Hartman: Gophers' Kill fought hard to land top recruits

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 6, 2014 - 12:41 AM

Jerry Kill found being honest with his health concerns worked to his advantage with players and their families.

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University of Minnesota head football coach Jerry Kill talked about the recruits that have signed to play at Minnesota.

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It was a big week for Gophers football coach Jerry Kill. He not only was able to recruit his best squad in three years, but on Tuesday he drove a car for the first time in two years.

Kill hadn’t been behind the wheel because of his seizure problems. Now it’s under control, and he made a point when he went into a home of a recruit to discuss his seizures and convince the recruit and his parents that he will be coaching on the sidelines as long as their son is playing at Minnesota.

As for the players the Gophers signed on national signing day Wednesday, Kill said his recruiting plan was to go after specific needs. “Early, our first two years, we concentrated really on defense,” Kill said. “You have to be good on defense to have a chance to win in the Big Ten.

“We’ve gotten better on defense, we’ve focused a little more on offense. We knew we had to get explosive players, and we’ve done a good job of recruiting receivers and running backs, cold-weather skill players, and strengthened our offensive line. We feel very, very good about the class, it’s very athletic, it’s got a lot of length in it, it’s got a lot of explosive players in it.”

Kill said the Gophers have signed 20 players and hope to get one more.

“We’re going to be right where we need to be, because I’m going to put Pete Mortell on scholarship, our punter,” Kill said. “I did that at semester.”

There are many players the Gophers fought hard to get their signature. Of course one of the biggest names locally was Jeff Jones, the Minneapolis Washburn running back who was considered the best recruit in the state.

Asked to name a few other players, Kill noted Gaelin Elmore, a 6-foot-6, 246-pound tight end from Somerset, Wis.

“The Southeast Conference schools wanted him, all around Wisconsin, everybody, but we developed a relationship with him in the summer, he committed to us, and he stayed with his commitment,” Kill said. “A lot of kids don’t do that. He shut recruiting off.

Jerry Gibson, a young man from Alabama, went and visited South Carolina this past weekend and was offered a scholarship. We built a relationship and he’s coming here. He stayed committed. That was a big get for us.”

Kill said that Edwardsville, Ill., cornerback Craig James was recruited by several Big 12 schools but shut recruiting off. As for Canadian Julien Kafo, Kill said Nebraska tried to get in and visit him but that he shut them down and said, “I’m going to Minnesota.”

Connor Mayes of Van Alstyne, Texas, the younger brother of Gophers offensive lineman Alex Mayes, was “without a doubt one of the best centers in the country,” Kill said. “He was one of the top players in Texas, he was recruited by everybody.”

Kill also mentioned others, such as quarterback Dimonic Roden-McKinzy, who enrolled in January, and wide receivers Isaiah Gentry, Melvin Holland and Conner Krizancic.

On the defense, Kill said he believes the best defensive line class the Gophers have had in five or six years.

“This is the hardest we’ve worked at recruiting in a long time,” he said. “But you have to here. We’ve got to really work at it.”

Told the truth

Kill said he was up front about his seizures to recruits: “I go in and tell them. I don’t have any problem with that. I mean, it’s national news. I go in and I’m straightforward with people. That’s part of recruiting. Don’t care, go in and talk to them and tell them the truth.

“That didn’t affect recruiting one bit. Actually, it might have helped, because not everybody else might have talked about it. I told them. I’m not going to tell anybody to bring their son in here and not tell them the truth. So I think being honest sometimes, believe it or not, helps you. … Because not everybody’s straightforward, so it is what it is, and I’ve got a chip on my shoulder and so do these kids, we’ve all got a chip on our shoulder and that’s a good thing.”

As for his driving Tuesday, Kill said: “I don’t really want to distract from the deal, but I’ll just tell you, it is true, and first time in two years and all the people that speculated I can’t do certain things, well, I can. Like I said, I beat cancer, and I’m going to win this war.

“I won’t say I drove very good, and I didn’t drive today. That’s because the truck didn’t start right off the bat. Second thing is you haven’t drove in two years, I was with my wife last night coming back from eating and I’m sitting there, coming back from Joe Senser’s, getting a cheeseburger and trying to relax a little bit, when I was driving, I was like this [two hands on the wheel], and she was like, ‘Move over to the right.’ It was like driver’s ed. But the bottom line is I did it.”

Jottings

• Anthony Anderson, the outstanding Eden Prairie running back who will attend Iowa Western Community College, is likely headed for the Gophers after one year there.

• Tom Luginbill of ESPN sang the praises of Gentry, who played at one of the top high school programs in Ohio in Cincinnati Moeller. The school has produced as many future college stars as any school in that state.

• Though many mock drafts have the Vikings taking Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr with the eighth overall pick, at least a handful believe they will take a defensive player such as linebackers Khalil Mack of Buffalo or Anthony Barr of UCLA. I believe the Vikings will take a defensive player in the first round and a quarterback later on.

• Former Timberwolves first-round draft choice Wes Johnson, who was a flop here, is starting for the Lakers and entered Tuesday averaging 8.2 points per game, but he scored 15 points against the Wolves before scoring 20 in a victory at Cleveland on Wednesday.

• Thomas Hammock, who quit his job as Gophers running backs coach to join the Wisconsin staff in 2011, is leaving the Badgers after taking part in their recruiting to join the Baltimore Ravens staff.

• Fred Hoiberg, the former Wolves player and executive now coaching at Iowa State, scored a big upset Monday when the Cyclones won at Oklahoma State in three overtimes.

• Richfield High School’s Obsa Ali, who won the Class 2A cross-country title last fall after winning the 3,200 meters in record time last spring, signed a letter of intent with the Gophers. … Former Gophers receiver Devin Crawford-Tufts, who quit football to concentrate on track, has left the track team as well, the Minnesota Daily reported.

• Red Wing High School got a great coach and a very smart football mind when it hired former Gophers quarterback Rickey Foggie as its coach.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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