A few months ago, Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck told me the new recruiting rules — allowing for official visits in the summer and having an early signing period in December — meant he would try to have most of his recruiting class signed by the end of the year.
That has never been more apparent than in the past two weeks, The Gophers have rocketed up the recruiting service rankings by bringing in 13 new commitments.
The most recent commitments came from Abner Dubar, a safety from Anna, Texas, who had offers from schools such as Texas Tech, Baylor and Colorado, and Itayvion Brown, an outside linebacker from St. Louis (Mo.) Lutheran who picked the Gophers over Kansas, Florida State and Illinois.
The Gophers now have 21 commitments for the Class of 2020, which is the most in the Big Ten and has them ranked 24th in the nation according to 247Sports.com.
Develop the program
One noticeable trait about the class thus far is that nearly every commitment is a three-star recruit.
Fleck told me that is by design, believing he and his coaching staff are at their best when they recruit players they can develop.
“Our 2020 class is taking shape,” Fleck said. “We are almost done, to be honest with you, with numbers. … We have been able to get some dynamic ones and again [sophomore wide receiver] Rashod Bateman started out as a three-star and look at what he’s going to become. We are a developmental program. We might get some guys that we have seen live who we know are going to be four-star-type guys or we know they’re going to be NFL draft picks, and we feel we can get them early, develop them and go from there.”
One of the reasons for the recent wave of commitments is Fleck and his staff have been both hosting high school camps and official visits and also traveling around the country for megacamps. He described that process.
“We put a lot of value and a lot of stock into camps,” he said. “June is our busiest month now the way the rules have changed, the way recruiting is with official visits plus camp. … When we see them at camp, we verify everything that you hear and see on film. There’s a lot of recruiting mistakes made because nobody gets a chance to see them live.
“We get a chance to go all over the country with a lot of our donors and a lot of our supporters providing opportunities for us to do that, to hit so many camps — sometimes three camps in one day, depending on where I’m going — and it is valuable. We had 11 commitments in five days, working on No. 12, and it just shows the power of what Minnesota can be. Especially when you have summer official visits.”
A new wrinkle to the Gophers’ 2020 recruiting class is the commitments of offensive player Richard Agyekum of the Netherlands and Melle Kreuder, a defensive end from Germany.
Targeting international recruits is a learning process for Fleck and his staff.
“There is certain services that these young people in Europe connect with and they bring them over to the states and do kind of a camp circuit,” he said. “Football is a global sport. There is a lot of players, even international, that sometimes get overlooked. Some of these services that bring players over, we have gotten to know who they are and been able to get to some of the camps that these players are going to be at.
“Whether they’re American or international student-athletes, we want to find the best ones. It just happens we’re going to have some international students, possibly. We’re very excited about that to be able to create opportunities for even the international student-athletes who can experience football over here.”
Yes, the Gophers are on fire on the recruiting trail, but Fleck said he is just as excited about his returning roster as anything coming down the line.
“We only have 12 seniors this year and next year — again, it sounds like a broken record, but it’s true — we’re only going to have about 11 seniors,” Fleck said. “Eighty percent of this team is freshman and sophomores. We’re very excited about our future, meaning now. We’re really excited about this team. This team is working incredibly hard on the field and off the field.
“We just set a record spring semester [for grade-point average]. This team has a cumulative GPA of 3.17. The whole deal. They had a 3.20 fall semester, which was a record. Now they have a 3.17 spring semester, which is when we take a lot of harder classes, to be honest with you. This team is really coming together. I like how they’re becoming a team, I like the leadership of this team. I’m really excited not only for the fall but for the future.”
Falvey on Allen
There was a lot of offseason talk that the Twins should sign former Indians closer Cody Allen. Instead, Allen signed a one-year, $8.5 million deal with the Angels, who released him last week. The Twins then signed him to a minor league deal.
Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey overlapped with Allen in Cleveland from 2012-16, when Allen was one of the best relief pitchers in baseball. He posted a 2.61 ERA with 392 strikeouts and 92 saves in 306⅓ innings.
But over the past two seasons, one in Cleveland and one in Los Angeles, Allen has struggled, posting a 5.10 ERA over 90 innings.
Falvey said the chance to bring Allen in on a low-risk deal was a no-brainer.
“I know Cody as well as anybody, and this is a competitor, a great mind-set,” Falvey said. “He has closed a lot of games, he has pitched in a World Series, he has been someone who has been relied on and I saw it firsthand how he responded to those pressures. He is a competitor. He has gotten a little off-track, certainly. You look at his pitches and what has changed and maybe some things mechanically that could be altered. All of those things go into the mix.”
Falvey said getting Allen to work with the Twins pitching coaches could pay off as the season progresses. Allen, he said, felt the same way.
“[Pitching coach] Wes Johnson and I talked about it, as well as some of our other pitching folks and guys in the front office, and felt like this was a good opportunity,” Falvey said. “He had choices to go to other places. This is a place where he knew we’d invest in him, give him a chance to continue to make those improvements, and then we’ll track how it goes over the next few weeks and hopefully he can become an option for us as we get deeper into the season.”