So now that the Gophers have a class of 26 new players, who is most likely to see the field starting in late August?
Look no further than the team’s big needs after a 5-7 season in 2017: quarterback, offensive line and wide receiver.
Coach P.J. Fleck might have signed his quarterback of the future in junior college standout Vic Viramontes of Riverside City College, who’ll enroll in January and have three years of eligibility remaining. Viramontes, rated as the No. 1 dual-threat junior college QB by 247Sports.com in the Class of 2018, drew raves from Fleck during Wednesday’s signing day news conference.
“This guy’s unbelievable. You read his high school stats: over 4,500 passing yards and over 4,500 rushing yards, and he accounted for 95 touchdowns,” Fleck said of Viramontes, who spent his freshman season at California. “When you talk about a leader who commands the huddle, commands the team, this guy is exactly that. … His film makes you say, ‘Wow.’ ”
Viramontes, who passed 1,868 yards and 22 TDs and rushed for 1,346 yards and 21 TDs at Riverside this year, won’t be handed the starting job. He’ll have fend off holdovers Tanner Morgan, a freshman who redshirted in 2017, and Seth Green, who will be a sophomore next season. Zack Annexstad, who signed as a preferred walk-on, could be in the mix, too.
At offensive tackle, the Gophers could get immediate help from Jason Dickson, a 6-6, 300-pounder from Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, Calif. He will have two years of eligibility remaining. Fleck said Dickson, “can step in and give some of the younger guys time to develop. We have a need at tackle with Donnell Greene being older and Sam Schlueter still being a young guy. We needed one to provide some years of experience.”
Four-star guard Curtis Dunlap Jr., the highest-ranked Gophers recruit, has the size (6-5, 370) to provide an immediate impact.
“This guy is a tremendous player,” Fleck said.
At receiver, four-star signee Rashod Bateman quickly could help a group that struggled with injuries in 2017, especially late in the season when Tyler Johnson was lost because of a broken hand.
On defense, burly tackle Elijah Teague (6-3, 295) brings size and toughness, while speedy linebacker Braelen Oliver is a sure tackler (164 in 2017) in the Jonathan Celestin mold.
“He’s a thumper. He can hit, he can run, he can fly,” Fleck said. “… This is a young man you’re going to see a lot of come next year.”
Viramontes, Annexstad and Dunlap will join four other Gophers who will enroll in January. They are center Nathan Boe, offensive tackle Daniel Faalele, defensive end Alex Reigelsperger and linebacker Thomas Rush.
Alston to Nebraska
Woodbury defensive end David Alston, the top-ranked player in Minnesota in the 247Sports.com composite, signed with Nebraska. Alston attended the Gophers camp in June but did not receive a scholarship offer.
“Everything fits into what we’re looking for, and numbers. It’s not a specific equation,” Fleck said. “… I really don’t comment on players who aren’t ours, but anyone who didn’t sign with us, I wish them all the best.”
The massive size of Faalele, the 6-9, 400-pounder from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., isn’t lost on Fleck.
“He’ll be the first one walking off the bus next to me,” the coach said. “They always say the first few guys off the bus tell you [about a team]; he’ll be sitting next to me.”