Two surprise additions upgrade U's 2013 Signing Day class

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 7, 2013 - 6:46 AM

A talented quarterback and a linebacker the Gophers were unsure about signed with the U.

Gophers football fans who followed this year's recruiting developments received two late surprises, as coach Jerry Kill and his staff seemingly saved their best for last.

When National Signing Day arrived Wednesday, the good news became official.

Donovahn Jones, a high school quarterback from Georgia, had offers from five SEC schools, including Arkansas and Ole Miss, yet signed with the Gophers.

De'Vondre Campbell -- a junior college linebacker who'd committed to Tennessee, then Texas, then Kansas State -- wound up signing with Minnesota.

In all, the Gophers have 19 new scholarship players in the fold. The list includes none rated four- or five-star recruits, and the class still ranks last in the Big Ten, according to Rivals.com. But it was a strong finish for Kill's staff.

"It was a challenging recruiting class because we had to recruit against a lot of good people," Kill said. "And we were fortunate enough to, for the most part, be successful."

Kill said incoming signee Alex Mayes, an offensive lineman from Val Alstyne, Texas, received last-second offers to Baylor and Oklahoma.

"He's a young man that kind of sums up our class through a long time of recruiting and building a relationship," Kill said.

The Gophers didn't win every battle, of course. In previous months, three defensive backs flipped their commitments from Minnesota to other schools -- Nate Andrews to Florida State, Keelon Brookins to Wisconsin and Nate Godwin to South Florida. Kill also indicated the Gophers tried unsuccessfully to lure linebacker Duke Riley from LSU.

But based on the other schools that made offers, Jones and Campbell are two of the most impressive signings in Minnesota's class, joining Berkley Edwards, a speedy running back from Chelsea, Mich.

Jones was committed to Missouri, but the Tigers wanted him to play wide receiver, and the Gophers promised him a shot at quarterback. Minnesota did so even though it signed two quarterbacks last year -- Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner -- and a dual-threat quarterback in Chris Streveler this year.

Kill noted that Streveler played both quarterback and wide receiver at camp last summer, showing good speed and leaping ability.

"He was good enough that he could give us time at receiver this year," Kill said. "He's just an athletic, gifted kid ... and that's the same way Donovahn is."

Besides Missouri, Arkansas and Ole Miss, Jones' other SEC offers were from Mississippi State and Kentucky, according to his coach at Stockbridge (Ga.) Dutchtown High School, Terry Herrod.

"You're talking about a kid who was All-State in the state of Georgia in both football and basketball," Herrod said. "He's 6-3, 195 [pounds] and has the frame to be about 215. He can throw the football 70 yards, he can run a 4.49 [second 40-yard dash], and he has a 39-inch vertical."

Most schools recruited Jones as a receiver. He said he picked Minnesota largely because of Kill. "The position didn't really matter because I'm willing to play quarterback or receiver," Jones said. "It was just where I felt most comfortable."

Kill said he'll keep recruiting as many athletic quarterbacks as he can find. "If [Jones] wins the job at quarterback, OK," Kill said. "If not, you know he can go play wide receiver. ... You'll know early in camp if, hey, this guy is special at this position or whatever."

At linebacker, the Gophers need to replace two outgoing senior starters. They targeted eight or nine linebackers and signed five.

Two are junior college transfers, Campbell and Damien Wilson, who could start next fall. Three are high school seniors who might need to redshirt and gain size -- Rayfield Dixon, De'Niro Laster and Chris Wipson.

Campbell is a late bloomer. He had no college offers coming out of Fort Myers (Fla.) Cypress Lake High School and redshirted last year at Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College. This means he still has three years of eligibility.

"He was committed to Tennessee, and then de-committed because they switched coaches, and then it was Texas, K-State and us," Kill said. "I think we all built a great relationship with De'Vondre. At the end of the day, he just couldn't tell us no."

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