Minnesota posted a 6-7 record this year after back-to-back eight-win seasons, but the dip in results doesn’t seem like it’s affected the team in recruiting.
The Gophers 2016 recruiting class already had six members announced by mid-December, and it will be finalized Wednesday on National Signing Day. The class is expected to be the program’s best since most of the current coaching staff arrived in 2011.
“As far as where this class has been in the five years I’ve been covering recruiting, this is going to be the best class to date,” Ryan Burns, publisher of GopherDigest, Minnesota’s Scout.com site, said. “For Minnesota to accomplish that coming off a six-win season where it didn’t really come up to meet expectations … it’s a pretty significant victory for Minnesota.”
The Gophers recruiting efforts have been helped this year thanks to a large pool of in-state talent, and the team’s class has largely stayed together despite changing circumstances.
Not only did Minnesota finish with a losing record, but head coach Jerry Kill retired midseason and the team’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach were fired after the regular season.
“This in-state class is the deepest in terms of in-state talent in probably at least a couple of decades,” Burns said. “Minnesota has a lot of skilled players [coming in] from the state of Minnesota, and that never happens.”
Seven of the Gophers’ top 10 current verbal commitments for the class of 2016 played high school football in Minnesota this year, according to Scout.com.
The team’s second-ranked recruit on the site, quarterback Seth Green, is also a Minnesota native who moved to Texas for his senior year of high school. Green has already signed a tender of financial aid and will be eligible for spring practice.
“Minnesota [high-school] football has gotten a lot better,” Eden Prairie high school head coach Mike Grant said. “There are more Division I athletes than in the past. … I think Minnesota football is getting better known as having some outstanding football players.”
Grant coached Minnesota’s top-ranked verbal commitment this year, linebacker Carter Coughlin. The defensive prospect had interest from programs like Ohio State and University of Oregon, but he decided to attend college locally at the same school where his grandfather, father and mother are all in the University’s “M” Club Hall of Fame for athletics.
With the increased competition in-state, Coughlin and Eden Prairie lost in the Class 6A state tournament quarterfinals this season, snapping a 40-game victory streak for the team.
The competition was still strong in the state’s lower classes. Gophers verbal commit athlete Tyler Johnson quarterbacked Minneapolis North to the 1A title game but lost to Minneota.
“Minneapolis has a ton of talent that needs to stay here and compete here in Minnesota,” Minneapolis North head coach Charles Adams said. “We have athletes that can compete at the next level.”
The aggressiveness of head coach Tracy Claeys on the recruiting trail has also helped the Gophers finalize their recruiting class.
Kill rarely tried to flip recruits who had given a verbal commitment to another school, but Claeys has shown a willingness to do so.
“If [Claeys] thinks he has a decent shot going against that school that a guy’s committed to, he’s going to do it,” Burns said. “Minnesota is going after kids currently committed to other schools, and while the risk is a lot higher that way … the reward is that much greater as well.”
The style has helped Claeys leave his own mark on the class in the wake of Kill’s departure.
“He was able to accomplish a lot of things, especially in the month of December,” Burns said. He was able to get a couple of kids that Minnesota usually shouldn’t get.”