The Gophers football program wants Minnesota state players to be the foundation of each recruiting class. The rub is that the state’s talent base doesn’t run deeper than a few inches, so Yu should be looking elsewhere for most signers each year.
In head coach PJ Fleck’s six recruiting classes since taking over the program in 2017, Yu has signed an average of 3.6 scholarship players from Minnesota, from a high of five in 2017 to a low of two in 2021.
When it comes to Minnesota’s offensive and defensive linemen, Yu has an average of 1.5 signed per class, ranging from a high of two – Boe Maffee and Blaise Andries in ’17 are the best examples – to less than one. No.
Meanwhile, three of the state’s highest-rated high school linemen have moved elsewhere in that six-year period—Quinn Carroll to Notre Dame in 2019, Riley Mahleman to Wisconsin in 2021, and Lucas Heyer to Stanford last year. Edina’s Carol will return to the Gophers this fall.
For next year’s recruiting class, the Gophers are on pace to exceed those six-year averages. Four of Yu’s total of seven commitments in the 2023 class are linemen from Minnesota – Jerome Williams of Ossio, Reese Tripp of Cayson-Mentorville and a pair of Prior Lake, Greg Johnson and Martin Owusu.
“Minnesota is where we start. I’ve said that for years,” Fleck said Monday during the first stop at Coach Caravan of the U in Chaska. “It’s always where we start. My whole goal of taking the job here was to change the views, perceptions and opinions of the people of the University of Minnesota about our football program and what it means to be a gopher. And what can you do by coming here?”
1 in-state recruit in the 2023 class: Robinsdale Cooper athlete Jackson Howard, who could play tight end or defensive end in college. When Howard joined what the U-Around committed to watching the U’s spring game on April 30, Gophers staff made sure Howard met Mafe, who was voted 40th overall by the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL Draft. Chosen the night before.
Howard, a four-star prospect with more than 50 scholarship offers, plans to make his decision in July after official visits in June. It will be interesting to see what kind of allure it will take to be a hometown hero and what kind of opportunities to profit from his name, image and likeness (NIL) might be on the table at U and other places like Miami (Fla.) and LSU. .
The Gophers’ commitments, including out-of-state promises, are publicly pushing Howard to join them, especially on Twitter.
The Gophers program’s approach to recruiting in the state of Minnesota hasn’t changed much, but in the next year’s class some high school coaches in the state felt that U coaches were more present in schools than during the start of the cycle. This could simply be because they had more demanding prospects.
Former Lakes coach Matt Gegenheimer has built a strong relationship with U receivers coach Matt Simon, a Farmington alum and a primary recruit for the state.
“I think the Gophers have done a really good job of showing up more in high schools this year,” Gegenheimer said. “And I think they tried to go to as many high schools as possible. So I think as a fan of Minnesota, it’s exciting to see these good in-state kids commit.”
Howard is likely not the only state the gophers are chasing. Moorhead defensive lineman Alinius Davis will make an official tour of U, Iowa State, Washington and Vanderbilt. With four of the Power Five conference schools represented, Spuds head coach Kevin Feeney has joked about why the Atlantic Coast Conference isn’t in the mix.
While Moorhead is more than 230 miles from Minneapolis, Feeney said that Gophers coaches — specifically, Simon — have regularly made treks northwest. “They have regularly stopped it on the recruiting trail,” Feeney said. “He did a really good job.”
Fleck said in his five seasons, especially after the team finished 11-2 in 2019 and 9-4 in 2021, the Gophers “have a glimpse of what it’s going to look like and what it could look like. I hope Our entire state has seen this and the more kids Minnesota has, the better and bigger it can be.
Under Fleck, the Gophers have won two of their last four games against Wisconsin thanks to Paul Bunyan’s axe, but fell 0-5 against Iowa in the game with Floyd of Rosedale on the line.
“The more people from Minnesota you have, the greater the rivalry between Wisconsin and Minnesota. And the more Minnesota kids you have on your team, the greater the rivalry between Minnesota and Iowa because they grew up in it.” Fleck said.
But, again, the Rugers often have fewer than 10 players each year in Minnesota who are offered scholarships from Power Five conference programs.
Here’s a look at the four Minnesotans currently on the Gophers board for next year:
6-foot-4, 315 pounds
Ossio’s new football coach had seen Williams in the hallway of the high school two years earlier and knew he was not pursuing his most appropriate activity after school.
“When we first met him, it was a hoop dream,” Orioles coach Ryan Stockhaus said. “He thought he was going to be a scholarship basketball player.”
Stockhaus told Williams that with her size—then about 6-foot-2 and 265 pounds—she needed to be on the football field. As a sophomore, Williams debuted in varsity on offensive tackle in rigorous Class 6A competition, but was crude. He added about 20 pounds for his junior year and refined his skills.
“Absolutely ridiculous how well he got it,” Stockhaus said.
Colleges thought he could play to the next level as well, with Iowa State, Kansas, Missouri and several Big Ten schools showing interest. “I think a lot of people, quite frankly, expected him to go to the U and he became a big player,” Stockhouse said. “I guess some people waited for it.”
Stockhaus said Williams knows his best football is ahead of him and is not afraid to “tongue-bashing” in the name of constructive criticism to get better. The Orioles coach said Williams was named captain for the next season and called him “the Big Gazelle”.
“We haven’t seen him play yet,” Stockhaus said. “He just goes out there and does his job…. He wiggles his tail, but it looks effortless.”
At 375 pounds, Tripp was the last player with the ball a year earlier during summer camp in Sioux Falls, SD, so head coach Joel Swanson and his offensive coordinator at Cayson-Mantorville negotiated with Tripp. He needed to lose weight to keep his place.
“He did it,” Swanson said. “He kept getting better throughout the year. And then I remember he asked me about going to either side.”
Swanson said Trap would need to lose another 20 pounds to have the stamina for offense and defense. Tripp, who also plays baseball, lost more weight, dropping to 310. And by the end of the football season he was able to play defensively in addition to his role in the guard. (The small school in southeastern Minnesota runs the alternative and wants big linesmen in the interior.)
“Did I anticipate that he was going to be a Division I prospect? I can’t say for sure,” Swanson said.
While the idle time during the COVID quarantine was not kind to Tripp’s figure, he has shown an appetite to play the game.
“Sometimes you’ll go, ‘Okay, this guy’s big, but he’s a teddy bear,'” Swanson said. But, “(Trip) has a somewhat mediocre streak.”
In September, Division III Wisconsin-River Falls offered him an offer. Temple had the first Division I scholarship offer in November, followed by Iowa State, Central Michigan and Minnesota. He committed to Minnesota in January.
“I don’t think he had to turn his hand,” Swanson said of the Gophers. “Because it was always a dream of hers.”
The Lakers have become some alum gophers lately – with tight end Nick Hart and linebacker Blake Webber running back Preston Jellen in mid-2010, who is on the current roster and recovering from a knee injury.
His representation in Dinkytown is about to multiply with that of the two big boys.
Since his sophomore season, Owusu has added about 30 pounds and Johnson has piled on upwards of 40 pounds. The extra size helped attract the local Big Ten school.
Johnson is “shooting right now, I swear to god, he’s getting bigger every day,” Gegenheimer said.
Owusu is also a varsity wrestler and was not afraid to get his lump on the mat early in his high school career before finding success. The knowledge of arm fighting and leverage gained through wrestling will continue to propel him on the collegiate D-line.
Gegenheimer called Johnson a “bad kid” on the football field.
Elementary schools that sought Johnson’s commitment were Iowa State, Wyoming, and some Middle-American convention schools. Owusu’s partners were Kansas State, Iowa State, Washington State, Washington, California and others.
The Gophers won over both players. “I’m really impressed with what PJ has done at U,” Gegenheimer said. “Just from an overall culture standpoint, it’s nice to have someone on top who’s really really making the change.”