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

Baltimore 2 FINAL
Detroit 15
NY Yankees 5 FINAL
Philadelphia 5
Northeastern 1 FINAL
Boston 2
Miami-Fla 1 FINAL
Miami 7
Pittsburgh 8 FINAL
Toronto 7
San Francisco 4 FINAL
Oakland 9
Cleveland 0 FINAL
Cincinnati 10
Boston College 0 FINAL
Boston 1
Arizona State 0 FINAL
Arizona 4
Boston 79 FINAL
Cleveland 110
LA Lakers 103 FINAL
Charlotte 104
Sacramento 124 FINAL
New York 86
Houston 96 FINAL
Atlanta 104
Utah 93 FINAL
Memphis 82
Washington 92 FINAL
Chicago 97
Milwaukee 95 FINAL
Denver 106
Nashville 1 FINAL
New Jersey 3
Calgary 3 FINAL(OT)
Philadelphia 2
Washington 5 FINAL
Columbus 3
Buffalo 0 FINAL
Tampa Bay 3
Toronto 3 FINAL
Florida 2
Ottawa 2 FINAL(SO)
Minnesota 3
NY Islanders 2 FINAL(OT)
Dallas 3
Anaheim 4 FINAL
Arizona 1
Los Angeles 5 FINAL
Edmonton 2
San Jose 6 FINAL
Vancouver 2
Ole Miss 82 FINAL
Alabama 74
Eastern Mich 67 FINAL
Ball State 60
Kent State 81 FINAL
Bowling Green 80
Ohio 66 FINAL
Buffalo 93
Georgetown 60 FINAL
Butler 54
Toledo 77 FINAL
Central Mich 85
Rhode Island 59 FINAL
Dayton 75
Youngstown St 67 FINAL
Detroit 77
North Carolina 81 FINAL
Georgia Tech 49
Loyola-Maryland 45 FINAL
Holy Cross 62
Iowa 77 FINAL
Indiana 63
Akron 63 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 70
Army 52 FINAL
Navy 56
Maryland 60 FINAL
Rutgers 50
Kennesaw St 54 FINAL
USC Upstate 90
Jacksonville 63 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 81
Lipscomb 76 FINAL
Northern Ky 73
Stetson 67 FINAL
North Florida 81
Wright State 57 FINAL
Ill-Chicago 60
Western Mich 63 FINAL
Northern Ill 65
Nebraska Omaha 80 FINAL
North Dakota 78
Houston Baptist 71 FINAL
Abilene Christian 83
NC State 66 FINAL
Clemson 61
Texas A&M 62 FINAL
Florida 66
Kentucky 72 FINAL
Georgia 64
West Virginia 69 FINAL
Kansas 76
Auburn 61 FINAL
Missouri 63
Michigan 78 FINAL
Northwestern 82
Villanova 76 FINAL
Creighton 72
Longwood 55 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 63
Charleston Southern 39 FINAL
Presbyterian 47
Coastal Carolina 54 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 68
NJIT 51 FINAL
UMass Lowell 60
West Virginia 55 FINAL
Kansas State 59
TCU 45 FINAL
Texas 79
Fresno State 61 FINAL
Air Force 41
San Jose St 76 FINAL
Boise State 91
Nevada 61 FINAL
Colorado State 68
UNLV 61 FINAL
San Diego State 76
Wyoming 61 FINAL
Utah State 57
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is the best center on a Twin Cities sports team?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close