In Gophers football coach Jerry Kill’s first full offseason, he managed to recruit seven of the state’s top nine prospects — a task former Minnesota coaches had trouble accomplishing.
The 2012 Gophers recruiting class, which Kill announced Wednesday on national signing day, boasts 31 players, 25 of which will be true freshmen and six of which are junior college transfers.
“Where we were at scholarship-wise, we needed to recruit a team,” coach Kill said. “We recruited on need, but we needed a lot of secondary help, playmakers on offense, and we’re never going to turn down a great athlete. We’ll find a place to play them.”
Kill brought in 12 players from Minnesota schools who have signed either National Letters of Intent or Acceptance of Admission forms.
“We need to do what we can to keep in-state kids,” athletics director Joel Maturi said. “When you grow up in this state and grow up a Gopher, there is far more loyalty, commitment and a built-in love for the Gophers.”
The 2012 class is highlighted by three ESPN 4-star recruits, including lineman Isaac Hayes (Mendota Heights, Minn.), receiver Jamel Harbison (Charlotte, N.C.) and the state’s top receiving prospect, Andre McDonald (Minnetonka, Minn.).
Eight of the recruits have already enrolled in spring semester classes at the University of Minnesota after graduating from their high schools early and forgoing their final semesters.
“The great thing about having them here is right now we’re getting them adjusted academically and getting them going in the weight room,” Kill said.
Of the Gophers’ 31 recruits, eight are defensive backs, six are defensive lineman, three are receivers and two are quarterbacks — including decorated high school quarterback Philip Nelson (Mankato, Minn.).
“Competition is always good,” Kill said when asked about bringing in two quarterbacks. “If you don’t have a quarterback, you don’t win. And we’re now getting two of the better quarterbacks in the Midwest.”
Offensive lineman Jonah Pirsig (Blue Earth, Minn.), along with Hayes, will front a group of three incoming offensive lineman — all from Minnesota high schools.
Pirsig was highly recruited by programs like Auburn, Ohio State and Michigan, but chose the in-state Gophers.
“Coach Kill has really won the hearts of Minnesotans,” Maturi said. “He’s been open and honest with the public when he talks about his team, and I think people really like that.”
Overall, there are 16 signees on the defensive side and 11 on offense, with four signed as “athletes,” whose positions haven’t been determined.
While the Gophers football program certainly has holes to fill coming off back-to-back 3-9 seasons, Kill noticed a quick-fix ability in his incoming athletes.
“Speed solves a lot of problems,” he said multiple times during Wednesday’s press conference.
Six of Kill’s recruits have listed 40-yard dash times of 4.5 seconds or less, according to recruiting site Rivals.com.
“Guys like [Jamel] Harbison, Andre [McDonald], K.J. Maye and Isaac Fruechte — those are four guys that can get it and go,” Kill said.
Kill made the trip out to every recruit’s home, making sure his coaching staff saw the student-athletes in action before signing them.
“We’ve had a live evaluation of every one of these players,” he said. “Whether it was on campus here, during spring ball or even going to their [high school] basketball games.”
However, Kill had to receive clearance from the NCAA for his wife to chaperone him during his 2011-12 recruiting trips due to the seizure disorder that has prevented him from driving.
“If I had a seizure, she knows what to do,” Kill said of his wife. “She’d take care of it, and I’d go right back into recruiting. That’s how that works.”
Kill suffered a series of severe seizures during his first season with the Gophers and ended up hospitalized for five days after an episode during the team’s Sept. 10 home-opening loss to New Mexico State.
“I’m a pretty independent person, so it’s very difficult for me,” he said. “I need to be seizure-free here pretty quick so I can relax a little bit.”
Kill’s recruiting class hails from 13 states — 12 student-athletes from Minnesota; four from Texas; three from Florida, two each from Wisconsin and Ohio; and one each from California, Delaware, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Missouri, Illinois and Alabama.
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