Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019

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Fleck Talks Up New Wide Receiver


The 26-man Gophers football class announced yesterday on National Signing Day is ranked the best in the Big Ten West Division but that doesn’t mean the majority of players will be ready to make an impression on the field next fall.

The surest contributor could be four-star wide receiver Rashod Bateman from Tifton, Georgia. “I think he can make the biggest impact for us right now because we need some speed, some explosiveness, some playmaking ability on the outside, and I think he does that,” Gophers coach P.J. Fleck told the Big Ten Network yesterday.

Minnesota had one of the more unproductive passing offenses in major college football last season. The issue wasn’t just the quarterbacks, it was the inability of receivers to get open.

Playing for Tift County High School this year, Bateman had 83 receptions for 1,539 yards and 21 touchdowns. He was good enough that national power Georgia tried to persuade him to change the verbal commitment he made to the Gophers in June.

Allen Trieu from 247Sports, the recruiting authority that gives the Gophers 2018 class a composite No. 30 national rankingy, talked about the 6-2, 185-pound Bateman on the Big Ten Network yesterday. “Rashod Bateman is one of the best athletes in this class,” Trieu said. “A kid that Minnesota got on early, got him committed after one of their satellite camps, and had to hold off Georgia, Texas A&M, a bunch of schools…late.

“…Really athletic kid. He was a high school basketball prospect. Penn State, Virginia Tech, both offered him. His basketball (team) won a state title. I think you’ll see him out there on the field next year.”

Bateman is one of 10 candidates for the American Family All-USA Offensive Player of the Year award reported on this fall in USA Today. Ryan Burns, publisher of GopherIllustrated website affiliated with 247Sports, refers to Bateman as the “crown jewel” of Minnesota’s 2018 class.

Fleck photo courtesy of Minnesota Athletic Communications

After being hired in January of this year, Fleck and his assistants had to scramble in signing their 2017 recruiting class last February which had a No. 59 composite ranking from 247Sports. From that 25-man group, only a few earned significant minutes including wide receiver Demetrius Douglas and safety Ken Holly-Handy.

But more players are likely to emerge from the 2018 class to help next fall. Minnesota has needs not only at receiver but in the offensive line and at quarterback, and a number of recruits are intriguing at those positions.  Names include junior college tackle Jason Dickson and four-star prep guard Curtis Dunlap. Vic Viramontes, labeled by 247Sports as the best dual-threat junior college quarterback in the country, could emerge from spring practices as Minnesota’s No. 1 quarterback.

Worth Noting

Fleck signed five state of Minnesota players yesterday and signed the same number last February. Big Ten recruiting has become such a national hunt for talent that signing a small number of Minnesotans isn’t unusual. Ohio State has signed four Ohioans in a state long known for its high school football excellence, according to a listing by 247Sports which also ranked the Buckeyes class No 2 in the nation.

Among Fleck’s five Minnesotans, Josh Aune is the first player from the St. Paul public schools to sign a National Letter of Intent with the Gophers in 15 years. The athletic Aune may become a safety at Minnesota.

Jerry Kill, who announced his resignation this week as Rutgers offensive coordinator because of health concerns, told Sports Headliners he will take some time off to decide about future plans. The 56-year-old former Gophers coach and his wife Rebecca are returning to their home in Illinois. They recently became grandparents for the first time.

Fleck announced today that defensive backfield coach Maurice Lindguist, known for his teaching skills and ability to recruit players in Texas and Georgia, will now have the title of assistant head coach.

Anthony Barr has to be a focus of security protection when the Vikings are in Wisconsin for Saturday night’s game with the Packers. Barr has been threatened by fans since he tackled quarterback Aaron Rodgers, resulting in a broken collarbone in the Vikings-Packers game in Minneapolis October 15. forecasts a Green Bay temperature of 16 degrees and wind gusts of 14 MPH nearing kickoff at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night.

There’s fond reminiscing about cold weather Vikings games in the 1960s and 1970s at the old Met Stadium but because of shorter NFL seasons and earlier playoff dates, only one game was ever played in January. That was the January 4, 1970 NFL championship game.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer responding yesterday to a question if there is a difference in playing a team like the Packers that is eliminated from qualifying for the playoffs, and if he talks to his players about it: “…It’s a division game. We have a lot to play for. What I talked to them about was two weeks ago we lost. We had a new sense of urgency and a new focus, and that’s what we need to do again.

“Just because we won this last week doesn’t mean, ‘Ok, we can go back to how we were,’ and end up getting beat. We just try to stay on point with everything we do, and continue to move forward and continue to try to get wins.”

A factor in the Twins’ reported willingness to spend big money in pursuit of free agent pitcher Yu Darvish could be that Joe Mauer’s $184 million contract expires after the 2018 season. It wouldn’t be surprising if Mauer, who will be 35 by then and is a committed family man, retires in the fall of 2018. But if he decides to play a 16th season with the Twins he will be taking a “haircut” in compensation.

Mauer’s grandfather, Jake Mauer, was friends with the late Ralph Jon Fritz, the former WCCO TV sportscaster who passed away earlier this month. After Fritz moved to Florida years ago, he and Jake played golf together.

FOX Sports North will televise “Twins Town Hall” live from the Target Field Champions Club tonight starting at 7 p.m. A discussion will include Joe Mauer, manager Paul Molitor, and team executives Derek Falvey and Thad Levine. The group will be in front of a live studio audience consisting of season ticket holders and select fans. Fans may submit questions for the panel via Twitter: @fsnorth, #TwinsTownHall.

The basketball Gophers are 3-0 historically against Oral Roberts, the team they play tonight at Williams Arena. The Tulsa-based school is named after the late Oral Roberts who was known as a TV faith healer.

The Golden Eagles are 4-10 this season, including a 104-69 loss to Arkansas Tuesday night. The Razorbacks defeated Minnesota 95-79 earlier this month.

ESPN NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy said during last week’s Minneapolis telecast of the Timberwolves-Sixers game he was surprised about local concerns regarding the Wolves’ performance this season. His take is positive, noting this is a franchise that hasn’t had a team in the playoffs since 2004. The Wolves, who are 19-13 and in first place in the Northwest Division, have the fourth best record in the Western Conference.

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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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