Kill, Gophers ink 22 recruitsMINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The faxes rolled in, the rankings circulated through cyberspace, and relentless coach Jerry Kill produced a 22-player list that forms the pillar of his first recruiting class at Minnesota. There aren’t any blue-chip or five-star kids crowned by national analysts who are coming to the Gophers football program, but Kill wasn’t concerned about that. Even the best-rated prospects who signed letters of intent with Minnesota, Kill acknowledged, don’t come with any kind of guarantee.
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The faxes rolled in, the rankings circulated through cyberspace, and relentless coach Jerry Kill produced a 22-player list that forms the pillar of his first recruiting class at Minnesota.
There aren’t any blue-chip or five-star kids crowned by national analysts who are coming to the Gophers football program, but Kill wasn’t concerned about that. Even the best-rated prospects who signed letters of intent with Minnesota, Kill acknowledged, don’t come with any kind of guarantee.
“They’re all paper tigers, OK?” Kill said. “I can say that. Every coach in America is going to tell you, ‘This is the greatest recruiting class that we’ve ever had.’ I can say that: It’s the greatest recruiting class that’s ever happened in Minnesota. Well, we all feel that way, but you can’t judge recruiting classes until two years down the road.”
Wednesday was the first day prep stars could make their college choices official, and Kill — who took the job just two months ago — and his staff secured a diverse group from several points around the country, including a handful of in-state standouts. Adding speed to several positions was one of the priorities.
They relied on recommendations for roughly half of the class, players who verbally committed to the previous regime under coach Tim Brewster. For the rest, Kill and his assistants had a better feel for thanks to in-person evaluation from past summer camps when they were at Northern Illinois.
Kill, at a news conference to discuss the 2011 class, stressed his professionalism in a process that can be corrupt at times, or at least exhaustingly and fiercely competitive. He told a story about being at Northern Illinois years ago when a rival coach told a recruit both schools were pursuing that Kill had cancer and wouldn’t be there long.
That, um, wasn’t true.
“I’m no different than anybody else. I want to win, and I want to win right now,” Kill said. “But it’s going to take time, and we’ve got to do it the right way. Luckily, I’ve got good assistants.”
Rosemount offensive lineman Joe Bjorklund, Edina wide receiver Devin Crawford-Tufts, Eden Prairie safety Grayson Levine, Mahtomedi offensive lineman Tommy Olson and Holy Family Catholic linebacker Peter Westerhaus are the Minnesotans in this class. Olson and Westerhaus committed long ago, but the other three received lukewarm interest from Brewster and his staff. Kill said they all grew on him after watching film, meeting the players and receiving input from others.
“Joe and I have been very impressed with coach Kill and his staff,” Rosemount coach Jeff Erdmann said. “There is an incredible difference with the interactions we have had compared to the old regime.”
Brewster vowed to lock up the border and forge a strong relationship with every high school in the state, but that was one of his bold statements he didn’t ultimately back up.
Eden Prairie coach Mike Grant praised Brewster for giving his son, linebacker Ryan Grant, an opportunity to play and said he believed Brewster had a good plan. But Grant, like Erdmann and other prep coaches around the state, had nothing but high marks for Kill after their first impressions.
“I think coach Kill will do it. I don’t think we could’ve picked a better coach for this time, for Minnesota. He’s got a plan, and he knows what he’s doing,” Grant said.
Some of this year’s crop of Minnesota stars are headed for places like Clemson, Stanford, Virginia Tech, West Virginia and Wisconsin, but this is not considered a strong class in the state. Kill mentioned the importance of recruiting at home and raising the level of state-school pride, but he also stressed that he wants to get the “hard-nosed, tough kids” from all around the Midwest.
“Minnesota has more local talent than Iowa and Wisconsin, and look how they’re winning. It all comes down to evaluating and developing,” said Tom Lemming, a CBS College Sports Network recruiting analyst.
Lemming praised Kill’s personality and ability as a recruiter.
“I thought Minnesota was on the verge of something special, and I think he can get them over to the next level,” Lemming said in a phone interview from New York.
Lemming said he pegged Minnesota’s class between seventh and 10th in the conference but said he didn’t see much difference between the middle-of-the-pack teams. Two other leading services, Scout.com and Rivals.com, ranked the Gophers in the same range.
— The prize of the class is Olson, whose older brother started at left tackle last season and who is expected to see immediate playing time.
“I told him I was going to put pressure on him in the press conference, but we need him to step up, and I think he can,” Kill said.
— Offensive lineman Josh Campion of Fergus Falls, who originally signed two years ago, is another Minnesotan. He got hurt, had academic issues and played last season at a military academy in Virginia, but he’s now enrolled at the university. Kill said he considered going to Miami but decided to stick with his first choice.
“It’s yes, sir, no, sir, what can I do for you, sir?” Kill said. “I need to send ‘em all to military school.”
— Kicker Chris Hawthorne, a transfer from North Carolina State, could help the Gophers solve their recent struggles at that critical position.
— Defensive end Michael Amaefula chose Minnesota over Maryland because of the medical school, Kill said.
— Twins Kyle and Luke McAvoy, offensive linemen from Bloomington, Ill., each signed with the Gophers.
— Quarterback Max Shortell, of Shawnee Mission, Kan., was targeted by a late push from Michigan but stuck with his commitment.
Minnetonka offensive lineman Jon Christenson, Bemidji tight end Ernie Heifort and Eden Prairie kicker David Platner are among five committed walk-ons the school announced, and Kill said he fully considers them part of the class with the hope of eventually putting them on scholarship.
Kill said there are spots open for a few more players. Several schools take the aggressive approach of over-signing to cover their bases in case of attrition, but Kill said he doesn’t believe in that.
“You can live with the recruiting mistake for 365 days, or you can play against them one time,” Kill said. “So we’re going to be very careful just going out there and taking somebody to take somebody. We’ll make sure they fit at the University of Minnesota.”