Kill to show results of his hurry-up recruiting offensive

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 2, 2011 - 6:06 AM

A 6-foot-6 quarterback from Kansas leads the new Gophers coach's first recruiting class, one also full of receivers and offensive linemen.

Quarterback Max Shortell led Bishop Miege High to a Kansas state title as a junior. The 6-6 Shortell threw 50 touchdown passes the past two years.

Photo: John Sleezer, John Sleezer/Kansas City Star

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Jerry Kill didn't have time to land the sort of recruits he'll pursue in the future, but he delivered some crowd-pleasing elements just the same. A herd of offensive linemen for the fundamentalists. A trio of wideouts for the alarmists. And for everyone else, another promising quarterback to generate dreams of big-game victories.

C'mon, what football fan doesn't love projecting stardom on the next quarterback? And the one after that?

Max Shortell, who led Bishop Miege High to a Kansas state championship as a junior, will be among the highlights of National Signing Day for the Gophers, one of roughly two dozen new players who will sign letters of intent today to attend Minnesota.

"He's got a great arm and good instincts," Tom Lemming, recruiting analyst for the CBS College Sports network, said of the 6-6 Kansan. "We had him at our combine last year, and you could see he's a smart kid who makes good decisions."

In the inexact science that is college recruiting, we won't know about Shortell, or any of these players -- or in this case, the man who recruited them -- for another few years.

Despite the presence of Shortell and two-time All-Metro guard Tommy Olson of Mahtomedi, Kill's first class of recruits appears headed toward a general ranking among the bottom third of the 12-team Big Ten.

But here's the national consensus about Kill: He deserves time to recruit his way.

"I guarantee that while they've been trying to fill this class in a hurry, [Minnesota's coaching staff] has been focused on junior recruiting. You need a year to get to know the kids," Lemming said. "A coaching change is too disruptive to expect a great class right away. His 2012 class will be very important."

In Tim Brewster's shadow

For now, though, the Gophers will sign a class largely made up of players who committed to former coach Tim Brewster, or who were wooed by Kill at Northern Illinois and switched allegiances when he did.

Barring last-minute changes in commitments, SuperPrep magazine will rank the Gophers 10th, 11th or 12th in the Big Ten, according to publisher Allan Wallace. CBS College Sports will place them ninth or 10th, Lemming said. Rivals.com puts Minnesota eighth in an 11-team league; presumably, the addition of Nebraska will drop the Gophers to ninth.

"We rated 1,216 different prospects in our magazine, and 14 of Minnesota's recruits were not included. That's a pretty large number for a BCS [conference] team," said Wallace, who is also national recruiting editor of scout.com. "Any time you replace the coach after the season, the new coaches hear a lot of recruits say, 'I like you, but I don't know you well enough.'"

A lot of them knew and liked Brewster. SuperPrep rates five members of Minnesota's class among the region's top 100 prospects, and all five -- Shortell, Olson, Bloomington (Ill.) offensive lineman Kyle McAvoy, Edina receiver Devin Crawford-Tufts and Holy Family linebacker Peter Westerhaus -- originally committed to the now-departed former coach.

But the new coach made an impression in the mere 60 days he's been on the job, too.

"The No. 1 concern when he was hired was, will he emphasize recruiting? And there's no doubt about it now," said Zach Johnson, publisher of GopherIllustrated.com, the local rivals.com affiliate. "He and his staff have solid connections. [Kill] has that 'Oh golly, just-happy-to-be-here' persona, but he's pretty savvy. He knows his business. He's not going to try to find recruits in rural Kansas. He knows he needs the best players he's ever recruited."

Strong on O-line, at wideout

Johnson has been rating Gopher recruits for eight years, and judges this one "on par with the last two classes," though short of the heralded 2008 class.

"It's balanced. They got the clear-cut No. 1 player in the state [in Olson], a highly regarded quarterback, and the group on the offensive line are pretty impressive," Johnson said. "Combine that with the bunch they got last year, and [offensive coordinator] Matt Limegrover has a lot to work with. The line should become a position of strength over the next four years."

There's also a crop of wide receivers who are "sneaky good," Johnson said, with junior-college transfer Ge'Shun Harris projected to play as soon as this fall, while Crawford-Tufts and speedster Quentin Gardener from Denton, Texas, develop over a few years.

That's important, since Kill pronounced the position a critical need, considering only one experienced pass-catcher returns to the position in 2011.

And though MarQueis Gray hasn't started a game at quarterback yet, the jockeying to be his successor in two years can begin now.

With Shortell joining sophomore Moses Alipate and redshirt freshman Tom Parish, last year's prize quarterback recruit, Kill might have plenty of options under center in 2013.

"Brewster was a good recruiter; they've got some talent in this class. I'd say good, not great," Lemming said. "But Kill is an underrated recruiter. Wait till he brings home his own class."

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