In-staters warming to Kill and his staff

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 20, 2011 - 6:34 AM

Recruits for 2012 are beginning to show signs of buying what the Gophers' new football coach is selling.

hide

Gophers coach Jerry Kill

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Philip Nelson was only a sophomore at Mankato West, had barely begun the process of choosing where to play college football, but he had already made up his mind. "I remember telling my dad, 'There's no way I'm going to be a Gopher,'" Nelson said. "Ruled them out right away."

He laughs at the memory, because now he's got a new one: Last February, a full year before he could sign a letter of intent, Nelson, widely considered the most promising prep quarterback in Minnesota since Adam Weber, found himself in Jerry Kill's office, delivering an entirely different message: I'm yours.

"I'm a home-grown Badger [his father, Pat Nelson, played for the Badgers], and everybody thought I was automatic for Wisconsin," said Nelson, who has family in Madison. "But I don't want to leave Minnesota. That's how powerful Jerry Kill was to me."

It's a common refrain as Kill and his assistants slowly put together their first real recruiting class. The new coach, like most of his predecessors, said keeping Minnesota's most talented high school players at home would be a priority. At least initially, he's having some success.

Already, four Minnesota seniors-to-be have promised to play for Kill -- five if you count Hopkins receiver Andre McDonald, who committed last spring but has since said he is delaying his final decision. The Gophers also have a commitment from wide receiver Isaac Fruechte, who played last year at Rochester Community and Technical College.

Nelson signed on early, and offensive guard Isaac Hayes of St. Thomas Academy committed to the Gophers earlier this month. Both players had scholarship offers from such high-profile programs as Virginia Tech, Ohio State and Iowa. "With Hayes and [2011 freshman] Tommy Olson, you've got the inside of your line locked down for three or four years," said Matt O'Connell, an analyst for Gopher Illustrated, a rivals.com affiliate that closely tracks college recruiting.

McDonald, rated the top prep player in the state by the website, began wavering after a recent scholarship offer from Ohio State. Still, "the in-state players have really bought into Kill and what he's trying to do. They like his honesty, they like his vision for the program, and he's got a track record for winning," O'Connell said. "The in-state class is deeper this year, in terms of recruitable talent, than in past years. That said, [Kill and his staff] are targeting more in-state kids than other coaches did."

It's not just Minnesotans, of course; the rivals.com-affiliated website has confirmed 11 commitments from out-of-staters, including four players this month from Miami Central High. And some other highly recruited in-state players are still considering the Gophers, such as offensive linemen Nick Davidson of Eden Prairie and Jonah Pirsig of Blue Earth, tight end Will Johnson of Osseo and linebacker Nick Rallis of Edina.

But it's also becoming clear that the Gophers coaches don't rely on outside evaluations to narrow their focus. "They don't seem to care whether guys have other offers or not," O'Connell said. "They're not afraid to be the first team in on a guy, and that says something about their confidence in their ability to develop the players they like."

The NCAA strictly prohibits coaches from publicly commenting on recruits until after they have signed letters of intent, so Kill could offer no details about his haul. But "we certainly feel good about where we are now," he said earlier this month. "I like our approach. I think it's going well. We've worked very hard at it."

Part of that work paid off right away when Nelson met assistant coaches Pat Poore, Jim Zebrowski and offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover, who made it clear how impressed they were with the 17-year-old quarterback. "They told me right off the bat that I'm their No. 1 guy, that I'm the future at quarterback," said Nelson, who led Mankato West to an undefeated regular season and a berth in the state quarterfinals last fall.

Yet it was Kill's honesty about what would be expected of him that really sold the teenager, who had already paid informal visits to Iowa, Iowa State and Wisconsin. "He said they're going to bring in other guys, too, and that they're going to make me work really hard" to win the starting job, Nelson said, and sure enough, Mitch Leidner of Lakeville South made a verbal commitment in June. "There's something about the new staff. They didn't guarantee anything, but they just seemed way more interested, more friendly and honest."

Nelson attended a few spring workouts to watch Kill and his assistants at work -- he'll graduate a semester early, so he plans to enroll and take part in those practices next March --and spoke to several other Minnesota recruits who have been similarly impressed.

"I could see why all these kids are excited to stay home now," Nelson said. "It reminds me of Iowa, my No. 2 choice -- they have a stable coaching staff and keep most of their in-state kids at home. There's a bright future with this staff."

  • related content

  • Home-grown

    Tuesday July 19, 2011

    New Gophers football coach Jerry Kill has 16 verbal commitments, including five Minnesotans -- maybe six, if Andre McDonald sticks to his original plan. The in-state recruits:

  • 2011 U football schedule

    Wednesday July 20, 2011

    Sept. 3 at Southern California

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Cincinnati - M. Leake 6:05 PM
Pittsburgh - E. Volquez
Minnesota - T. May 6:05 PM
Baltimore - M. Gonzalez
NY Yankees - C. Capuano 6:07 PM
Toronto - M. Buehrle
Philadelphia - D. Buchanan 6:10 PM
NY Mets - J. deGrom
Boston - A. Ranaudo 6:10 PM
Tampa Bay - C. Archer
Miami - T. Koehler 6:35 PM
Atlanta - E. Santana
Cleveland - D. Salazar 7:10 PM
Kansas City - J. Vargas
Detroit - J. Verlander 7:10 PM
Chicago WSox - S. Carroll
Texas - S. Baker 7:10 PM
Houston - B. Oberholtzer
Chicago Cubs - K. Hendricks 7:15 PM
St. Louis - S. Miller
Colorado - C. Bergman 8:40 PM
Arizona - J. Collmenter
Oakland - J. Lester 9:05 PM
LA Angels - J. Weaver
Los Angeles - D. Haren 9:10 PM
San Diego - A. Cashner
Washington - J. Zimmermann 9:10 PM
Seattle - F. Hernandez
Milwaukee - W. Peralta 9:15 PM
San Francisco - R. Vogelsong
Atlanta 24 FINAL
Jacksonville 14
Detroit 23 FINAL
Buffalo 0
Indianapolis 7 FINAL
Cincinnati 35
Kansas City 14 FINAL
Green Bay 34
NY Jets 7 FINAL
Philadelphia 37
St. Louis 13 FINAL
Miami 14
Carolina 10 FINAL
Pittsburgh 0
New England 13 FINAL
NY Giants 16
Washington 24 FINAL
Tampa Bay 10
Baltimore 22 FINAL
New Orleans 13
Chicago 13 FINAL
Cleveland 33
Denver 27 FINAL
Dallas 3
Minnesota 19 FINAL
Tennessee 3
San Francisco 40 FINAL
Houston 13
Arizona 9 FINAL
San Diego 12
Seattle 31 FINAL
Oakland 41
(21) Texas A&M 52 FINAL
(9) So Carolina 28
Wake Forest 10 FINAL
ULM 17
Boise State 13 FINAL
(18) Ole Miss 35
Tulane 31 FINAL
Tulsa 38
Rutgers 41 FINAL
Washington St 38
Weber State 14 FINAL
(19) Arizona State 45
Temple 37 FINAL
Vanderbilt 7
BYU 6:00 PM
Connecticut
(6) Jacksonville St 6:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Bowling Green 6:30 PM
Western Ky
TX-San Antonio 8:00 PM
Houston
Colorado State 8:00 PM
Colorado
UNLV 9:30 PM
Arizona
Penn State 8/30/14 7:30 AM
UCF
Troy 8/30/14 11:00 AM
UAB
(7) UCLA 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Virginia
Western Mich 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
(5) Ohio State 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Navy
Appalachian St 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Michigan
Ga Southern 8/30/14 11:30 AM
NC State
Boston College 8/30/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
West Virginia 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(2) Alabama
Rice 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
(10) South Dakota St 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(24) Missouri
Fla Atlantic 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(22) Nebraska
California 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Marshall 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
UC Davis 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(11) Stanford
Arkansas 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(6) Auburn
(16) Clemson 8/30/14 4:30 PM
(12) Georgia
Liberty 8/30/14 5:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Ohio U 8/30/14 5:00 PM
Kent State
Louisiana Tech 8/30/14 6:00 PM
(4) Oklahoma
Idaho 8/30/14 6:00 PM
Florida
Stephen F Austin 8/30/14 6:10 PM
(20) Kansas State
Fresno State 8/30/14 6:30 PM
(15) USC
Southern Miss 8/30/14 6:30 PM
Miss State
Texas-El Paso 8/30/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
North Texas 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Texas
(1) Florida State 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Oklahoma State
(14) Wisconsin 8/30/14 8:00 PM
(13) LSU
South Dakota 8/30/14 9:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(25) Washington 8/30/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
Tennessee
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Louisville
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Houston 7:00 PM
Sporting Kansas City
Ottawa 6:30 PM
Montreal
Winnipeg 8/31/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 9/5/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Hamilton 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Montreal
Saskatchewan 9/7/14 3:00 PM
Winnipeg
Minnesota 9:00 PM
Phoenix
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pm
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pm
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. TBA
Sep 27 - at Michigan TBA
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern TBA
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 am
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Grade the Gophers in their season opener

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close