As the football recruiting season heated up this fall and the new early signing period approached, P.J. Fleck had a couple of goals.
First, the Gophers coach wanted to assemble the best class he could and have every member signed during the Dec. 20-22 early signing period. Second, he wanted to get a head start on the Class of 2019.
Consider both goals met.
On Wednesday morning, the Gophers signed their entire 26-member Class of 2018 that ranks 30th nationally in the 247Sports.com composite ratings, and 22nd by both ESPN.com and 247Sports’ internal rankings, the program’s highest marks from those organizations.
On Thursday morning, Fleck wasted no time addressing the Class of 2019, getting verbal commitments via FaceTime from two of Minnesota’s best high school juniors, Eden Prairie quarterback Cole Kramer and Owatonna athlete Jason Williamson. The championship-winning players are the first two commitments in the class and have three-star rankings.
Fleck also rewarded one of the key recruiters who put together the breakthrough 2018 group, promoting defensive backs coach Maurice Linguist to assistant head coach.
In Kramer, the Gophers landed the quarterback who guided Eden Prairie to the Class 6A championship with a 38-17 victory over Minnetonka in the Prep Bowl. The Eagles went 13-0, and Kramer passed for 1,191 yards and 19 touchdowns this season. He also rushed for 250 yards and two TDs. The 6-1, 195-pounder is a remarkably efficient two-year starter who has thrown 31 TDs passes but no interceptions.
Kramer is ranked 32nd nationally among dual-threat quarterbacks in the 2019 class by 247Sports. He also received interest from Iowa, Michigan State and North Dakota State.
“I was super excited,” Kramer said about receiving the offer. “I just love what Coach Fleck is doing there. … That’s pretty special for me to be first one [to commit]. I can be a leader in this class and just get a whole bunch of guys to come to Minnesota.”
Williamson, 6-1 and 205 pounds, rushed 311 times for 2,316 yards and 38 TDs as a junior this season and was named Gatorade player of the year in Minnesota. He made a big impact in the Class 5A title game by rushing 23 times for 213 yards and five TDs and returning a kickoff 67 yards for a TD in Owatonna’s 63-26 victory over Elk River. His six touchdowns tied the Prep Bowl record. Williamson also drew interest from Iowa, North Dakota State and South Dakota State.
“They’re going to be a really good program, and I want to be a part of that,” Williamson said. “Being an in-state kid, I loved the Gophers growing up and I wanted to make my dream come true.”
Williamson has impressed with his versatility — he was a running back and safety for Owatonna. “Coach Fleck said [I’d be listed as] an athlete right now, but he’d like to see me play running back,” Williamson said. “I’m willing to play wherever he puts me in, wherever I can help the team.” His goal: “To make Minnesota a powerhouse in college football again and try to bring a championship here.”
Williamson is the third-ranked Minnesota player in the Class of 2019, according to 247Sports, and Kramer is ranked fourth. The top two are Edina offensive tackle Quinn Carroll and Lakeville North offensive tackle Bryce Benhart, and both are being recruited by the Gophers.
In promoting Linguist, 33, Fleck rewarded an assistant coach who has been vital in recruiting, particularly in Georgia. The Gophers on Wednesday signed five players from Georgia, including four-star wide receiver Rashod Bateman, who had late offers from SEC schools Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina and Texas A&M.
“Mo Linguist has established relationships down there for years, and that’s one of the reasons he was hired,” Fleck said during Wednesday’s news conference. “These young people love him, absolutely love him.”