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4-Star Recruits in U Football Future

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August 24, 2017

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P.J. Fleck’s 2018 recruiting class doesn’t have any four-star players and has been trending down in the team national rankings. Each of the Gophers’ 23 football recruits is a three-star player, according to the 247Sports composite national rankings that has Minnesota No. 34 in the country after flirting with the top 10 early in the year.

Ryan Burns, the recruiting authority from GopherIllustrated.com, offered perspective on the numbers above during an interview with Sports Headliners. He said Tracy Claeys, Fleck’s predecessor as Minnesota head coach, recruited players who were “low threes and twos” regarding star rankings that go as high as five.  Burns said those Claeys players were recruits often without offers from major college programs—schools like Louisiana-Lafayette and Western Kentucky.

“Now you look at P.J.’s first true recruiting class here in 2018 and (about) 75 percent of them have a Big Ten offer, and north of 80 percent of them have other Power Five (conference) offers, and they’re all mid to high level three-stars,” Burns said. “P.J. wasn’t going to immediately walk in the door and four-stars were going to want to come and play for him.

Ryan Burns

“Is that (four-stars) the expectation for 2019? Yes, I think they’ll go from probably one or two four-stars this class to—you’re hoping—they get three or four next class. …If next year they don’t have any (four-stars), then I would start to be a little bit surprised.”

Burns believes there are at least a couple—perhaps up to four—Gopher commits in the class of 2018 who via high school performances this fall could earn their way up to four-star status. Ask him who might be the best player in the class and he mentions dual-threat quarterback Brennan Armstrong from Shelby, Ohio. Burns watched Armstrong during summer workouts in Minnesota.

“He has a lot of great physical tools,” Burns said. “He’s 6-foot-2, 210 pounds. He runs extremely well. He’s a lefty. I think he reminds a lot of people of Kellen Moore, former Boise State quarterback (now a backup with the NFL Cowboys).

“He (Armstrong) really just knows how to be a great leader and knows how to win. He throws a really good ball. I am excited to see what he looks like this spring (2018 with the Gophers).”

Two other players Burns talked about who could move into four-star status are defensive tackle Elijah Teague from Chicago and Eden Prairie cornerback Benny Sapp III. Teague, whose college offers included Oklahoma, will likely be part of a roster next year with depth issues at defensive tackle. “I think he’s a guy that’s going to have to come in and play right away,” Burns said.

Sapp is the son of former Vikings cornerback Benny Sapp. Burns said “from talking with the Eden Prairie coaching staff, they think he is a very, very special player.”

While as of yet the Gophers have no four-stars or even five-stars prospects, they did make an early splash in the national recruiting rankings. They did so by not only receiving verbal commits from good players, but also by doing it early in 2017. The Gophers total of 23 (probably just two or three more commits will be added) ranks among the highest in the nation.

“P.J. likes to get it done early,” Burns said. “He really trusts in their (Fleck and his staff’s) live evaluations throughout the spring and summer. I guess the thing that has impressed me most about P.J.’s recruiting efforts is probably (having) 23 commits—I think everyone has been on campus, and I believe only a handful are from the state of Minnesota. …They all came on their own dime to come up here and see Minnesota. Some of them multiple times.

“That has not happened at Minnesota in quite some time. People want to come up and see Minnesota now because of P.J. Fleck, and that’s why he’s got so many commits right now.”

Burns believes that when the college football recruiting period for the class of 2018 ends next February, Minnesota will finish “somewhere” in the mid-30s of the national rankings. If so, that will be higher than Minnesota has done for several years with previous final rankings in the 40s and above.

Worth Noting

Where do the Gophers rank in 2018 recruiting among Big Ten programs? As of today they are No. 6 in the 247Sports composite rankings.

Recruiting rankings, of course, don’t guarantee success on the field for college teams. Tim Brewster’s 2008 class included seven four-star players led by quarterback MarQueis Gray and finished No. 17 in the Rivals national rankings. Brewster was fired as Gophers head coach during the 2010 season.

The Buffalo Bulls football team the Gophers open their season against at TCF Bank Stadium on August 31 had a 2-10 record last year including 1-7 in the MAC East Division. “Should be a growth season but not in the win-loss column,” said Lindy’s 2017 college football magazine.

The Bulls roster includes Kayode Awosika, a 6-5, 285-pound freshman offensive tackle from Plymouth who attended Maple Grove High School.

Minnesota will honor its 1967 Big Ten championship football team at the home conference opener against Maryland. Among players expected to attend the game will be former defensive lineman Ed Duren who now is without his legs because of diabetes, according to 1967 teammate Jim Carter.

Carter remains close to former Gophers head coaches Jerry Kill and Tracy Claeys. Kill, of course, is the new offensive coordinator at Rutgers, while Claeys is home in his native Kansas but has visited football friends including at Arkansas and Georgia.

With four football teams included, the Big Ten has more schools in the A.P. top 11 than any other conference. SEC powerhouse Alabama is No.1 with Ohio State second, Penn State sixth, Wisconsin ninth and Michigan 11th.

Vikings defensive end Brian Robison, 34, started all 16 regular season games last year but indications this summer are 22 year-old Danielle Hunter might replace him. Robison declined to be specific when asked if the Vikings have officially said Hunter, with two years experience, will now be the starter. Robison said he is “not worried about things I can’t control.”

Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen turned 27 on Tuesday. Former Twins owner Carl Pohlad would have been 102 yesterday.

Deepest condolences to my friend Don Gaudette and wife Ann following the recent loss of 24-year-old son Luke Gaudette, a former offensive lineman at Augsburg who grew up in Savage and played high school football at Prior Lake.

The Twins have placed catcher Jason Castro on the seven-day concussion disabled list.  They have recalled outfielder Zack Granite.

It will be 55 years ago on Saturday that the Twins Jack Kralick threw the first no-hitter for the Minnesota franchise. There have been four other no-hitters in Twins history, with the most recent by Francisco Liriano in 2011.

Minneapolis restaurateur Wayne Kostroski, who founded the Taste of the NFL in Minneapolis for the 1992 Super Bowl, e-mailed that Minneapolis events featuring former Vikings and other celebrities are planned for September 10 and 11 to benefit Second Harvest Heartland. There will be wine tasting and a reception at Corner Table September 10 (more at EventBrite.com). On September 11 a lunch and auction will be at Mission American Kitchen and Bar (more information at 612-339-1000).

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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