To patch holes, U football turns to juco ranks

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 16, 2011 - 1:24 PM

In trying to add balance and experience to his roster, coach Jerry Kill has tapped junior colleges.

Running back James Gillum rushed for 2,344 yards for Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College over the past two seasons.

Photo: Provided by Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College

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James Gillum excels, his junior college coach says, at finding gaps and bursting through them.

The Gophers would like Gillum to do something slightly different: take a huge hole in their roster and fill it. Gillum is one of at least five junior college players who tentatively have agreed to transfer to Minnesota for next season, according to recruiting websites.

"James is a Big Ten back. I can see him being a 1,000-yard rusher up there," said Steve Campbell, who coached Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College to a 10-2 record this season. "He can get you the tough yards. He's going to break a lot of tackles there. He can put up some numbers."

Numbers are a problem for the Gophers, which is part of the reason Gillum and his fellow juco players are being recruited by coach Jerry Kill. His predecessor, Tim Brewster, did the same thing.

"It's typical, when you have a new staff, to make jucos a priority because you're looking for your kind of player, someone who fits your style, and can play right away," said Zach Johnson, publisher of Gopher Illustrated, a site that closely monitors Minnesota recruiting.

Kill has been fretting over the uneven distribution of talent in his locker room for almost a year now. His challenge during this and the next couple of recruiting seasons is not only to entice talented players to Minneapolis, but also to juggle some distressing math.

If a typical college football team uses 40 impact players per season -- starters on both sides of the ball, a handful of specialists, and backups to cover the normal pace of injuries -- the ideal squad would include something like 16 seniors, 12 juniors, eight sophomores and four freshmen. That keeps veterans in place at most spots, while fresh talent gets a chance to develop behind them. Thanks to the turnover in coaches and the unusually high attrition rate of the 2008 recruiting class, the Gophers' 40 most important players this year arguably included 15 seniors, six juniors, six sophomores and 13 freshmen.

"We don't have any classes in between there. Look at the roster -- it's empty," Kill said about the odd configuration, which will leave him with a severe shortage of upperclassmen next season.

Risk vs. reward

Kill has said several times that he is wary of junior-college players, in part because of the academic risk some pose, and because it's difficult to adequately train newcomers quickly and expect them to play right away.

"You bring in a few kids and sprinkle them in, but you've got to be selective and make sure it's the right fit," Kill explained before the season about his junior-college philosophy. "You've got to make sure they're serious about getting an education, because if they flunk out, you lose that scholarship and your APR goes down. You can't take too many risks."

So far, the Gophers have deemed the risk worthwhile for a five juco players, by Gopher Illustrated's count, and it's no coincidence they coincide with the team's thinnest positions: three defensive backs, a wide receiver and a running back.

Briean Boddy, who committed earlier this month, is a cornerback from Wilmington, Del., who wasn't heavily recruited out of high school. He went to Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College to get noticed, Johnson said, and it paid off. Even better, Boddy will have four years to play three seasons at Minnesota, making him more valuable. Same for Isaac Fruechte, a Caledonia High School graduate who played at Rochester Community and Technical College in 2010, then redshirted last year.

Jeremy Baltazar is a two-year starter at Blinn (Texas) Community College who can play cornerback or safety, a position of real need for the Gophers. Athens (Texas) Trinity Valley Community College cornerback Martez Shabazz recently de-committed from Baylor and is slated to join the Gophers.

An impact back?

Then there's Gillum, who has been recruited by Kill's staff for nearly four years. Assistant coach Jay Sawvel recognized his talent while at tiny Pearl River High, where he gained nearly 6,000 yards, but Gillum didn't have the grades to enroll at Northern Illinois. Saw- vel and Kill helped steer the 6-foot, 200-pound back to Mississippi Gulf Coast -- where he helped the Bulldogs go 20-4 over two seasons -- in hopes of bringing him north this winter.

Gillum gained 1,297 yards as a freshman, then added 1,047 this year despite suffering a severe high ankle sprain in the season's third game. Campbell compared him to Vick Ballard, a former Bulldogs running back recently named second-team All-SEC.

"He played on a bad wheel for most of the rest of the season. That's a tough kid," Campbell said. "He got his academics in order by working hard, and [Minnesota] just outrecruited everybody. They're getting a good one."

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    Here are the 25 players reported to have given the Gophers football team verbal commitments for next year's incoming recruiting class. It is ranked No. 12 out of 12 teams...

  • GOPHERS FOOTBALL RECRUITING 2012

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Cincinnati - LP: J. Broxton 1 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: T. Watson 2
Minnesota - LP: T. May 1 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: M. Gonzalez 9
NY Yankees - WP: C. Capuano 6 FINAL
Toronto - LP: M. Buehrle 3
Philadelphia - LP: J. Diekman 1 FINAL
NY Mets - WP: J. deGrom 4
Boston - WP: A. Ranaudo 8 FINAL
Tampa Bay - LP: C. Archer 4
Miami - LP: C. Hatcher 2 FINAL
Atlanta - WP: D. Carpenter 5
Cleveland - WP: D. Salazar 6 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: J. Vargas 1
Detroit - WP: J. Verlander 7 FINAL
Chicago WSox - LP: S. Carroll 1
Texas - WP: S. Baker 13 FINAL
Houston - LP: B. Oberholtzer 6
Chicago Cubs - WP: N. Ramirez 7 FINAL
St. Louis - LP: P. Neshek 2
Colorado - LP: R. Brothers 2 FINAL
Arizona - WP: B. Ziegler 5
Oakland - LP: J. Lester 0 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: J. Weaver 4
Los Angeles - LP: K. Correia 2 FINAL
San Diego - WP: T. Stauffer 3
Washington - WP: J. Zimmermann 8 FINAL
Seattle - LP: F. Hernandez 3
Milwaukee - LP: W. Peralta 2 FINAL
San Francisco - WP: R. Vogelsong 13
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Seattle
(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 35 FINAL
Connecticut 10
(6) Jacksonville St 7 FINAL
(8) Michigan State 45
Bowling Green 31 FINAL
Western Ky 59
TX-San Antonio 27 FINAL
Houston 7
Colorado State 31 FINAL
Colorado 17
UNLV 13 FINAL
Arizona 58
Penn State 7:30 AM
UCF
Troy 11:00 AM
UAB
(7) UCLA 11:00 AM
Virginia
Western Mich 11:00 AM
Purdue
(5) Ohio State 11:00 AM
Navy
Appalachian St 11:00 AM
Michigan
Ga Southern 11:30 AM
NC State
Boston College 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
West Virginia 2:30 PM
(2) Alabama
Rice 2:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
(10) South Dakota St 2:30 PM
(24) Missouri
Fla Atlantic 2:30 PM
(22) Nebraska
California 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Marshall 2:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
UC Davis 3:00 PM
(11) Stanford
Arkansas 3:00 PM
(6) Auburn
(16) Clemson 4:30 PM
(12) Georgia
Liberty 5:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Ohio U 5:00 PM
Kent State
Louisiana Tech 6:00 PM
(4) Oklahoma
Idaho 6:00 PM
Florida
Stephen F Austin 6:10 PM
(20) Kansas State
Fresno State 6:30 PM
(15) USC
Southern Miss 6:30 PM
Miss State
Texas-El Paso 7:00 PM
New Mexico
North Texas 7:00 PM
Texas
(1) Florida State 7:00 PM
Oklahoma State
(14) Wisconsin 8:00 PM
(13) LSU
South Dakota 9:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(25) Washington 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
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
Houston 3 FINAL
Sporting Kansas City 1
Ottawa 10 FINAL
Montreal 20
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 71 FINAL
Phoenix 85
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