Victor Pless had never been to Minnesota. All he knew of the state was that it was cold, and that even in mid-June, the temperature would probably only peak in the 50s.
Imagine his surprise, then, when he stepped off his plane from Georgia to find 80-degree sunshine.
That was just the first eye-opener in his whirlwind weekend in the Twin Cities during his official football visit for the Gophers. He and other recruits experienced plenty of highlights: Mall of America, U.S. Bank Stadium, Target Field, Target Center, fine restaurants such as Manny’s Steakhouse, even boating and water scootering at coach P.J. Fleck’s lake house.
“It actually shocked me, the way that it was,” Pless said. “I didn’t really know how big of a city it was or how diverse it was.”
As soon as the visit ended, Pless gave his verbal commitment to the program. And the cornerback wasn’t the only player who left impressed: A total of 12 athletes signed on for the Gophers’ 2020 class as a direct result of those visits, which the program hyped as its “Summer Splash.” The Gophers now have 21 of about 25 slots filled and rank in many recruiting analysts’ national top 25, thanks to their boosted numbers.
As recently as three years ago, none of this would have been possible. The NCAA adopted new recruiting rules in 2017 that added an early December signing period and a spring official visit period. And for schools such as Minnesota, showing off their campus in the summer has been a game-changer.
“The days of June being full of golf charity camps for coaches, just camps alone and really a lot of in-office work, that’s changed a lot in my opinion,” Fleck said. “… There’s so much more focus on those official visits. I mean, look where we are at right now. We’re almost full in the month of June for the whole class because of how important those official visits were.”
Of those 21 commits, nine are from the Sun Belt region, mainly states such as Georgia, Texas and Florida. Much of that is thanks to Fleck’s coaching staff’s connections in those areas. But being able to bring southern players up north without the risk of snow and subzero windchills probably doesn’t hurt.
This was the first year Fleck took full advantage of the new rules, and he’s still one of the few doing so. Josh Helmholdt, Midwest recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, said schools such as Iowa and Kansas are also going on “commitment binges.”
But Helmholdt said whether this loading up on early commitments is just a reaction to the new rules or a smart strategy ahead of its time remains to be seen. It will all depend on how many of the current 21 commitments stay committed and how they develop during their senior seasons in high school.
Another trait of these early decisions: Most of them are rated as three-star recruits. There are some standouts, from highly touted versatile defensive option Itayvion Brown out of St. Louis to Kansas running back Ky Thomas, but it’s mostly viewed as a class with good athletic ability in need of growth.
Fleck, though, is happy to be a “developmental program,” and said he’s pleased with how the program has filled some defensive needs with this group.
For players such as Pless, they are just happy to have found their team.
“With the early signing period, it’s like everything is more fast-paced. The process is sped up more,” Pless said. “So you don’t really have time to wait because you do have other guys committing and then the boards will start filling up.
“… [Minnesota] was just the right fit. So I was like, ‘I don’t feel like I’m going to get anything else like this. So I’m going to commit to it.’ ”