I’m back from a 2½-week vacation, so here’s a little catching up on Gophers football:
First, coach P.J. Fleck continues to assemble a strong recruiting class for 2019, and he received a verbal commitment over the weekend from three-star athlete Cameron Wiley of Desert Pines High School in Las Vegas. Wiley, 6-2 and 191 pounds, has 4.56-second speed in the 40-yard dash and projects as a running back for the Gophers. Wiley had offers from 12 other schools, including Arizona, Oregon, Utah and Washington State of the Pac-12, along with TCU, BYU and Kansas.
Wiley’s pledge gives the Gophers 20 verbal commitments for the Class of 2019, and Fleck’s class ranks 24th nationally and sixth in the Big Ten in the 247Sports.com composite rankings of major national recruiting services. In the Big Ten West, only Purdue is ahead of Minnesota.
Second, with the college football season just around the corner – the Gophers’ opener against New Mexico State is Aug. 30 – preseason awards watch lists are trickling out. On Monday, a couple of Gophers landed on watch lists.
Senior running back Rodney Smith was named to watch list for the Maxwell Award, which honors college football’s player of the year, while junior linebacker Thomas Barber was named to the watch list for the Bednarik Award, which goes to college football’s defensive player of the year.
Smith is one of 33 running backs on the Maxwell watch list. The Jonesboro, Ga., native has rushed for 2,805 yards (eighth in school history) and has 3,850 all-purpose yards (also eighth in school history). He needs 1,260 all-purpose yards to break the Gophers record of 5,109 set by Darrell Thompson.
Barber, one of 35 linebackers on the Bednarik watch list, earned a starting job as a sophomore last year and led the Gophers with 115 tackles (third in the Big Ten) and 76 solo stops (first in the Big Ten). He also had 10 ½ tackles for loss, forced three fumbles, recovered two fumbles and intercepted a pass.
In addition, Gophers senior kicker Emmit Carpenter was named one of 169 nominees for the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team. The award celebrates student-athletes who dedicate themselves to community service and have a desire to make a positive impact on the lives around them. Carpenter regularly visits patients at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, and his fellow Gophers specialists used their Twitter account (@MinnSpecialists) to promote the “Can O’ Corn Food Drive’’ and “A Very Specialist Holiday Season’’ last year. In those programs, the specialists took donations that went toward Thanksgiving meals and toys for the Masonic Children’s Hospital.
Finally, Big Ten football media days will be Monday and Tuesday in Chicago at the Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile, and the Gophers will be represented by Fleck, Smith, Barber and junior linebacker Carter Coughlin. Also, the University of Minnesota Alumni Association is holding a get-together at The Other Side Bar in Chicago from 4-6 p.m. Monday, and Fleck will make an appearance.