This is an important recruiting time for the Gophers football coaches who are on the road, because according to head coach Jerry Kill, he might be coaching the youngest team with the fewest seniors in the Big Ten this fall.
“We’re a young football team,” Kill said. “In our situation, we may start one or two seniors on offense and then on defense probably just about three.”
Looking at the roster, here are the seniors who most likely will be full- or part-time starters. On offense, Mike Henry will be at fullback and Derrick Engel will see time at wide receiver. On defense, James Manuel will most likely start at outside linebacker, Ra’Shede Hageman will start at defensive tackle, Jeremy Balthazar will play at cornerback, and Brock Vereen will be at safety.
Kill says the importance of each scholarship the team hands out next year will increase because there will be so few.
“The next recruiting class will be a very small one, so [we can’t] afford to make any mistakes,” Kill said. “Scholarshipwise it’s always hard to tell exactly what you’ll have, but it won’t be a big class. It will be a class that we certainly need to bring some difference-makers in. That part of recruiting is going good right now and I think the recruits we’re talking to feel good about the direction we’re headed.
“We still have guys on the road and we will have — you get a certain amount of days to get your recruiting in, and we still have a couple more days. We’ll have everyone off the road and in the office on Thursday.”
The Gophers signed 19 in their 2013 class, but next year’s will be smaller.
“With where we’re at right now, there’s always things that happen, but we’ll be probably be right around 14-17 scholarships next year, relatively a small class,” Kill said. “Right now we have good prospects and we’re looking forward to how recruiting is going. Right now we feel very good about it.”
Kill was asked if the Gophers’ impressive performance in a 34-31 loss to Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl last December has resulted in more recruits being interested in Minnesota.
“Well, I think there’s a lot of things,” Kill said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt, again, when you play on national TV and you’re the only game on that particular evening and it’s a bowl game, you’re going to get a ton of feedback. We’ve certainly gotten a lot, even though we didn’t win the game, it’s certainly helped us a lot.
“I’m anxious to get with [the coaches] after they’ve been on the road. I’ve talked to a ton of kids over the telephone, which I’m allowed to do one time or they call me. It’s a time where things really don’t shut down, and in some aspects this is a really critical time in recruiting, because things seem to speed up year by year.”
With many members of the football squad in summer school, Kill will have to balance that commitment with his practice schedule leading up to the Gophers’ season opener against UNLV on Aug. 29.
“Probably my biggest concern, and it’s just the way it laid out this year, we’re playing on a Thursday night but we don’t get out of summer school,” Kill said.
“We can start practice on August 2, but we don’t get out of summer school until August 9. So this will be the first time in my 31 years of coaching that we really can’t have two-a-days for about seven or eight days, so we can’t start practice until like 3:30 in the afternoon. We have some challenges ahead of us in the way our approach is going into that first game because of … how late summer school runs.
“We’re going to miss some two-a-day practices that we normally would have. We’ll spin a positive on that and have to manage our time very well.”
Bad break for Grant
Great story in the Sunday paper on how the 400 acres of land in the Gordon, Wis., area — owned by my close personal friend Bud Grant — were torched by a fire that damaged some of the most beautiful trees one has ever seen.
I was on hand many, many years ago when for $100 Grant bought out the partnership with his close friend Bill Blank for a good part of that land and, in our younger days we spent a lot of time there. Along with local sportsman Marty Davis and his grandfather, we fished the private lake in the area that Grant owned a couple of years ago. If that part of Grant’s acreage was damaged, it’ll be truly sad.