The Gophers won their biggest recruiting battle of the Jerry Kill era Thursday, when Carter Coughlin, a junior linebacker from Eden Prairie, picked Minnesota over Ohio State and Oregon — two teams that just played for the national championship.
Coughlin, whose parents were both Gophers athletes and whose grandfather is a former Minnesota athletics director, also fended off strong interest from the likes of Notre Dame, Michigan, USC and UCLA.
“You look at what Coach Kill has done with the program, he’s brought it up to an exceptional level,” Coughlin said. “Minnesota’s just going to keep getting better and better. So that’s why I’m really excited about this decision.”
Gophers coaches were clearly ecstatic, too, though NCAA rules prevent them from commenting publicly about specific recruits until they sign their official letters of intent. Coughlin — a 6-4, 205-pound tackling machine with sideline-to-sideline range — removed any suspense that would have lingered until National Signing Day, next Feb. 3.
His parents, Bob and Jennie Coughlin, admitted they were nervous this week. Coughlin, who visited Oregon in December and Ohio State in January, had planned to make his final decision after one last visit to Minnesota’s campus last weekend. The son remained poker-faced all week, and Ohio State, in particular, remained relentless in its pursuit.
Sure, Coughlin’s family is biased. Bob played defensive line for the Gophers in 1989 and 1990. Jennie was a three-time All-Big Ten tennis player for Minnesota. And her father, Tom Moe, was the school’s AD from 1999-2002.
“We’re ecstatic. We’re just pumped,” Bob Coughlin said. “It was great to see him go through the process because Kill and [linebackers coach Mike] Sherels and [recruiting director] Billy Glasscock — they’ve done an incredible job of doing things the right way.”
Carter Coughlin said he was “still 50-50” on his decision Thursday morning.
“You look at both of those programs [Ohio State and Oregon], and they’ve been amazing from a winning standpoint,” he said. “The coaching staffs are all good. So from that standpoint it was tempting.
“But when it came down to it, I decided I wanted to be closer to my family because I think the programs are so close.”
Coughlin isn’t the highest-rated recruit to pick the Gophers during Kill’s tenure. Rivals.com had Jeff Jones ranked as the nation’s 44th-best prospect in the 2014 class when he signed out of Minneapolis Washburn. The running back had offers from Michigan and Florida, but other schools held back because of his academics. He stuck with Minnesota and worked to become academically eligible after fall semester.
Coughlin, meanwhile, has strong grades to go with his talent. Rivals.com lists him as a three-star prospect, but he has a four-star rating in the 247Sports.com Composite Index, which combines the various recruiting rankings into one.
“I’ve yet to see him in person, and I really want to,” said Josh Helmholdt, Midwest recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. “Until I see him in person, I’m always a little conservative because I want to see how he moves and how he handles certain things that you can’t always see on film.
“But what we have seen on film, there’s a lot of boxes that he checks. He’s very well-rounded. There’s just not a whole lot of weaknesses in his game.”
Coughlin is the second early, local splash for the Gophers’ 2016 class. East Ridge junior defensive tackle Jojo Garcia — a 6-3, 270-pound, consensus three-star recruit — committed to Kill in November. Garcia had an offer from Michigan State, among other schools.
Coughlin said now that he’s made his decision, he can focus on the goal of helping Eden Prairie win its fifth consecutive state championship this fall.
“I love the way Carter handled [his recruitment],” Bob Coughlin said. “Notre Dame, Michigan — all of them came in — USC, UCLA. And he just said, respectfully, ‘I’ve narrowed my choices to three.’
“And they said, ‘Is there anything we can do to change your mind?’ He narrowed it to three great schools, and he chose the best one, which is Minnesota across the board.”