On the day ESPN picked him as the nation’s No. 1 recruit for the 2015 class, Cretin- Derham Hall defensive end Jashon Cornell reacted on Twitter.
“Earned not given,” Cornell wrote on his @jay_rock16 timeline in July. “I’ve achieved the #1 spot. Now I need to work relentlessly to keep it.”
The Gophers, meanwhile, are working relentlessly to keep him home.
Long before unveiling their 2014 class last week on National Signing Day, the Gophers were cultivating a relationship with Cornell and other coveted members of the 2015 class.
The Gophers landed the state’s No. 1-rated recruit in this year’s class Wednesday when Minneapolis Washburn running back Jeff Jones finally made his decision official. While touting this year’s class that night, Gophers coach Jerry Kill already had his mind on 2015. His staff was preparing to host 150 recruits for the program’s annual Junior Day on Sunday.
“It starts all over again,” Kill said.
After years of whiffing on Minnesota’s elite high school prospects — including Cretin-Derham Hall products Michael Floyd, Seantrel Henderson and James Onwualu — the Gophers finally hit the big one with Jones.
Cornell could be even bigger.
He made four sacks against East Ridge in 2012, in his high school debut, and continued turning heads at various camps last year. He is 6-4 and 260 pounds, after adding 10 to 15 pounds of “good weight” since the end of football season, Cretin-Derham Hall coach Mike Scanlan said.
“He has good leverage, he can bend off the edge, and he’s got explosive speed, so he’s going to be a legit five-star player,” said Tom Lemming, a recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network. “And when I say five-star, that would be a guy who can come in and dominate as a true freshman.”
Cornell has received more than 30 scholarship offers, from a list of schools including Notre Dame, Ohio State and Southern California. He already has been invited to the Under-Armour All-American Game, the January showcase at which Jones was named co-MVP.
Rivals.com listed Jones as the nation’s No. 44 prospect, making him the highest-ranked recruit to sign with the Gophers in at least 13 years.
Jones still needs to qualify academically to play Division I. If that weren’t a question, he probably would have had more offers. Wednesday, he made it sound as if that wouldn’t have changed his decision.
“I believe real strong in loyalty,” Jones said. “And as a Minnesota kid that’s from here, I wouldn’t feel right going to Michigan and putting up stats with ‘Michigan’ going across my chest rather than Minnesota.”
Jones didn’t mention Cornell specifically but said, “Hopefully after I sign, there are other kids coming behind me that will realize staying home is not a bad idea.”
Rivals.com lists Cornell as the No. 74 recruit in his class, so opinions vary. He ranks 28th nationally in the 247Sports.com composite rankings.
The last time a Minnesota football player was ranked in the top 30 by at least one of these recruiting services came in 2010, with Henderson. He signed with USC before changing his mind and going to Miami (Fla.). He’s projected to be a middle-round pick in this year’s NFL draft.
“[Cornell is] more of a harder worker than Seantrel Henderson, who’s disappointed me,” Lemming said. “I had [Henderson] as the No. 1 player in the country, and he’ll probably be a better pro than college player, once the money starts coming in.”
Cornell is a good student, so academics won’t be an issue. His coaches at Cretin-Derham Hall have suggested he trim his list to about 10 schools before football starts.
Cornell, who could not be reached to comment for this story, has told ESPN.com that the Gophers are a “real contender” to get him. They might not have had a chance in previous years, but Kill’s teams have improved from 3-9 to 6-7 to 8-5.
Last fall, the Gophers beat Nebraska and Penn State among others, which might have swung some late recruiting commitments this year. But Lemming said the real boost should come in 2015 because those marquee wins came after most 2014 recruits had narrowed their lists.
“I think Jerry Kill’s got them where they’re going to be very good this year, and I think in the next couple years, they’re going to be outstanding,” Lemming said. “He’s recruiting players that fit his system, and more importantly, he’s recruiting athletes.”