Over the cracking of pads and helmets and the chanting of cheerleaders and fans, an unusual sound descended upon three metro area high school football games Friday night. The unmistakable whirr of helicopter blades turned all eyes skyward. University of Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster had arrived.
For the first time, but probably not the last, Brewster chartered a helicopter in order to visit three high school football recruits.
Though NCAA recruiting rules stipulate that Brewster cannot comment on individual players, the three schools he visited — Irondale, Cretin-Derham Hall, and Minnetonka — each feature a single highly-rated senior player. Irondale’s Jimmy Gjere , an offensive tackle, has already verbally committed to play for the Gophers. Cretin-Derham Hall’s Seantrel Henderson , another offensive tackle, stands 6-foot-8, weighs in at 301 pounds and is rated by Rivals.com as the top overall high school recruit in the country. Henderson lists Minnesota among several schools he is still considering. The third target, Minnetonka defensive tackle Beau Allen , is also considering several schools, and is scheduled to visit Wisconsin next weekend.
Six other Gophers coaches joined Brewster on the night, meeting the NCAA’s maximum allowance of seven coaches recruiting at one time. Football recruiting coordinator Dan Berezowitz said that Brewster’s flights — which allowed him to watch 900-plus pounds of high school recruits in a single night — were a logistical decision.
“He’s not showboating; he’s not trying to make a spectacle at the game,” Berezowitz said. “The helicopter [was] to get him from point A to point B.”
Recruiting rules allow Brewster only a single visit to each high school during the football season.
Athletics director Joel Maturi said his only consideration was that the trip itself was within the laws of the NCAA, the Big Ten and the University. Beyond that, he said, how Brewster chooses to spend his recruiting budget is his own decision.
“Obviously somebody might think we shouldn’t spend one dollar [recruiting],” Maturi said. “And I’m respectful of that. But it is a multimillion dollar business, and we’re in the hunt to recruit the best players in the state of Minnesota, as well as those nationally who are interested in Minnesota.”
Both Maturi and Brewster confirmed that the cost of the trip, considering that Brewster visited three players in a single night, compares favorably with a cross-country trip to recruit a player in another state. According to Complete Helicopters , a local chartering service, a three-hour rental of a helicopter costs around $2,200.
Brewster said that he’d flown both personally and professionally in a helicopter before and, if the occasion arose, would consider taking to the sky again.
“Absolutely,” Brewster said. “What it allowed us to do is get a lot of work done in a short period of time, and it worked out really well.”
Irondale principal Scott Gengler said Brewster contacted him last week to suggest the idea, and called Friday morning to confirm his plan. With several empty practice fields surrounding the school, landing space was easy enough to find, and an enthusiastic Gengler gave Brewster the green light.
“The Irondale community is very proud of our football program,” Gengler said. “And we welcome the U’s efforts in celebrating Jimmy’s verbal commitment.”
Brewster landed on a neighboring practice field shortly before Irondale’s game kicked off and was introduced over the loudspeaker to a cheering crowd. A surprising highlight for the coach must have been watching his recruit, 6-foot-7, 275-pound tackle Gjere, run a trick play, dropping back and throwing a perfect 40-yard spiral for Irondale’s first touchdown. After another successful Irondale drive, Brewster was back in the chopper for his next stop, while a few assistants stayed behind to continue watching Gjere.
Brewster’s effort, though unique to Minnesota, is not the first of its kind in college football. Both Maryland’s Ralph Friedgen and Rutgers’ Greg Schiano have chartered helicopters in the past to visit players.
Maturi reiterated that, with three games going on at one time, it would have been impossible to make all three stops if the coach had traveled by car. He conceded that the players themselves may have been impressed by Brewster’s surprise drop-ins.
“Kids are impressionistic,” Maturi said. “It is a situation of, ‘How committed are you to recruit me?’ and I think it was a positive thing. He’s as good a recruiter as there is in America, and there’s a reason for it.”