Bret Bielema strikes again.
The Gophers might have thought they were rid of the former Wisconsin coach when he left for Arkansas, but on Friday afternoon Bielema lured one of Minnesota’s top high school recruits to the SEC.
Frank Ragnow, a 6-6, 290-pound offensive lineman who had narrowed his choices to Minnesota, Arkansas and Florida State, announced his commitment to the Razorbacks before a crowd of about 400 people at Chanhassen High School.
Gophers coach Jerry Kill made Ragnow one of his top priorities in this recruiting class and worked tirelessly to convince Ragnow to stay home after offering him a scholarship following his sophomore year.
“I love Coach Kill,” Ragnow said. “… I know they’re going to be a successful program, and I love them to death. But I just feel like Arkansas is the better place for me individually.”
Ragnow, a consensus four-star recruit, ranks as the third-best prospect in this year’s in-state class behind Minneapolis Washburn running back Jeff Jones and East Ridge center J.C. Hassenauer.
Jones made a verbal commitment to the Gophers last February but kept his recruiting options open and plans to announce his final decision Wednesday on National Signing Day. Hassenauer has committed to play for Alabama.
Ragnow also had offers from Wisconsin, Nebraska, Ohio State, Missouri and Vanderbilt. His father, Jon Ragnow, took him to see a dozen schools to help him make the decision.
Arkansas has “great coaches, great academics,” Jon Ragnow said. “It gets a bad rap because it’s in the South, but if you do some investigation, you realize what a great institution it is.”
Bielema led Wisconsin to three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances before taking over at Arkansas last year. The Razorbacks started 3-0 before losing their final nine games and finishing 0-8 in the SEC. Frank Ragnow said Bielema and Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman sold him on the Razorbacks’ potential.
“Coach Bielema’s always loved the offensive line,” Ragnow said. “He told me his offensive line flies first class when they travel. His offensive linemen are always the team captains for their workouts. It’s just the place where you want to go as an offensive lineman because they breed offensive linemen for the NFL.”
Ragnow played left tackle for Chanhassen, but Arkansas plans to move him to center with a chance to start as a freshman. He hopes to follow in the footsteps of Travis Swanson, a senior for the Razorbacks last season.
“Travis Swanson didn’t play center in high school … and now he’s projected to be one of the first two centers taken in the [NFL] draft,” Ragnow said. “So it made the choice to play center a little easier for me.”
The Gophers, who also fly their offensive linemen first class, had planned to keep Ragnow at tackle. They already have a commitment in this class from Connor Mayes, a center from Van Alstyne, Texas, who played in the U.S. Army All-American Game.
Ragnow said he wrestled with his decision until Thursday night, but in the end, the lure of the SEC was too much.
“I mean, it’s SEC football,” he said. “You can lie and talk about how the Big Ten is up there and everything else, but SEC football — playing Auburn, Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M every single week — it’s a battle, and it’s the best competition. That’s where I want to go.”