Hartman: Gophers' Kill fought hard to land top recruits

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 6, 2014 - 12:41 AM

Jerry Kill found being honest with his health concerns worked to his advantage with players and their families.

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University of Minnesota head football coach Jerry Kill talked about the recruits that have signed to play at Minnesota.

Photo: Jerry Holt, DML - Star Tribune

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It was a big week for Gophers football coach Jerry Kill. He not only was able to recruit his best squad in three years, but on Tuesday he drove a car for the first time in two years.

Kill hadn’t been behind the wheel because of his seizure problems. Now it’s under control, and he made a point when he went into a home of a recruit to discuss his seizures and convince the recruit and his parents that he will be coaching on the sidelines as long as their son is playing at Minnesota.

As for the players the Gophers signed on national signing day Wednesday, Kill said his recruiting plan was to go after specific needs. “Early, our first two years, we concentrated really on defense,” Kill said. “You have to be good on defense to have a chance to win in the Big Ten.

“We’ve gotten better on defense, we’ve focused a little more on offense. We knew we had to get explosive players, and we’ve done a good job of recruiting receivers and running backs, cold-weather skill players, and strengthened our offensive line. We feel very, very good about the class, it’s very athletic, it’s got a lot of length in it, it’s got a lot of explosive players in it.”

Kill said the Gophers have signed 20 players and hope to get one more.

“We’re going to be right where we need to be, because I’m going to put Pete Mortell on scholarship, our punter,” Kill said. “I did that at semester.”

There are many players the Gophers fought hard to get their signature. Of course one of the biggest names locally was Jeff Jones, the Minneapolis Washburn running back who was considered the best recruit in the state.

Asked to name a few other players, Kill noted Gaelin Elmore, a 6-foot-6, 246-pound tight end from Somerset, Wis.

“The Southeast Conference schools wanted him, all around Wisconsin, everybody, but we developed a relationship with him in the summer, he committed to us, and he stayed with his commitment,” Kill said. “A lot of kids don’t do that. He shut recruiting off.

Jerry Gibson, a young man from Alabama, went and visited South Carolina this past weekend and was offered a scholarship. We built a relationship and he’s coming here. He stayed committed. That was a big get for us.”

Kill said that Edwardsville, Ill., cornerback Craig James was recruited by several Big 12 schools but shut recruiting off. As for Canadian Julien Kafo, Kill said Nebraska tried to get in and visit him but that he shut them down and said, “I’m going to Minnesota.”

Connor Mayes of Van Alstyne, Texas, the younger brother of Gophers offensive lineman Alex Mayes, was “without a doubt one of the best centers in the country,” Kill said. “He was one of the top players in Texas, he was recruited by everybody.”

Kill also mentioned others, such as quarterback Dimonic Roden-McKinzy, who enrolled in January, and wide receivers Isaiah Gentry, Melvin Holland and Conner Krizancic.

On the defense, Kill said he believes the best defensive line class the Gophers have had in five or six years.

“This is the hardest we’ve worked at recruiting in a long time,” he said. “But you have to here. We’ve got to really work at it.”

Told the truth

Kill said he was up front about his seizures to recruits: “I go in and tell them. I don’t have any problem with that. I mean, it’s national news. I go in and I’m straightforward with people. That’s part of recruiting. Don’t care, go in and talk to them and tell them the truth.

“That didn’t affect recruiting one bit. Actually, it might have helped, because not everybody else might have talked about it. I told them. I’m not going to tell anybody to bring their son in here and not tell them the truth. So I think being honest sometimes, believe it or not, helps you. … Because not everybody’s straightforward, so it is what it is, and I’ve got a chip on my shoulder and so do these kids, we’ve all got a chip on our shoulder and that’s a good thing.”

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