Jerry Kill was hired as the Gophers football coach on Dec. 6, 2010. That meant Kill got to the party late to sign recruits in February 201l. The first full recruiting class for Kill and his staff came in 2012. They signed a large group of 27 players that February.
The ESPN recruting analysts gave four stars to offensive lineman Isaac Hayes and receivers James Harbison and Andre McDonald. They gave no rating to 10 players, including Eric Murray, a 5-foot-11, 175-pounder listed as an "ahtlete'' out of Riverside University High School in Milwaukee.
Hayes was redshirted as a freshman. He wasn't on the two-deep this season until right guard Caleb Bak went out of the lineup with a concussion. On Saturday, Hayes was listed as the backup to Foster Bush and did not get in the game. Hayes has yet to play a down for the Gophers.
McDonald played some as a freshman. His status with Kill's program is vague, but he's not on the team for now. Harbison was injured last season. He's had unspecified issues this season, was out of uniform for a couple of games, and basically has been used on special teams.
Murray? If the people voting for postseason honors are paying attention, the sophomore will be at least a second-teamer at cornerback for the all-Big Ten team.
Adam Rittenberg, one of the Big Ten football bloggers for ESPN.com, gave considerable attention to Murray last week in the run-up to Saturday's game with Wisconsin.
Jay Sawvel, the Gophers' defensive backfield coach, told Rittenberg: "Our staff, we think Darqueze Dennard [Michigan State] is the best corner in this conference. I know Bradley Roby [Ohio State] gets a lot of publicity, and we think he's really good, too. But outside of those two, we wouldn't trade Eric for anybody in the conference.''
Murray was out of view to top-division recruiters after his junior season. His high school coach arranged to have Eric participate in three the spring/summer camps that colleges now have for junior recruits: at Central Michigan, Northern Illinois and Minnesota.
The Gophers looked at Murray primarily as a receiver at a mid-June camp. He was invited back the next week for a second camp, because Kill wanted to see if he had potential as a cornerback. The answer was yes, the Gophers made a verbal offer for a scholarship, and Murray immediately announced he was committing to Minnesota.
Murray got most of his work on special teams as a freshman. This season, he moved into the starting lineup at corner and has been a revelation.
Senior tackle Ra'Shede Hageman has some monstrous moments and he's going to be in the top 50 of the NFL Draft.
When the Gophers announce their postseason awards, politics will dictate that Hageman is named the top defensive player. For the assignments he's been given, to go one-on-one with star receivers, and for his role in making this a secondary that's competitive rather than porous, Murray is as worthy a defender for that award.
All that Murray is missing this season is an interception. He has 44 tackles, nine pass breakups and a fumble recovery at the start of the Penn State game. On Saturday, his toughness was visible. He was on punt coverage, took a blow and was on all fours on the middle of the field, vomiting. He was back on defense within a couple of plays.
Murray fits the profile of this Gophers' team. When Bak and receiver Derek Engel were in the lineup, the two-deep for this team included 31 of 44 players who were not made an offer from another school in a BCS conference.