Gophers football coach Tracy Claeys and his staff did a tremendous job of not only holding onto key recruits, but bringing in some big names late in the recruiting period to secure what Rivals.com called the 50th-best recruiting class in the nation.
One recruit looking to follow in the steps of former Gophers great Eric Decker is Drew Hmielewski, the wide receiver and defensive back from Marshall (Minn.) High, who most likely will play wide receiver for the football team while also playing center field for the baseball team.
Hmielewski’s versatility is just the kind of thing the Gophers football staff covets. Scout.com rated him as the No. 2 receiver in Minnesota, while ESPN rated him as the No. 1 safety in Minnesota. He caught 23 passes for 350 yards and five touchdowns at Marshall last year while also recording 18 tackles and an interception. He was named first-team all-state by the Associated Press.
Claeys talked about his unique role.
“Drew Hmielewski is a kid that is a very good baseball player and a good receiver,” Claeys said. “He’s a kid that would like to play baseball, and I think he’s good enough to play baseball. I’ve talked to the baseball staff and coach [John] Anderson and obviously he has to learn how to play football [first], but if he’s in a position to help them win in the Big Ten — which they believe he can — then I’ll work with them to do whatever I can to help coach Anderson and let him play baseball, too.”
While all Gophers fans recall how great Decker was as a wide receiver, some might forget he also played baseball in his junior and senior seasons. He hit .329 with 28 RBI and 42 runs scored in 54 games in 2008, and hit .319 with 25 RBI and 43 runs scored during 56 games in 2009.
Hmielewski meanwhile had an extremely impressive spring season last year that led him to be named the Marshall Independent 2015 Male Spring Athlete of the Year. He hit .467 with a school-record 50 hits, 35 runs scored and 29 RBI. He also struck out 59 and posted a 2.02 ERA as a pitcher, and has a reputation as a great center fielder.
The Gophers hope Hmielewski can find similar success for both squads.
“Hopefully that’s how it ends up,” Claeys said. “It’s similar, a wide receiver and baseball player. But I know the baseball staff has no doubts that he can help them win in the Big Ten.”
The word in NFL circles is the Vikings might not renew right tackle Phil Loadholt’s contract of $7.7 million for two reasons: He is coming back from a torn Achilles’ tendon, and his contract is the fourth largest on the team.
Asked about Loadholt’s status, General Manager Rick Spielman said: “I think we’re looking at all of that. The one thing we do before we make a decision on anyone’s contract is we have very upfront and honest discussions on each player and [ask ourselves], ‘Can we win with this guy? Does he help us to continue to build upon what we’ve built upon the last two years?’ ”
The decision on whether to keep Loadholt could be based on what possible replacements are available at offensive tackle and what talent Vikings coaches and scouts might have seen when they recently attended the Senior Bowl. There is also the question of whether 2015 fourth-draft choice T.J. Clemmings, who played the position all season, can do the job well enough to satisfy coach Mike Zimmer.
“So as this process goes, we’ll put a plan in place and determine whether we can replace a guy with a lesser contract or maybe a great opportunity to get a guy at a position in the draft,” Spielman said. “But I know for the most part, we’re not going to be big spenders in free agency, unless there’s something unique. We’re going to continue doing what we have the last couple of years — try to continue to build through the draft and try to keep our own players and sign our players back.”
• There’s no doubt Claeys was happy with the recruiting job done by linebackers coach Mike Sherels, who recruits Minnesota. “Well, the thing for us is Mike, being a Minnesota kid and from the state, it’s important to him,” Claeys said. “He played here for the university, and [he wants] the Gophers to do well. … This was a good year [for recruiting talent] in the state of Minnesota, and to have somebody go out and do the recruiting that has actually played here — he knows all about the history and knows about the school and wore that same uniform — I think that had a big impact on our kids in the state of Minnesota this year.”
• The Gophers football team will start spring practice March 1. The annual spring game is scheduled for April 9 at TCF Bank Stadium.
• Former Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, who will play in his first Super Bowl with Carolina on Sunday, said the current Panthers squad reminds him of the great 2009 Vikings team. “On my 2009 team, which is the team I would most compare this one to when I was with the Vikings, we had a very close locker room there too, but there were still some brotherly spats here and there,” Allen said at Super Bowl media day. “On this team, coach [Ron] Rivera does a great job laying out the plan. Then the vets do a good job leading and the young guys do a good job at listening and being a part of it. So, really I have never been in a locker room like this. I have been in ones close to it, but this one takes it to a whole different level.”
• The Timberwolves should be happy Lakers star Kobe Bryant played his final game against the Wolves. Bryant scored more than 30 points 17 times in his career, including 38 on Tuesday. The Lakers went 15-2 in those games. Bryant finished his career against Minnesota averaging 24.2 points on 45.3 percent shooting from the field.
• After the Lakers’ 119-115 victory over the Wolves on Tuesday, Bryant talked about his great fourth-quarter battle with Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins finished with 30 points. Bryant talked about one particular shot by Wiggins, who hit a turnaround fadeaway over Bryant late in the fourth quarter.
“I think it’s fantastic,” he told NBA-TV. “He’s improved a lot from the first time I played him. That one shot I said, ‘Man, that looks familiar.’ And [Wiggins] said, ‘I got that right from you, man.’ He hid the ball very well, he spaced very well, and it was textbook. It’s a pleasure for me to see how the young guys are developing in that way.”
• Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway was announced as a partner and shareholder in ASPIRE sports drinks, which also counts Wild defenseman Ryan Suter as an investor.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org