Next Wednesday is a big day at the Bierman Building — national signing day — when Gophers football coach Jerry Kill and his staff will find out if they’ll get the top players they have been recruiting for months.
“I’d say that recruiting is going pretty good,” Kill said the other day. “I’m sitting here with a family and I need to make it a lot better. I’m right in the middle of a conversation, so that’s how important you are. As long as we finish strong here, it could be really, really good.”
Kill is one of many college coaches who don’t put stock in how many stars a high school player receives from various recruiting services. The Gophers definitely don’t recruit on that basis.
“It’s not football people doing that,” Kill said. “I think everybody does it the way they want to. Winning is the thing that is most important, and character.
“The class that we inherited, I don’t know how many stars were in that class. It was supposed to be one of the top 15 classes in the country, and I think there are seven or eight players left out of that class. I think there’s a lot more to it than that.
“I don’t pay any attention to it. We had guys in the Senior Bowl from other schools and so forth that I coached, so I really can’t explain that. [Former Northern Illinois quarterback] Jordan Lynch, I don’t think had a star and he was in the Heisman [Trophy finalists]. I think that sums it up. Recruiting isn’t over yet, everyone has about a week and a half to get that done. … You’ve seen where we’re at with our program and we’ll keep moving it forward.”
Kill said a lot of the Gophers’ recruiting is for needs at certain positions.
“The big need that we have right now is our class is definitely going in the right direction, and the big key for us is we need to get two receivers landed right now,” he said. “That’s the most critical piece of what we’re doing. We’ve done good at running back, but we need to get more playmakers on the edge and we’re concentrating on offense and doing that.”
What are your thoughts on recruiting teammates from the same high school?
“Sometimes it helps, and sometimes they want to separate out,” Kill said. “We have some of that going on right now. You get a couple of kids at one school, one wants to go one way, one wants to go another, and sometimes they both want to come because it’s more comfortable. I think each situation is different.”
Kill is excited about recruiting two junior college fullbacks from the same school, Riley Oharah and Miles Thomas of Butler County Community College in El Dorado, Kan., who are in school now and will take part in the Gophers’ spring practice.
“They’re really good players,” he said. “The fullback thing, you watch pro football and a lot of teams are going back to having that fullback. Auburn had it in what they did. Those guys are kind of underrated guys and so forth, but they’re the ones that help you win a lot of games. They’ll help us. I know our guys are working out with them right now and feel great about those two kids. That was a big deal for us, we needed that. I know the place they come from and I know they’re tough. They’re tough, hard-nosed kids.”
What are the players doing now?
“Well right now, we had a team meeting a week ago,” Kill said. “We had another one Saturday ’cause we had guys off the road. They’ll be in the weight room. [Quarterback] Mitch Leidner kind of took the bull by the horns and came back a week ago and we had everybody out there working. He jumped all in it with his leadership, and it’s different.
“All I can tell you is that we have kids that after the bowl game [a 21-17 loss to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl], they were embarrassed, didn’t feel good about it. I told them they better be starving when they get back and it isn’t going to happen anymore. I think they’re starving right now. That’s important. I said that after the game. When you get off the plane on Friday afternoon, walk in and you have your guys working out there and they’re voluntarily doing it, it’s pretty neat. I think our kids are very, very serious about where we want to be next year.”
Wildcats could be test
Two underdogs pulled off road upsets in Big Ten basketball on Wednesday, with Penn State going into Columbus, Ohio, and beating the No. 24 Buckeyes 71-70 in overtime and, even more surprising, Northwestern — a team with an 11-11 overall record and 4-5 in the conference, upsetting No. 14 Wisconsin 65-56 in Madison, Wis.
Northwestern, the Gophers’ opponent at Williams Arena on Saturday, had not won at Wisconsin since 1996. The big thing the Gophers have to be concerned about is the improved Wildcats defense.
After letting Wisconsin shoot 55.2 percent (32-for-58) in an earlier meeting won by the Badgers 76-49 in Evanston, Ill., the Wildcats held the Badgers to a 26.3 percent shooting and 14 points in the paint Wednesday. Former Benilde-St. Margaret’s star Sanjay Lumpkin had two points and 12 rebounds for Northwestern in the game.
So the Gophers (15-6, 4-4 Big Ten) could be in for a tough battle against the Wildcats on Saturday.
• If, as reported, Kill has been given a big raise and an extension in his contract, the Gophers football coach hasn’t been told about it. But it’s pretty sure that in the near future, Kill will get an adjustment in his contract. … Kill will be at Southern Illinois in Carbondale on Friday, when he will be inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame. Kill had a 55-32 record in seven years coaching the Salukis from 2001-07, going 50-18 in his final five years.
• Despite declining attendance for the Twins, events at Target Field generated more than $14.8 million in taxes for the state of Minnesota, Hennepin County and the city of Minneapolis in 2013. Since its opening in 2010, Target Field has contributed in excess of $66 million in tax revenue, including more than $17 million in Minneapolis downtown food/entertainment tax.
• The Twins and University of Minnesota are finalizing plans for an exhibition baseball game to reopen renovated Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla., on March 4, 2015.
• The Gophers wrestling team, after beating then-No. 2 Iowa 19-15 in Iowa City last week, plays host to Indiana on Sunday. Then on Feb. 9, No. 1-rated Penn State and the No. 2 Gophers wrestle at the Sports Pavilion. The Gophers have eight of 10 All-America wrestlers returning this year.
• Mike Valesano, who played linebacker for St. Thomas, is now an intern on the Gophers football coaching staff.