It's been less than three months since high school seniors put pen to paper, but Gophers football coach Jerry Kill already is planning for future recruiting classes. For next February's signing day, certainly -- Kill collected his first verbal commitment toward that class nearly a year ahead of time.
But these days, that's the short-term view. Kill has been giving some thought lately to the Gophers recruits who will sign letters of intent in 2018.
Yes, those future Gophers are 11 and 12 years old now, but Minnesota's coach wants to make sure there are enough scholarships available for them when the time comes. And that means making adjustments now.
"I wouldn't say it's a problem right now, but there's no question that you eventually want to get your numbers balanced out, and we are trying to do that," Kill said. "But it takes awhile."
The Gophers will have only 12 seniors on scholarship next season, so it's possible that they could have only 12 scholarships to hand out next February. It likely will be more than that -- "There's always some natural attrition every year," Kill said, "so we may still end up with 16 or 17" -- but there is little chance that Kill and his staff will sign 27 scholarship athletes, as they did in February, or even the 23 they brought in a year before.
The scholarship shortage means Kill and his recruiters will be even more cautious than usual when considering to whom they make offers, in order to keep from being left too thin at a position. Summer camp season, a key time for evaluation and offers, is just around the corner.
"We'll be more selective about our particular needs, no question," Kill said. "It doesn't really change how you recruit, but you have to make sure each kid is the right fit, because you won't really have a surplus at any position."
But the Gophers apparently aren't hesitating when they see a player they want, either. According to Gopher Illustrated, a rivals.com website that closely tracks college recruiting, Kill offered Tartan High School defensive back Keelon Brookins a scholarship a couple of weeks after wrapping up the 2012 class, and the Oakdale athlete accepted. That makes Brookins the first member of the Gophers' Class of 2013, although the Titans senior-to-be said he still will make visits to other campuses. Several other high school seniors-to-be also have received scholarship offers from the Gophers.
Recruiting already is a juggling act, with no player (or scholarship) commitment certain until a letter of intent is signed. For the Gophers, this year will be even more fluid.
"It's nerve-wracking, because we may have half the usual number, and you have to make sure you fill your immediate needs," offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. "But at the same time, you don't want to get a huge disparity. You almost can't move as quickly as you'd like because you don't want to keep yourself in that hole. You don't want it to be a repeating cycle."
That's the long-term view that Kill is taking -- the class of 2013 might be unusually small, though probably not as small as the 11-member class that Wisconsin, which found itself in a similar bind, signed three months ago. The important thing, though, is making sure the shortage doesn't recur again in 2018, when most of those 2013 recruits -- after a redshirt season and four years of eligibility -- will graduate.
To deal with that, it's possible, Limegrover said, that a handful of players who committed to the Gophers last month may "greyshirt," or delay enrolling in school until next January. It means they can't work out or practice with the team this summer and fall, but it effectively makes them members of next year's recruiting class, helping even out the disparity between the two class sizes.
"There's a couple of guys we signed this year who would probably be in the top five players in the state next year, but who we could greyshirt," Limegrover said. "We know what we've got with them, but who knows what next year's class will be like? So we bank some talent that way. You don't want to do it too much; it's got to be the right kid and the right situation. But in certain cases, it really fits."