Gophers finding hidden gems in the heart of SEC territory

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 14, 2012 - 9:03 AM
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Freshman Jamel Harbison, center, has quickly made an impression on Gophers coach Jerry Kill.

Photo: Genevieve Ross, Associated Press

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Jamel Harbison was an outstanding baseball player at Mallard Creek High in Charlotte, N.C. K.J. Maye was a point guard on the Murphy High basketball team in Mobile, Ala., when he wasn't running the single wing as Murphy's quarterback.

Each is an inch or two short of 6 feet tall, meaning they didn't fit the normal profile of a BCS-level recruit. But each ended up 1,000 miles from home, playing football for Jerry Kill. And each might step right into a role with the Gophers before his 19th birthday.

"Our recruiting class that we brought in [last February] has really shown up. They've done some really good things in camp," Kill said Saturday after directing two-a-day practices. "We've been able to find kids in the southern part of the [United States]. We had to find a niche there."

That niche has turned out to be quick, explosive skill players who might not be big enough to attract attention from Southeastern Conference schools and some of the national powers. Harbison had high school teammates who were recruited by SEC schools, but "I don't know how he got under the radar," Kill said. "He's probably the best skill player" to come out of that area last year, judging by his start in Minnesota, the coach added. "Both the kids we got from [the South] are ballers. Harbison has just had an unbelievable camp."

The 18-year-old freshman caught four passes, from three quarterbacks, during Friday's public scrimmage, totaling 39 yards.

Then there's Maye, who's only 5-10 but is amazingly elusive and quick. He carried the ball six times Friday for 34 yards, but tailback might not be where he ends up.

"We've talked about some of his receiving skills, playing him some there, because he's a smart kid," Kill said.

Versatile, too. Playing the single wing in high school probably cost him some attention from recruiters, because he doesn't look big enough to play quarterback in Division I. "He's got good vision, because he was a quarterback," said Kill, who first scouted Maye by watching him play basketball. "The toughest thing is being able to get kids like that to come this far away from home."

Etc.

•The Gophers have been hesitant about making offers to recruits for next year's class, because they have only 12 to 14 scholarships available next February. But the pace will pick up soon, Kill said. "We really needed to get out here and see how this [year's class] is gonna work out before we can really go forward. We've offered some kids in for-sure needs [positions], but until we got out here and got to see kids like [freshman cornerback] Eric Murray, see how these new guys are gonna do, we have to see how much more we're going to need at each position," Kill said. "I think a week from now, we'll know a little bit more about what we need to do, and then maybe get into it pretty hard."

•Sophomore receiver Devin Crawford-Tufts has not taken part in practice for four days, and "he's probably five or six days away," Kill said. The Gophers are being especially cautious with him, given his history of hamstring injuries.

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