When P.J. Fleck lost a battle to LSU for Minnesota's No. 1 senior Jaxon Howard last year, the Gophers football coach's signing day speech expressed confidence the program was still positioned well to lure the state's best talent.

Nothing proves that statement more than arguably the U's best recruiting week in decades.

Howard, a 6-4, 240-pound former Cooper star edge rusher and one of the most highly sought prospects in recent Minnesota prep history, announced his commitment Friday to the Gophers out of the transfer portal.

"That's a big one for the Gophers getting Jaxon Howard back home," 247Sports.com recruiting analyst Allen Trieu said, reacting on the X platform.

That mega recruiting news came a week after the state's top player in the 2025 class, Emmanuel Karmo, picked the U even with several big-time offers.

That means Fleck now has landed the state's No. 1 recruit from three straight classes, including Esko safety Koi Perich from the 2024 class.

Karmo, a four-star Cooper linebacker, played the part of recruiter on social media when Howard posted his scholarship offer from the Gophers on Tuesday by saying, "Come home!!"

Three days later, the son of former Vikings defensive end and Cooper coach Willie Howard turned down immediate offers from Washington, Michigan State, Purdue, Indiana, Kansas and others to be a Gopher.

Jaxon Howard played five games as a freshman defensive end at LSU last season, but he entered the portal after spring practice last week. He's expected to enroll with the Gophers this summer and compete in fall camp.

Defensive end is one of the deeper positions for the Gophers with seniors Jah Joyner, Danny Striggow, Jalen Logan-Redding and sophomore Anthony Smith. Joyner led the team with 7½ sacks last season.

Two years ago, the Gophers received an official visit from Howard and were finalists with LSU, Miami and Michigan. Howard's most productive game for LSU last season came against Wisconsin in the Jan. 1 ReliaQuest Bowl, when he had one tackle and a quarterback hurry against the Badgers.

When he committed to LSU in July 2022, Howard said telling Fleck he was choosing to leave home was "very tough."

"P.J. Fleck is an amazing man and their staff are amazing people," Howard said then. "It wasn't the right school for me, but they're doing things the right way. I'd love to see them be successful."

Including Howard now, six of the top seven ranked players in Minnesota from that 2023 class have picked the U.

"You want people to dream of being Gophers, and this is the biggest class we've had of people who dream about being Gophers," Fleck said after signing day last year.