This past weekend, the last before the college football early signing period began Wednesday, the Gophers brought a few more players to campus, hoping a last-minute official visit would help round out its defense-heavy recruiting class.
Two defensive ends, in particular, were high on the priority list: Connecticut’s Jah Joyner, a Boston College commit, and Jalen Logan-Redding, a Missouri native and commit.
Persuading the pair to flip was one challenge. Having defensive line coach Jim Panagos leave for Rutgers that Saturday and immediately start recruiting for that program was a near-crisis.
“How are you going to pull this one out of your hat?” is what offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca told coach P.J. Fleck.
Logan-Redding wasn’t too thrown, committing by the end of the visit Sunday. But Joyner was back and forth, changing his mind three times from being ready to commit, to needing to wait until the February signing day, to saying no to the Gophers altogether.
After about 20 FaceTime calls with Fleck every 20 minutes Tuesday, Joyner became one of 24 scholarship players and two walk-ons to officially sign their national letters of intent with the Gophers Wednesday. The Gophers’ class now ranks 32nd nationally and ninth in the Big Ten with two four-star recruits in Missouri linebacker Itayvion Brown and Kansas receiver Daniel Jackson.
Joyner and Logan-Redding were part of a handful of commits who came on after the Gophers’ 10-2 season, the first 10-win regular season since 1905 that took them to the cusp of the Big Ten West title. Fleck said since 16 recruits committed early in June after a big official visit weekend, only some needed the extra persuasion of a big season to make the choice. Florida receiver Douglas Emilien, for example, committed after the Wisconsin game, impressed with the snowy “College GameDay” atmosphere despite a loss.
Fleck touted his class in front of about 500 fans at a signing day social Wednesday evening at TCF Bank Stadium, sharing his visions of Joyner and Logan-Redding on the field together. The Gophers return nine starters on offense next year but will lose six impact players on defense, with fourth-year safety Antoine Winfield Jr. also potentially leaving for the NFL draft.
Those holes to fill made defense the focus for 2020.
“This class was all about D-line. It was all about linebackers,” Fleck said. “It was all about, ‘OK, if this happens, we’ve got to fix the secondary.’ ”
The Gophers signed 15 defensive players: four linebackers, five defensive backs and six defensive linemen. Brown could make an immediate impression, with senior starters Kamal Martin and Thomas Barber graduating. Fleck said Florida’s Jalen Glaze could play cornerback, safety or nickel, possibly filling in for the hybrid role senior Chris Williamson plays. He said Germany’s Melle Kreuder has the same body type as Carter Coughlin, another senior, while Long Lake’s Danny Striggow can also play Coughlin’s rush end position.
The Gophers also signed nine offensive players and two specialists: one running back, two tight ends, three receivers, three offensive linemen, a kicker and a punter. There are four in-state players with 11 other states represented and international flavor from Germany, Australia and Canada.
“It’s a strong class,” Fleck said. “Love where we are. These kids want and need to be here. And that’s what’s fun about it. It’s the right fit for these young men, no matter if they’re in state, out of state, they fit us. And that’s all that I care about.”
Some seemed almost destined to be a Gopher. Like Joyner, whose name fits surprisingly well into the Gophers’ fight song, as Fleck sang for the crowd. Ski-U-Mah becomes Ski-U-Jah. His name even has nine letters, just like Minnesota.
“We’ve completely changed our rouser,” Fleck joked.
But this 2020 class isn’t just interested in revamping lyrics. It’ll look to enhance the Gophers on the field next season as well.