Andy Greder / St. Paul Pioneer Press
ST. PAUL — Coming out of Brainerd High School in 2011, offensive tackle Joe Haeg had zero Division I college football scholarship offers. At 6-feet-6 and a lean 235 pounds, Haeg took a preferred walk-on spot at North Dakota State. He became a four-year starter and helped the Bison win four Football Championship Subdivision national titles. Now up to 305 pounds, Haeg is projected to be a middle-round pick in the NFL draft in late April. “Joe Haeg is one of those late Day 2 players who will start for eight years,” NFL draft analyst Matt Miller tweeted in February.
MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Gophers’ offense, with new coordinator Jay Johnson, isn’t the only unit installing new schemes during spring practices. Minnesota’s defense, with promoted coordinator Jay Sawvel, has been tinkering with different fronts, stunts and blitzes. The biggest objective is improving on third downs. During last year’s 6-7 season, the Gophers defense ranked 11th against the pass (179.5 yards per game) and 24th in total yards allowed (345.9 per game). “I was shocked when I saw that stat,” Sawvel said.
MINNEAPOLIS — NFL draft consultant Benjamin Allbright tweeted last March that North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz was a sleeper pick for this year’s draft. Thursday, Wentz impressed a majority of the NFL’s teams that attended his pro day in Fargo. He has risen from unknown commodity to sought-after prize and could be the first QB selected in next month’s draft. Allbright’s assessment struck gold. Last Saturday, Allbright picked another quarterback sleeper pick, and this one wears maroon and gold: the Gophers’ Mitch Leidner.
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The success of the Gophers’ 2016 football recruiting class hinged on Eden Prairie linebacker Carter Coughlin’s decision to attend the U last March. When the Gophers received an early oral commitment from Minnesota’s top-ranked recruit and an elite national prospect, it gave validity to the incoming class and set the table for Coughlin to recruit other Minnesotans.
MINNEAPOLIS — When the hulking 6-foot-5, 270-pound Garrison Wright approached the net in tennis matches, spectators congregated and opponents fled. On his way to the state doubles tournament as a junior and senior at Marysville (Kan.) High School, fans and football recruiters wanted to see Wright’s power and relative agility on the court. During his sophomore year in 2011, Wright eyed up an easy lob and smashed it right below the opponent’s belt, sending him to the hospital.
MINNEAPOLIS — The size of the Gophers’ 2016 recruiting class decreased by three defensive backs over the weekend, and a four-star wide receiver could be the next player to rescind his verbal commitment to Minnesota. Twin brothers Elisha and Elijah Daniels of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., announced their decommitments Saturday via Twitter, followed by increasing speculation that receiver Dredrick Snelson, of Pembroke Pines, Fla., will follow suit. On Friday, defensive back Elijah Battle of Dodge City (Kan.) Community College also reopened his recruiting process.
DETROIT — Leaving the news conference after Monday’s Quick Lane Bowl, Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner needed to do some more heavy lifting. As he was leaving, the silver trophy sat on the table in a room under the stands of Ford Field, and Minnesota coach Tracy Claeys joked, “It’s too heavy for me.” Leidner seized the bulky hardware — just like he grabbed the reins in the fourth quarter and led the Gophers to a 21-14 win over Central Michigan.