If you want proof that football recruiting websites often miss on identifying the best players in the nation and that star-rating services often neglect great players, look no further than Denver Broncos star and former Gophers wide receiver Eric Decker, who will play a big role in this Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Seattle Seahawks.
Decker was rated a two-star athlete coming out of Rocori High School in Cold Spring, despite having 2,156 receiving yards and 28 touchdowns in his high school career, and then-Gophers coach Glen Mason gave Decker his only Division I scholarship offer.
The first college coach to recognize Decker’s talent was John Gagliardi at St. John’s, who retired in 2012 with the most victories (489) of any coach in college football history. He said Decker would have played at his Division III school if the Gophers hadn’t found him.
“I don’t think very many people knew about how good he was here in our back yard at Cold Spring,” Gagliardi said. “His high school quarterback [in Decker’s sophomore year in high school, Alex Kofoed] was at St. John’s, everything was here. He was pretty well set to go here, I think. He didn’t register or anything because in the meantime, Glen Mason got a hold of the fact that he was a real good ballplayer and recruited him. That was the end of it for us.”
Gagliardi was asked if any other major programs recruited Decker.
“I don’t know that for a fact, but I don’t think so,” he said. “We looked like, he had attended all of our football camps and had his sister at [St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minn.], they’re only 10 miles away from us. It’s like I say — his quarterback at high school, Kofoed, was over at St. John’s playing for us and it looked like he might join him.”
While Gagliardi was surprised no other colleges discovered Decker in high school, he also knows there are a lot of kids that go unnoticed despite their talent.
“We could see that he was pretty darn good, we were just surprised that nobody else [did],” he said. “There’s a lot of good ballplayers out there, and they don’t all get [noticed], there’s just too many for everybody to see.”
Stars for Gophers
Decker became a standout for the Gophers in 2007 during his sophomore season when he grabbed 68 receptions for 909 yards and nine touchdowns.
The next two seasons would showcase Decker’s outstanding talent despite enduring various injuries.
In 2008, Decker and the Gophers jumped out to a 7-1 record before losing their final five games. Decker had 833 receiving yards and five touchdowns through the first eight games of the season but then suffered a severely sprained ankle. He would total only 92 receiving yards and one TD for the rest of the regular season, though he would recover to post 149 receiving yards and a touchdown in the Gophers’ Insight Bowl loss to Kansas.
In 2009, Decker had 50 receptions for 758 yards and five touchdowns through the first eight games. The Gophers were 4-4 overall and 2-2 in conference play when Decker went out because of a sprained left foot that ended his season and college career.
Gagliardi knew Decker could be great at Minnesota.
“I wasn’t surprised because he was a good ballplayer,” the Hall of Fame coach said. “I just knew we were hoping that nobody else would realize how good he was. He was really good.”
Yearly growth in pros
Decker was selected in the third round by the Broncos (87th overall) in the 2010 NFL draft and has only improved with each pro season.
He caught only six passes for one touchdown in his rookie year, but his workload increased dramatically in 2011 with 44 catches for 612 yards and eight touchdowns.