The Gophers signed most of their 2021 football class back in December and have since added a handful of walk-ons and transfers. But coach P.J. Fleck still signed one new scholarship player on Wednesday's National Signing Day.
Saia Mapakaitolo, an offensive tackle out of Arizona, made his college choice official after previously committing to USC.
"Our offensive line is going to be one of the largest in the country, and one of the most experienced in the country," Fleck said Wednesday. "We feel really good about where we're at. You can sit there and look at, we have eight or nine starters. … Saia adds depth. As a young man who's really good, I think he'll blossom in our culture and in our program."
Two other players who delayed their signings, though, didn't land with the Gophers. Avante Dickerson, the top recruit in the class until he recently decommitted, went to Oregon. Minneapolis North defensive end Davon Townley chose Penn State.
Fleck, though, might still be working out a few more additions to his team, which struggled to 3-4 in 2020. The specialist area in particular is a focus.
"We'll see how that all plays out," Fleck said, noting that he hopes to wrap up the class in the next two weeks.
While the Gophers welcomed many new faces, several have departed. Players such as receiver True Thompson and defensive tackle Noah Hickox previously announced their transfers.
"That's what the transfer portal is there for," Fleck said, "is the ability that if you're not going to be able to play, have an opportunity to play and use your eligibility."
A source also confirmed kicker Grant Ryerse will not return to the team, despite having two years of eligibility remaining. Ryerse, who is graduating and will start his professional career, was the starter at kickoff in the 11-2 2019 season but did not play at all in 2020 after recovering from major hip surgery last summer.
Anders Gelecinskyj, who ended 2020 as the starting kicker, also previously opted to not return for the extra year of eligibility because of COVID-19, as did punter Matthew Stephenson.
"We had some of the guys on our roster graduate. And once you graduate, you have the choice to keep playing or move on to the real world," Fleck said. " … And then we had some guys with some injuries that they decided to hang it up. Those decisions like that are not made by me."
Last month, Fleck's name came up as one of the options Tennessee's search firm vetted for its coach opening. The Volunteers needed to replace Jeremy Pruitt and start to rebuild the SEC program, with NCAA sanctions for recruiting violations casting a shadow over the team.
While the school has since put Josh Heupel in charge, a jump for Fleck to the top Power Five conference to bring a program back from the brink didn't seem like such an outlandish move. But Fleck said Wednesday he remains committed to the Gophers.
"We love coaching here. We love being here," Fleck said. " … It's a compliment to the University of Minnesota when your name is being mentioned for different things. I know that's hard for people to kind of see at times, but we love it here."