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Fleck: U Recruiting Class ‘Historic’

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December 19, 2018

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Enjoy a Wednesday notes column:

On National Signing Day today (Wednesday) the football Golden Gophers have another class ranked in the 30s by the 247Sports composite rankings. The 2019 class is currently at No. 33, while the 2018 class finished at No. 38, per 247.

P.J. Fleck

“National Signing Day, it’s a very historic day for us,” Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said in video footage shown this morning on the Big Ten Network. “We’re looking to sign…recruiting classes that are arguably the greatest recruiting classes back-to-back in Minnesota history (Internet era).

“Coaches get a lot of credit when you win. … At the end of the day this is a players’ game. And we’ve got to find the best players and the best people that match our culture, match our university, match our state, and match this program as we continue to move forward.”

Because of technology and the fan interest in college football, recruiting rankings have become a phenomena of the new millennium. 247 reported the Gophers’ classes of 2017, 2016 and 2015 ranked No. 59, 46 and 63 nationally.

As of today Minnesota has the No. 8 class in the Big Ten, per 247. West Division rivals Nebraska, Purdue and Wisconsin rank higher but GopherIllustrated.com authority Ryan Burns thinks Minnesota’s class compares favorably, if not better. “I would put the offer list that Minnesota has for their commits versus any team in the Big Ten West (Division), and I think Minnesota would win,” Burns told Sports Headliners several days ago.

The Gophers have two four-star recruits, per 247Sports. They are Memphis defensive tackle Kristian Williams and Ellenwood, Georgia defensive tackle Rashad Cheney. Williams’ FBS offers included LSU and Mississippi, while Cheney turned down Alabama and Georgia.

Another signee, Jason Williamson, the state’s Mr. Football Award winner, will become a legend in his hometown of Owatonna if he has a big career at Minnesota. Williamson rushed for 3,009 yards and 46 touchdowns as a senior running back at Owatonna. During his career he ran for 7,009 yards and 102 touchdowns.

“Jason is an outstanding student (3.69 GPA) and a role model and leader in our hallways,” said Owatonna coach Jeff Williams in a statement after Williamson won the Mr. Football Award Sunday. “He is held in the highest regard by teachers and students alike. He is a favorite at our youth camp and in our elementary cafeterias. He is always willing to give of his time to work with the young kids in our district.”

Among Gophers signing today who could yet see their rankings increase by recruiting authorities is Rockwall, Texas quarterback Jacob Clark. The highly regarded Clark, a three-star recruit, will enroll at Minnesota soon and participate in spring practices.

The Gophers gave out their many annual awards at a banquet Sunday and senior linebacker Blake Cashman wasn’t among those honored. It’s surprising that with 19 different award categories that Cashman, who will skip the Quick Lane Bowl to avoid possible injury and prepare for the 2019 NFL Draft, wasn’t recognized with one or more awards.

The Outstanding Defensive Player Award went to junior end Carter Coughlin who led the team in sacks with 9.5. Cashman led Minnesota in solo, assisted and totals tackles with 104.

Coughlin is outstanding and could have made a difference for Ohio State this season. Coming out of Eden Prairie High School, he thought about becoming a Buckeye. His pass rushing skills would have nicely complemented the absence of OSU All-American defensive end Nick Bosa who missed most of the season for the 12-1 Buckeyes.

Junior Tyler Johnson, who won the team MVP Award Sunday, seems likely to consider declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft. Johnson was one of the Big Ten’s most productive receivers last season with 1,112 yards, 10 touchdown receptions and an average of 15.03 yards per catch.

Pro scouts, though, may question the speed of the 6-2, 200-pound former Minneapolis North athlete. Fleck and receivers coach Matt Simon could appeal to Johnson to play one more season at Minnesota to watch him mature, as did Corey Davis when he played for those coaches at Western Michigan. After Davis’ senior season he was an All-American despite generating minimal interest from college football programs coming out of high school.

Casey Mittlestadt, the former Gopher now an NHL rookie with the Sabres, has five goals and is only four goals behind the third leading rookies in that category.

Targeting 11? The Vikings had 10 sacks in their November 4 win over the Lions and possibly could top that total Sunday in Detroit. Minnesota had nine sacks, including two each from defensive end Danielle Hunter and linebacker Anthony Barr, in last Sunday’s win against the Dolphins.

The North Dakota State Bison, who play next month for a seventh FCS national title in eight years, placed seven players on the Associated Press FCS All-American teams named last week, including three Minnesotans. Hutchinson senior safety Robbie Grimsley was named to the All-American first team defense; senior defensive end Greg Menard from Lakeville North was second team defense; and junior Zack Johnson of Spring Lake Park was honored as a third team offensive tackle selection.

Grimsley and Johnson were named Walter Camp FCS first team All-Americans on Monday. Grimsley has made 51 consecutive starts, Johnson, 29, for NDSU.

Twins front office executives Derek Falvey and Thad Lavine have placed the emphasis on taking a youthful roster into 2019. Pitcher Kyle Gibson at 31 and catcher Jason Castro, 30, are the only players on the club’s 39-man roster 30 or over. Pitcher Addison Reed turns 30 on December 27.

The Twins are offering a 19 percent discount on single game home tickets for March, April, May and September of next year. Excluded is the team’s home opener on March 28.

Dave Joerger, the Minnesota native and NBA Kings coach whose team split two games with the Timberwolves in the last several days, might have been the Wolves head coach if the late Flip Saunders hadn’t wanted the job in 2014.

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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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