RIVER FALLS, WIS. – Penn State coach James Franklin hopes to bolster his football team’s recruiting efforts in the heart of SEC country this month by setting up shop and assisting at camps in Florida and Georgia..
Now, Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen has an idea designed to catch the attention of Minnesota’s top high school recruits. By next year, he’d like to be part of a camp at UW-River Falls or another school in western Wisconsin.
“We want to be able to get a camp next year closer to there, so we can give those [Minnesota] kids an opportunity to be in front of us, and for us to be in front of those kids,” Andersen said Wednesday during a fundraiser at the River Falls Golf Club.
Franklin has drawn scrutiny from SEC coaches for his camps, but by serving as an assistant coach — and not technically running them himself — he’s taking advantage of a loophole. NCAA rule 126.96.36.199 states that any high school camp run by coaches must be within the same state border or within 50 miles of campus if out of state.
So Andersen could technically run his own camp in western Wisconsin, but he said he’d rather let the local college coaches reap the profits. The point for Andersen and his staff would be all recruiting.
Perhaps it’s by design, but entering his second season, Andersen hasn’t had quite the same foothold with Minnesota recruits as his two predecessors, Barry Alvarez and Bret Bielema. Those coaches plucked several top Minnesota players — including Cretin-Derham Hall running back Carl McCullough, Armstrong wide receiver David Gilreath and Minnetonka nose guard Beau Allen — as they built the Badgers into a Big Ten power.
Andersen’s first full recruiting class of 26 players received high praise in February, but none were from Minnesota. Meanwhile, Somerset tight end Gaelin Elmore became the first Wisconsin native in several years to turn down a Badgers offer and sign with the Gophers.
Entering his fourth season, Gophers coach Jerry Kill is definitely holding his own along the Minnesota/Wisconsin border. But Andersen won’t let Minnesota become a recruiting blind spot.
“It’s a key recruiting area for us for walk-on kids because of the tuition [reciprocity], and for scholarship players,” Andersen said. “The respect that we have for the high school football there is very, very high.”
Former Badgers offensive line coach Bob Bostad helped reel several Minnesota recruits to Wisconsin, including Gilreath, Eden Prairie linebacker Blake Sorenson, Holy Angels linebacker Brendan Kelly and Tyler Marz. A Springfield, Minn., native, Marz will enter his senior season at Wisconsin this fall as the returning starter at left tackle.
When Bostad left Wisconsin, eventually for the NFL, defensive backs coach Ben Strickland took over recruiting in Minnesota. Strickland had spent one season as an assistant high school coach at Minnetonka before joining Wisconsin’s staff.
Strickland remained in place when Bielema left for Arkansas and helped convince former Tartan defensive back Keelon Brookins to stick with his commitment to the Badgers. Brookins, who has had surgeries on both knees, played some linebacker this spring and is looking for a backup role this fall.
Wisconsin isn’t getting every Minnesota player it wants. For the 2014 class, Strickland recruited Chanhassen lineman Frank Ragnow, who wound up signing with Bielema at Arkansas. Strickland has recruited 2015 Cretin-Derham Hall defensive end Jashon Cornell, too. But Cornell more likely is headed to Ohio State or Michigan State.
Andersen, the former Utah State coach who went 9-4 in his first season at Wisconsin, has found players from other parts of the country. The 2014 class included six players from Florida, including D.J. Gillins, a consensus four-star quarterback from Jacksonville. For 2015, the Badgers have two commitments from Texas and one from Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei — four-star tight end Kyle Penniston.
“We have a national brand,” Andersen said. “It’s recognizable. People understand it. We have the opportunity to go national when we need to, but only when we pick our spots in the right scenarios. You’ve got to be careful not to get spread too thin. That’s the challenge for us as a staff.”
And that’s another reason he plans to bring the staff with him to a camp in western Wisconsin. Time will tell if this helps him land more Minnesota recruits.