker outfit on. And in his birth announcement picture, he had a Husker shirt that said, 'Future all-star,' " said his mother, Leisa.
"If you look at his bedroom, he's got three posters down there of Blackshirts and stuff," his father, Les, added. "He grew up a big football fan. Even if Nebraska hasn't been real good, he still always liked to follow them."
There were moments he could have broken that allegiance — especially when the University of Iowa offered a football scholarship to Piper last fall as the Nebraska football program was hitting rock bottom.
But as Piper mulled over Iowa's offer, he never wavered from his allegiance.
"I wanted to go to Nebraska," Ethan said. "I was waiting for that Husker scholarship offer. When I got that Iowa offer, they (my parents) said to wait and don't do anything with it right now."
Then Scott Frost entered the picture.
The Wood River native and homegrown Husker knew it was important to keep players like Piper away from high-profile out-of-state schools. Obviously, the status of the football program — with Frost and his staff taking over in Lincoln — was a big factor in Piper maintaining his longtime allegiance.
But that wasn't the only reason he was attracted by the opportunity to attend NU.
"After his interview after they (Central Florida) won their bowl game, the speech he gave about the relationship he had with his kids, how much he's going to miss them, I think that sold it for me — knowing the family-based program he's bringing to Nebraska," Ethan said. "Not only building great players on the field, but building great men off the field."
Piper is a three-star prospect, according to recruiting services Rivals and 24/7 Sports. The latter calls him the fifth-best overall prospect statewide for the 2019 class. Other than the Hawkeyes, the University of Ohio and South Dakota State were the other known offers.
"As a parent, you want for your kids what makes them the most happy," Leisa said. "And, really, Ethan is the best version of himself when he is playing football and engaged in those kinds of things."
He was the third player to commit to NU this recruiting cycle, following the lead of Scottsbluff's Garrett Nelson and York's Garrett Snodgrass. Joining them now as Nebraskans committed to the Huskers are Nick Henrich and Chris Hickman, both of Class A state champion Omaha Burke.
"Ethan was a tremendous leader through his work ethic and all of the little things that he did, and then people followed and got involved in trying to get as good as we could be," Norfolk Catholic coach Jeff Bellar said. "Obviously, football is a team game, but he was a tremendous player with tremendous talents, and I think the positive thing that went with that was that he worked extremely hard, too."
What position Piper in Lincoln will play is ultimately anyone's guess. He could play defensive tackle, defensive end, offensive guard or even center. That may not be determined until next spring.
"I think it's probably 70/30 defensive line," he said. "It's up in the air still. They won't make a decision until after March."
He's the first Husker signee from Norfolk since another Norfolk Catholic product, David Engelhaupt, committed three years ago. Engelhaupt was recruited as a tight end, but he has since left the NU program.
"We've been blessed with kids who have worked really hard, who are very talented athletes," Bellar said. "You're always happy if they have an opportunity to go and play at the University of Nebraska."