In true P.J. Fleck fashion, the Gophers football program threw a party over the weekend, complete with a name – eLITe18Palooza. With more than 30 recruits and their parents on campus for their official visits, Fleck and the Gophers made it an event, showing off the Twin Cities with excursions to Mall of America, Target Field, U.S. Bank Stadium, and of course, TCF Bank Stadium and the soon-to-be opened Athletes Village.
But amid all the festivities, there was business to be had. Fleck needed to fill some current and future needs for his team, and offensive line was an area that stood out.
Consider those needs addressed, after the Gophers received verbal commitments from three offensive linemen for the recruiting Class of 2018.
On Saturday, two linemen weighing a combined 768 pounds committed to the Gophers as four-star guard Curtis Dunlap and three-star tackle Daniel Faalele, both from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., gave their verbal pledges. Dunlap, 6-3 and 368 pounds, is Minnesota’s highest-rated recruit, according to the composite rating compiled by 247Sports.com, and ranks sixth nationally among guards. He originally committed to Florida but reopened his recruiting last week. Faalele, 6-9 and 400, is the 30th-ranked tackle. The native of Melbourne, Australia, has played football only one varsity season, but his size and potential garnered him offers from such major powers as Alabama, Auburn, Florida State and Georgia.
On Sunday, the Gophers received a commitment from a junior college tackle who could provide immediate help. Jason Dickson, at 6-7 and 309, is the runt of the litter compared with Faalele and Dunlap, but he has played two years at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, Calif., and is ranked seventh nationally among junior college tackles. He originally committed to UCLA but reopened his recruiting in October. The addition of Dickson could fill a need for the Gophers. Third-year sophomore Nick Connelly started the first five games at right tackle but retired from football because of concussions.
Dickson, Dunlap and Faalele all are expected to sign their national letters of intent during the Dec. 20-22 early signing period and enroll at Minnesota in January. The three additions helped the Gophers move to 26th nationally and sixth among Big Ten teams in the 247Sports composite rankings.
The Gophers also have four other linemen who have committed to the Class of 2018: guard Austin Beier (6-5, 285, Toledo, Ohio), tackles Grant Norton (6-8, 255, Camdenton, Mo.) and Jack York (6-5, 300, Dallas), and center Nathan Boe (6-4, 250, Lakeville North).
Minnesota loses guards Garrison Wright and Vincent Calhoun to graduation but returns usual starters in left tackle Donnell Greene (who’ll be a senior), center Jared Weyler (senior) and guard/center Conner Olson (sophomore). Also, tackle Sam Schlueter (sophomore) and guard Quinn Oseland (junior) have starting experience. Tackle Blaise Andries, a promising freshman who spent this season as a redshirt, could be in the mix to start next season.