“I want to apologize to the state of Minnesota, and the University of Minnesota …”
When those words came out of Jeff Jones’ mouth Wednesday morning, any Gophers fan listening probably assumed the worst.
But Jones wasn’t about to spoil National Signing Day for the Gophers.
“… for taking so long.”
And with that apology for the months of drama, he grabbed a maroon Minnesota hat from a bag, slid it on his head and soaked in the loud applause from the students at Minneapolis Washburn High School.
Rated by Rivals.com as the nation’s No. 44 overall recruit and No. 7 running back, Jones became the highest-ranked recruit to sign with the Gophers in at least a decade.
Jones still needs to qualify academically, but he was among the key recruiting battles coach Jerry Kill won with his fourth class at Minnesota.
Rivals.com ranked the Gophers’ class No. 53 in the nation and eighth out of the 14-team Big Ten Conference that soon will include Rutgers and Maryland. Kill’s previous two classes ranked last in the Big Ten.
“We’ve moved our team forward,” Kill said. “We believe that with all our heart.”
The primary needs were at the offensive skill positions. Jones and Rodney Smith, from Jonesboro, Ga., boosted the running back depth for a team with David Cobb and Donnell Kirkwood entering their senior year.
Desperate for wide receivers, the Gophers added three players rated by Rivals.com as three-star recruits — Melvin Holland Jr., Isaiah Gentry and Conner Krizancic. Kill noted their size. Holland is 6-3, Gentry is 6-4 and Krizancic is 6-2.
“They’ve got length and speed, and that’s how you win right now,” Kill said.
At quarterback, the Gophers added Dimonic Roden-McKinzy, a dual-threat passer from Kansas City, Kan., who had offers from Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas.
And the Gophers continued to stockpile athletic tight ends: Gaelin Elmore (Somerset, Wis.), Brandon Lingen (Wayzata) and Jerry Gibson (Theodore, Ala.).
Elmore had offers from Wisconsin, Nebraska and Vanderbilt.
“He’s 6-6, 240,” Kill said. “He can run. He’s a great basketball player. He can 360-dunk. He was recruited by everybody.”
Gibson visited South Carolina last weekend but stuck with his commitment to the Gophers.
“We were very fortunate because South Carolina made a last-second rush,” Kill said. “[Coach] Steve Spurrier, all those people were in his house.”