Tracy Claeys couldn’t hide a grin as he announced Minnesota’s 2016 recruiting class on Wednesday, a group the head coach called the most athletic he’s seen in his five years with the team.
The Gophers added 20 players who signed a national letter of intent; nine came from within the state.
“To stay home, it’s got to be worth staying home for,” Claeys said. “We’re not where we need to be. We know that, and we need to win a few more games, but … if we can continue to improve the product, we’ll continue to get the majority of the kids in the state.”
The first of Wednesday’s signees to verbally commit to the program was Eden Prairie linebacker Carter Coughlin, who did so in March last year. Since then, Claeys was promoted to head coach, and the team hired a new offensive coordinator and new offensive line coach.
With all of the staff turnover, Claeys said, he and the coaches worked extra hard to make sure the team’s verbal commits stayed with the class.
“I think just about every day but two or three weeks … in December and January I was on the road every night,” Claeys said. “I was in different airport every day because you didn’t want to leave anything to chance. You wanted to make sure that you got in the homes, and those things were all solid because change is a scary deal.”
The coaching changes did lead to a few recruits decommitting, but the final group is still the best Minnesota has had in five years, Ryan Burns, publisher of Minnesota’s Scout.com site GopherDigest, said.
“This will be the best class that Minnesota has signed in five years,” Burns said. “That’s a very good sign for a team coming off a six-win season.”
Minnesota’s 2016 recruiting class was ranked 42nd in the Football Bowl Subdivision by Scout.com, 48th by 247sports.com and 50th by Rivals.com. Minnesota was ranked outside the top 50 by all three sites last year.
Claeys said the Gophers’ biggest need was on the offensive line, and the team added two junior college and two high school players at the position.
The two junior college transfers, Vincent Calhoun and Garrison Wright, are listed at 6 feet, four inches and are 335 and 318 pounds, respectively.
The two recruits will be expected to contribute right away, and Claeys said they embody what he’s looking for on the offensive line.
“It’s explosion. It’s size, strength and attitude,” Claeys said. “I think that the last couple of recruiting classes we’ve paid more attention to pass protection … not that pass protection isn’t important, but we are going to make our money knocking people off the ball and then worry about pass protection.”
The Gophers also added two quarterbacks in this year’s class, Seth Green and Mark Williams. Claeys wanted to add depth to the position after Minnesota had only three quarterbacks on scholarship last year.
“It was scary going through a season with only three quarterbacks on scholarship,” Claeys said. “I told [the] guys we’re not going to do that again.”
The Gophers’ additions at other positions through national letters of intent included one running back, one tight end, three defensive linemen and three defensive backs. The team also brought in three wide receivers and three linebackers, all from the state of Minnesota.
“The goal of every class is to bring in kids who you feel like, when they get their opportunity to play, will be better than the kids who have left the program previously,” Claeys said.