College football: Gophs’ recruiting class the best of Kill’s tenure
MINNEAPOLIS — Gophers football coach Jerry Kill made his third full recruiting class his best yet.
The University of Minnesota on Wednesday signed 20 scholarship players, including the state’s No. 1 recruit, running back Jeff Jones of Minneapolis Washburn, plus other high-potential prospects who added depth at wide receiver, tight end and on the defensive line.
“When you are building a program, that (third) class is the one that turns the tide,” Kill said at his signing day news conference at TCF Bank Stadium.
The presence of Jones, a four-star running back, helped Kill’s class move up from the bottom of the Big Ten Conference, where it ranked the past two years.
The Gophers were ranked as high as eighth in the Big Ten by Rivals.com and 49th nationally by recruiting guru Tom Lemming. Previously, Kill’s highest-ranked class was ninth in the Big Ten and 52nd nationally, both by Rivals.com in 2011.
“Jerry Kill is a great evaluator and developer of talent,” said Lemming, who works for CBS College Sports. “He was able to land the best player in the state. And he added some great pieces to have this program headed in the right direction.”
Lemming’s three favorite recruits other than Jones are Somerset (Wis.) tight end Gaelin Elmore, Mount Carmel (Ill.) defensive lineman Steven Richardson and Wyandotte (Kan.) quarterback Dimonic Roden-McKinzy, who already is enrolled at Minnesota.
“The Elmore kid from Wisconsin is a big-time ballplayer with a potential NFL-type body,” Lemming said. “(Richardson) had a phenomenal year at Mount Carmel in Chicago with 17 sacks. I saw McKinzy throw at our camp in Los Angeles last January. He was really more of an athlete, but he’s got a great arm.”
Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said it’s not realistic to expect Minnesota to have recruiting classes ranked in the top four in the conference because the state doesn’t produce many prospects like Jones.
“The class itself is middle of the road in the Big Ten,” Farrell said. “But I think (wide receiver) Isaiah Gentry can be a surprise. Offensively, they did a good job. I think they got three good offensive linemen. The defensive line really impresses me. The two defensive tackles (Julien Kafo and Gary Moore) are big guys, but they’re athletic. It’s hard to get guys at that particular position. The in-state kid, Andrew Stelter (of Owatonna), can move inside or be that big end for them. I really like what they did on the defensive line.”
Kill gushed over adding size to the receiving corps with the 6-foot-4 Gentry, 6-3 Melvin Holland Jr. and 6-2 Conner Krizancic.
The Gophers coach was particularly proud of his staff’s recruiting efforts with Theodore (Ala.) High School tight end Jerry Gibson, who had a home visit with South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier.
“He is multi-purpose (but will play offense),” Kill said. “He had a visit at South Carolina, and he stayed with his commitment. “
Several Gophers recruits were pressured by other BCS conference schools to switch their commitments in recent months, including Elmore and Alstyne (Texas) offensive lineman Connor Mayes.
The 6-foot-6, 246-pound Elmore had scholarship offers from Nebraska and Wisconsin. Mayes, a 6-5, 309-pound U.S. Army All-American, had an abundance of programs from Texas hoping he would stay home.
“We’ve been fortunate that several people just shut down their recruiting,” Kill said. “You look at Connor Mayes. (He) was recruited by everyone in the country. He stayed committed. That’s not always easy to do.”
Kill, who took a medical leave of absence last season to manage his epilepsy, revealed that he drove a car Tuesday night for the first time in two years. He was away from the team for 10 days in October before returning to coach from the press box until the second half of the Texas Bowl loss against Syracuse on Dec. 27. “All those people that speculated I can’t do certain things, I can,” said Kill, who had to be seizure-free for at least three months. ... Punter Peter Mortell, who was third in the Big Ten in punting average last season, was awarded a scholarship, Kill said.