The Gophers added 19 players to their 2021 roster on Wednesday's early signing day, but the missing name from that list was a big one.
Avante Dickerson, the top-ranked Gophers commit and the No. 1 cornerback from Nebraska, delayed signing his national letter of intent to join P.J. Fleck's recruiting class, which ranks 27th in the country, per 247Sports.com.
"I am simply not ready to make a final decision that will impact my future as a student-athlete," Dickerson wrote on Twitter.
The 6-foot, 170-pound four-star prospect committed to the Gophers in April and has never publicly wavered. The Omaha World-Herald reported Nebraska has continued to recruit Dickerson and also signed Dickerson's best friend and high school teammate Koby Bretz on Wednesday. Dickerson told his Westside High School coach Brett Froendt about his hesitation a couple of weeks ago.
"I think he'd love to tour a school or two. He loves Minnesota, he still likes Minnesota, it's just a matter of he's not comfortable making a decision yet," Froendt told the World-Herald. "It's just as simple as that. There's nothing else, no one else pulling at him. … He's not opening his recruitment by any means. It's just he wasn't ready to make the decision."
Fleck is not allowed to speak specifically about unsigned recruits, but he did acknowledge the cornerback in the room.
"There's a signing day in December and a signing day in February for a particular reason. And again, so many people are dealing with so many different things, way beyond just signing on a certain day," Fleck said.
Dickerson isn't alone in waiting a couple of months. Some highly regarded recruits sign on national signing day Feb. 3 because they have many offers to evaluate. Some don't even commit until then, as is the case with Minneapolis North defensive end Davon Townley, a four-star, in-state recruit the Gophers are still pursuing.
And this class has space for latecomers. Fleck said he deliberately didn't fill all 25 scholarship slots so as to leave room for potential additions. Some of those could be current seniors on his team who choose to return for another year after the NCAA granted athletes playing during the pandemic a do-over season.
Others could be transfers. The Gophers added one of those Wednesday in Abilene Christian linebacker Jack Gibbens. The NCAA on Wednesday approved a one-time transfer waiver that allows transfers to have immediate eligibility instead of having to sit out a season. That's another reason Fleck wants to keep his options open for addressing any "immediate needs" ahead of next season.
"You can see already how many players have entered the portal," Fleck said, comparing early signing day to the NFL draft and the coming months to free agency. "We're going to keep an open mind to keeping scholarships open and not having this recruiting class shut."
Despite the potential future signings, the Gophers still locked down 17 incoming freshmen on scholarship, along with a preferred walk-on and a graduate transfer. And while Dickerson's potential departure could lower the Gophers' class rankings, there are four other four-stars that are set for 2021: Illinois quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis, Arizona cornerback Steven Ortiz Jr., Illinois running back Mar'Keise Irving and Shakopee defensive end Deven Eastern.
In all, the players hail from 10 states and represent eight position groups, with nine on offense and 10 on defense. And despite a moratorium on in-person recruiting because of COVID-19, they've already formed a bond, including meeting up this weekend in Illinois, with the Kaliakmanises hosting, to celebrate the official signings.
"It's just amazing of what these parents did when we couldn't get them all together to do it, they did it on their own," Fleck said. "I can't speak for every single team in America, but this might be one of the, if not the, closest recruiting classes I've ever seen."