The Gophers have 119 players on their full roster, a typical amount for a Division I football team, and under NCAA rules, every squad must trim to 105 for training camp.
That’s still a lot of players, but fortunately with practice opening Friday, people following Minnesota only have to remember a few handfuls of last names.
They’ve got the Leidners (Mitch and Matt), the Ekpes (Scott and Hendrick), the Mayes (Alex and Connor) and the Huffs (Julian and Jacob) — one team, four sets of brothers.
The Mayes brothers shouldn’t be confused with wide receivers KJ Maye and Adam Mayer — no relation. Defensive tackle Gary Moore and guard Tyler Moore will stage some fierce battles along the line of scrimmage, but they’re not related, either. Neither are Andrew Harte and Nick Hart. Nor Brian and Rodney Smith. Nor Everett and Rodrick Williams. Nor are Antonio, Cavonte and Dior Johnson.
The Gophers had two unrelated Hartman(n)s — Tyler (with two n’s) and Jared — before Jared Hartman took a full-time engineering job, forcing the team to replace him at long snapper. One set of twins — Luke and Kyle McAvoy — graduated last year, but the Gophers still have plenty of siblings, with more on the way.
“It just shows we can keep family together,” said Matt Leidner, a reserve lineman who rooms with his brother, Mitch, the starting quarterback.
Matt was a junior center at Lakeville South, when Mitch was a senior. One time in pregame warmups, Matt was having trouble with his snaps, and Mitch started barking at him, leading to a shoving match.
“It’s been like that all the time growing up,” Mitch Leidner said. “We have a great relationship, but at the same time, if we’re going to fight or wrestle, it’s going to be an all-out brawl.”
The Ekpes can be just as fiery. They hail from the Dallas suburb of Lewisville. Scott graduated first and headed north to Minnesota. One year later, Hendrick did the same. This season, both are pegged to start on the defensive line.
“In high school, I told [Hendrick], ‘You don’t want to make a decision just because I’m here,’ ” Scott Ekpe said. “So he took a few visits and fell in love with this place just how I did.”
It was a similar story for Alex and Connor Mayes, two offensive linemen from Van Alstyne, Texas. Alex joined the Gophers in 2013 but has been slowed because of a shoulder injury. Connor arrived last year, after appearing in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, and played eight games at guard as a true freshman.
It’s a good sign for the Gophers when one sibling follows another to their school.
“I think that tells me the older brother felt good about what was happening here,” Kill said. “Our best recruiters right now are our players.”
Jacob and Julian Huff are twins and true freshmen from Bolingbrook, Ill. Jacob plays defensive back, Julian linebacker.
The Gophers have commitments from another set of twins — defensive backs Elijah and Elisha Daniels from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — for their 2016 recruiting class. The Daniels twins are close friends with Dredrick Snelson, a four-star receiver from Pembroke Pines, Fla., who committed to the Gophers last weekend after getting offers from Alabama, Auburn and Florida State.
Kill has long said recruiting is all about relationships. His team is starting to prove it.