Kill says Gophers football recruiting going well

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 22, 2012 - 7:00 AM

The Gophers have commitments from at least 14 high school and junior college players with signing day still six weeks away.

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Tailback Berkley Edwards.

The running back has the look of a star, the quarterback is a born leader, the cornerback and linebacker possess the speed to stifle Big Ten offenses. This being football recruiting, it's also entirely possible that none of these things is true.

But "we're in great shape with our recruiting," coach Jerry Kill said about the second group of newcomers he will bring to the Gophers, most of whom will sign letters of intent in six weeks. "We've got a good amount done, but there are maybe six or seven things we're still working on."

Kill is prohibited by NCAA rules from discussing or even mentioning individual players until they formally sign national letters of intent to attend Minnesota, which can't happen before Feb. 6. But the coach said he's been delighted by the difference that the Gophers' invitation to next week's Meineke Car Care Bowl makes.

"Playing in the bowl game, and playing in a very good one, especially in the state of Texas, it's helped us pick up some momentum, maybe get some kids on campus that we couldn't have a year ago," Kill said. "The publicity and the things that come with being in a bowl, being on TV, people being a little excited, it all adds up."

What it adds up to exactly won't be known until signing day, and even then it will be months or years before the effect is evident on the field. But the Gophers have been told by at least 14 high school and junior college players that they will attend Minnesota next season, according to a tally kept by Gophers Illustrated, a rivals.com affiliate that closely tracks Minnesota recruiting.

Included among them is Chris Streveler, a run/pass quarterback from Marian Central Catholic in Chicago's northern suburbs, to add depth to a depleted roster of QBs. And Nate Andrews, a receiver-turned-cornerback from Fairhope, Ala., who also has received an offer from Tennessee. There's Lewisville, Texas, defensive end Hendrick Ekpe, whose brother Scott started at defensive tackle for the U this year as a freshman. At linebacker, the Gophers have received commitments from Chris Wipson, a Wayzata linebacker who is recovering from knee surgery, and De'Niro Laster, a linebacker from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, who had offers from Illinois and Kansas.

The prize of the class, however, may be Berkley Edwards, a running back from Chelsea, Mich., and brother of Jets wide receiver Braylon Edwards. The younger Edwards visited Cal-Berkeley and Iowa before settling on Minnesota.

"That's the type of running back they need -- a home-run hitter, a guy who can run away from people," said Zach Johnson, publisher of the Gopher Illustrated website. "All indications are that Edwards is that guy, a legit 4.3 [seconds in the 40-yard-dash] guy. I'm not saying he's [ex-Gopher and NFL back] Laurence Maroney, but he's got that kind of potential."

"The guy is an absolute steal," said Josh Helmholdt, rivals.com's Midwest analyst. "He's built like a lot of NFL backs, short and stocky, but his speed is tremendous. He's a quiet, humble young man who works his tail off."

In Andrews and Laster, Johnson said, the Gophers are executing Kill's plan to favor speed over size on defense. Both are former wide receivers. "Laster is the kind of linebacker this staff wants. You find a guy who can run and can get up to 220, 230 without losing that speed," Johnson said. "They're not interested in big, clumsy guys who hit really hard but can't run."

Well, a little size doesn't hurt on the offensive line, where tackle Alex Mayes of Van Alstyne, Texas, was one of the first recruits to accept Kill's scholarship offer.

"I didn't expect to leave Texas," said the 6-6, 280-pound teen, "but when I visited up there, I fell in love with the place. Coach [Matt] Limegrover and Coach Kill, those are the kind of coaches I want to play for." One of the best parts? Minnesota's weather, of all things. "I'll be nice to have two-a-days in 80-degree weather instead of 105," Mayes said.

So where will this group of recruits rank among their peers? Ohio State and Michigan appear to be having tremendous recruiting success for the second consecutive season, with the rest of the league lumped together, well behind the top two. "It's fair to say that [Minnesota] will rate in the bottom half of the league," Helmholdt said, "but a few players could shuffle those teams quite a bit."

Gophers coaches have spent much of December on the road meeting with recruits, then flying home to conduct bowl practices and host official visits. Some of the focus has already turned to high school juniors, Kill said, in hopes of receiving some early commitments next spring. But the Gophers are also waging several head-to-head battles with other Big Ten teams for players, decisions that likely won't be known until signing day or just before.

How many players will the Gophers sign? It's a fluid number, Kill said. The Gophers have only 12 graduating seniors, but the departure of other players -- such as backup quarterback Max Shortell's recent decision to transfer -- frees up additional scholarships. The coach said on a radio program on Sunday that he could have 20 scholarships available, and Big Ten rules allow teams to "oversign" three extra players in anticipation that some recruits may not qualify academically.

"You always figure there's going to be some changeover, and you make an educated guess," Kill said. "I sit down with every kid to see where they're at. You see if they're disappointed they're not playing enough, want to play more [somewhere else]. It happens every year, to every team, but the numbers always seem to work themselves out."

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