With former coach Jerry Kill being forced to retire Oct. 28 because of health complications from his epilepsy, there was no doubt the Gophers football recruiting class was going to be affected. But Tracy Claeys, who was interim coach before receiving a three-year, $4.5 million contract to replace Kill on Nov. 11, believes recruiting is shaping up well with two weeks left before national signing day on Feb. 3.

“It’s going good … I mean things are working out,” Claeys said. “You have a couple kids change their mind here and there, and you have a couple others who don’t take care of some academic things they need to, and with the changes in staff, you’re going to have a few changes here or there, but we feel good about where things are at. For the most part, the kids who want to come to the University of Minnesota hung in there with us, and we just have a little bit of finishing up here these next few weeks. As I’ve said before, this will be our best signing class when we’re all said and done. It will definitely help our football team be much better in the fall.”

The Gophers have two four-star commitments in Eden Prairie linebacker Carter Coughlin and wide receiver Dredrick Snelson out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Coughlin, who recently had his Rivals.com rating jump 34 spots to No. 82 overall in the country, has been recruited by most of the major schools and had offers from Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, Oregon, Pittsburgh and Wisconsin. Snelson has offers from Alabama, Auburn, Notre Dame, USC and Wisconsin and several other strong programs. There is no doubt Coughlin will sign, but Snelson is a question mark.

Holding onto those two players will be a big part of the next two weeks for the Gophers. Claeys believes Coughlin, who recently had a concussion in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and also had shoulder surgery, should be ready by fall practice.

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“Yeah, that is the plan and [we] feel good about that,” Claeys said. “[Coughlin and senior quarterback Mitch Leidner], I think, are the only two [having] surgery, and so by fall, we’ll have Mitch back and have a recruiting class that will all be healthy going into the fall.”

Six on campus

The Gophers have six players already signed and on campus in Thomas Barber, linebacker from Plymouth (Armstrong High); Taiyon Devers, defensive end from Florida; Seth Green, former East Ridge standout quarterback; Garrison Wright, offensive lineman from Kansas and Butler (Kan.) Community College; Vincent Calhoun, offensive lineman from Georgia and Southwest Mississippi CC; and Merrick Jackson, defensive tackle from Illinois and Iowa Western CC.

Claeys said the team is trying to add more recruits in the next two weeks.

“When you count the six kids that came in at semester, we’ll be right around that 25 number when we’re all said and done,” he said. “We’re looking to add 18 or 19 more kids to the kids that came in at midyear. We have some more work to do, but we feel good about where we’re at.”

Claeys has been recruiting and not yet seen the six new players on campus at their first official team workouts earlier this week.

“I have two weeks to go [recruiting], so probably next Monday morning will be the first workout that I’ll get to see them in. But we have them all in school and checked into dorms and they’re ready to go and [started] Tuesday morning.”

Long-term help

Claeys said this recruiting class should make Gophers fans excited for the future, especially a few years down the road.

“I feel they’re a very talented group, and I think we’re going to add two or three more kids to that group that will definitely make us better,” he said. “The way we handled things and looked at things is where are kids going to be after a redshirt and one full year, or two years down the road? I think all of the kids we signed are good players now, but they have an upside to them, and in two years, they’ll continue to fill in and give us a chance to win the Big Ten. We’re looking forward to getting to signing day, but there’s a lot of work to be done between now and then.”

Claeys also believes there shouldn’t be more players leaving the team going forward.

“None that haven’t been reported, so we’ll get everybody else back,” he said. “That’s a good thing. I think we have a great group of kids, and you always win because kids want to be there and be part of the program and want to put in the work that it takes in order to compete in the Big Ten. I feel like every year we have gotten closer and closer to having the core of kids that want to do that. I believe close to 90 percent of our kids, if not higher, are on that same page now and we’re excited about getting started again this next semester.”

Jottings

• Twins President Dave St. Peter said he wants to have Torii Hunter be a guest instructor at spring training. “I continue to have hopes to have Torii involved in our organization in a variety of ways,” he said. “He is going to come to Minnesota and will be recognized at the Diamond Awards on January 28, and he’ll be at TwinsFest on the 29th of January.” … Twins General Manager Terry Ryan wants Hunter to work with Miguel Sano on playing the outfield this spring.

• Vikings coach Mike Zimmer made it clear Teddy Bridgewater is the Vikings’ starting quarterback but said: “I think that we always want to look to bring quarterbacks in, not necessarily to compete with Teddy. Teddy is our quarterback. He’s going to be our quarterback and there’s no doubt about that going forward. We’re always going to be looking for quarterbacks. I think it is an important position, whether it be in the draft or free agency or wherever that we continue to have guys at that position.”

• One of the Vikings’ unsung heroes is tight end Rhett Ellison, one of the NFL’s best at that position. Ellison, who had knee surgery that might take as long as six months to heal, is an unrestricted free agent who will be sought by many teams. He’ll be important to sign because of his contribution to the running game, blocking for Adrian Peterson.

• The word in Marshall, Minn., is that Drew Hmielewski, who has committed as a wide receiver to the Gophers football team, is also an outstanding center fielder in baseball and, like New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker, will play both sports at the U.

• Work has started on the Gophers indoor batting cage at Siebert Field that cost $1.3 million and was paid for by three former Gophers — Glen Perkins, Dick McCullough and Charlie Nelson. Perkins pitched for the Gophers in 2003-04 and is now the Twins’ closer. McCullough played on the ’64 Gophers national championship team and is retired and living in Arizona. Nelson played outfield for the Gophers from 1991-94 and works with his father in the Barrel O’ Fun food industry in Perham, Minn.

 

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