In addition to adding a pair of four-star defensive backs, the Gophers' football team has also added a pair of four-stars on the offensive side of the ball in 2021.
With starting quarterback Tanner Morgan and running back Mohamed Ibrahim entering their senior seasons in 2021, commits Athan Kaliakmanis and Mar'Keise Irving perhaps come in as their successors. Kaliakmanis, a dual-threat quarterback, and Irving, an elusive running back, are two of four Gophers' four-star commits that make up its No. 19 ranked recruiting class.
Irving hails from Hillcrest High School in Country Club Hills, Illinois, and, according to scouts, is a compact back who is incredibly hard to bring down. He's considered a solid pass catcher who could improve in that department. But overall, Irving is a runner who can power his way through defenders with a nice stiff arm and has a big burst to outrun defenders to the endzone.
“I had a special relationship with [head coach P.J.] Fleck and my position coach, Kenni Burns, at Minnesota. I trust them in giving me a chance to succeed at not just college but possibly going forward to have a shot at the NFL. They told me that I could bring great changes to the program, and I was all in," Irving said.
Morgan Weaver, the head football coach at Hillcrest, praised Irving's abilities and competitiveness on the field.
“Mar’Keise approaches the game with toughness, and he is always ready to compete. He is extremely confident in his capabilities to help a team win games. Most kids don’t have all three of those traits. He is going to bring it every chance he gets to play football," Weaver said.
Weaver continued to say that Irving is special on the field as well as off the field.
"He wants to get better, he wants to be coached and he is going to sell out for his teammates, coaches and fans," Weaver said. "Off the field, he is a very respectable young man, very likable. He is focused and ready to accomplish his goals. He’s been through a ton of adversity at such a young age, which has helped him mature and mold him into a respectable young man.”
About 90 minutes north of Hillcrest is Kaliakmanis' hometown of Antioch, Illinois. Scouts tout Kaliakmanis' cannon of an arm playing at Antioch Community High School and his ability to escape pressure and make something out of nothing.
Kaliakmanis committed to the University early in his sophomore season back in 2019. Because of his early commitment, Kaliakmanis has already had the opportunity to visit campus. He cited Fleck as the reason for his early decision.
“I’m an energetic guy, so me and P.J. naturally had incredibly similar personalities. Once I met him, I was immediately hooked. The connection between us was perfect," he said.
Kaliakmanis' brother, Dino Kaliakmanis, is a wide receiver and is also a member of the Gophers' 2021 recruiting class. The Kaliakmanis brothers have a connection that translates onto the field.
“As long as I can remember, we have been tossing the ball outside together. Even in games, I know exactly where he is going to be," Athan Kaliakmanis said. "It’s really unique when you have a receiver-quarterback combo on your team where they think the same and they both know exactly where each other is going to be."
Having played together all their lives, Athan Kaliakmanis knows he can count on Dino Kaliakmanis in games, especially in times of trouble.
"From practicing since we were little, he knows how I scramble and my style playing QB," he said. "If the play breaks down, I know where he will be if his route is covered, and he then has to creatively get open. I can count on him getting past defensive backs and making the catch, and he can count on me getting the ball to him in the right location."
The Kaliakmanis brothers work together not only on the field but off the field as well, helping their father, Alex Kaliakmanis, at his local restaurant called Corniciones. Athan Kaliakmanis has been working at the New York-style pizza joint this summer.
“My family has grown up in the restaurant business, and me getting a job there has been so beneficial to me in life. It’s great to give back to your community and work for others and respect them while off the gridiron," he said.
Along with the Kaliakmanis brothers and Irving, the Gophers have a trio of three-star offensive lineman in Austin Barber, Logan Purcell and Cameron James joining the program in 2021. Minnesota has also added three-star wide receivers Lemeke Brockington and Brady Boyd, while Jameson Geers is the Gophers' lone tight end commit so far for 2021.
The Gophers' 2021 class continues to stand out from its previous recruiting classes. The incoming talent, including the Kaliakmanis brothers, should elevate the program for years to come.
"Honestly, it is a blessing that we are both Division-I level athletes going to the same college and continuing to push ourselves to get each other better every day," Athan Kaliakmanis said.