This was said to be a down year for Minnesota’s high school football talent, but Gophers coach P.J. Fleck has plucked five in-state recruits while building a class that continues to rank in the top 20 nationally.
Lakeville North offensive lineman Nathan Boe gave the Gophers a verbal commitment Saturday, becoming Fleck’s latest in-state addition.
The others are Eden Prairie cornerback Benny Sapp, Perham defensive tackle Logan Richter, St. Paul Highland Park athlete Josh Aune and St. Cloud Tech tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford.
With 17 commitments overall, the Gophers entered Monday ranked 18th nationally in the latest 247Sports composite, which combines the various recruiting services into one ranking.
Fleck has yet to land a consensus four-star recruit, however, so the Gophers are expected to drop as traditional powers ranked behind them — USC, Auburn, Florida, etc. — begin filling up their classes before national signing day, Feb. 7.
“I think it’s probably more realistic to expect [Minnesota] to finish in the [top] 25-35 range,” said Kyle Goblirsch, who runs Gopher247.com. “That would still be extremely high, comparing the University of Minnesota against itself in years past.”
The Gophers never finished higher than 46th in the composite recruiting rankings under recent coaches Jerry Kill and Tracy Claeys.
The relatively high ranking stems in part from having so many early commitments. USC, for comparison, ranks 41st, but that’s with only five commitments, four of which are four-star recruits.
Sixteen of the Gophers’ commitments are consensus three-star recruits, with Boe at two stars. But Fleck has landed several players ranked as “high three-star” recruits with several offers from other Power Five conference schools.
Defensive tackle Elijah Teague, for example, had offers from Oklahoma, Penn State, Wisconsin and Tennessee. Cornerback Terrell Smith from Florida, Michigan State and Mississippi, and wide receiver Jornell Manns from Wisconsin and West Virginia.
Fleck and his assistants worked a satellite camp Monday in Houston and are at another one Tuesday in Canton, Ohio. Earlier this month, they did one outside Atlanta, where they landed a commitment from Georgia wide receiver Rashod Bateman.
Fleck said he would “draw a circle six to seven hours around the Twin Cities area,” working to find the best local talent here and nationally. Analysts predicted the local piece would be his first big challenge.
“The tough part about recruiting at Minnesota is the 2018 in-state crop of talent is probably the weakest since I started covering the state,” Josh Helmholdt, Rivals.com’s Midwest recruiting analyst, said last winter.
Sapp actually transferred to Eden Prairie from Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas, where he started as a freshman before twice tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.
Richter was below the radar in Perham but emerged as a legitimate prospect, at 6-4 and 290 pounds with impressive burst off the line.
Aune was a two-star recruit before turning heads in May at the Nike combine in Chicago. He ranked as the No. 8 overall recruit there among 200-plus prospects, and could become a Big Ten linebacker once he fills out his 6-1, 200-pound frame.
Spann-Ford is a 6-6, 230-pound tight end and basketball standout.
“I think he can add an element to this Gophers offense we haven’t seen at the tight end position since really Maxx Williams because he’s such a mismatch athletically,” said Ryan Burns, who runs GopherIllustrated.com, the local Scout affiliate.
Boe is 6-4 and 260 pounds, making him undersized for a potential Big Ten center. But he impressed Gophers offensive line coach Ed Warinner at Saturday’s camp, drawing an offer and committing on the spot.
Boe almost certainly will redshirt in 2018, giving him time to add bulk.
“It’s somewhat of a down year across the Midwest for offensive linemen,” Burns said. “So Minnesota’s been to a multitude of high schools across the country. They got Boe at camp [Saturday] and believe he’s in the upper echelon of those Midwest offensive linemen.”
As a whole, Minnesota’s in-state recruiting crop might not be upper echelon, but it appears better than originally thought.