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Jerry Kill Back in State Recruiting

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January 30, 2017

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Former Gophers coach Jerry Kill, now the offensive coordinator at Rutgers, has been recruiting in Minnesota for the Scarlet Knights but so far doesn’t have a commitment as National Signing Day approaches on Wednesday. College football recruiting authority Ryan Burns told Sports Headliners that Kill “called on” Crosby-Ironton tight end Noah Gindorff, and crossed paths with new Gophers coach P.J. Fleck last week at Hopkins High School.

Fleck and Kill are recruiting Hopkins defensive end Boye Mafe. Burns, who is a publisher of the popular Gopherillustrated.com website, said “he’s heard some interesting things about how that went down” when the two coaches were at Hopkins. Burns, who wasn’t at Hopkins when the coaches were there, didn’t provide more details.

It’s no secret Kill is upset about things that have been said and done at the University of Minnesota including the dismissal of Tracy Claeys as Gophers coach a few weeks ago, after leading Minnesota to a 9-4 record including an upset win over Washington State at the Holiday Bowl. Media reports have Kill saying he won’t be coming back to the Gopher campus where he helped resurrect the football program until his health forced him to resign in 2015. Claeys, Kill’s close friend and former defensive coordinator, was made Kill’s successor but lasted only one full season before being fired by new Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle. “He is a very emotional guy,” Burns said about Kill.

Ryan Burns

Burns believes Kill is “trying to get his foot in the door” on players the Gophers want, probing to see how successful he can be with Minnesota high school players. Few Power Five football programs aggressively recruit the state and Kill may see opportunity here because of that, and also his popularity with the public and relationships with high school coaches.

“He probably will be a little bit effective but…he’s got to land some of these kids that Minnesota (also) wants, for him to justify being out here,” Burns said. “As of today he hasn’t been able to do that.”

Both Kill and Fleck are just getting started in their new roles. Kill was hired by New Jersey-based Rutgers several days before Christmas. Fleck left Western Michigan where he was head coach to take over the Minnesota program in early January.

Known as an elite recruiter, Fleck has reshuffled the 2017 Gopher class that will be announced on Wednesday. While some players who had originally given verbal commitments to Claeys remain, most of the recruits now are student-athletes who Fleck and staff have convinced to become Gophers. Recruiting authorities like Burns have been impressed and they place Minnesota’s 2017 class much higher in national rankings than when Claeys and his staff were in charge.

Burns was asked about 2017 recruits and who he would “bet his life” will be the biggest impact player as a Gopher. “The easy answer is Blaise but I don’t want to take that one. There are a lot of kids that I like in this class. I would say Ken Handy-Holly.”

Blaise Andries, the offensive tackle from Marshall, Minnesota, is one of the prize recruits in Minnesota’s 2017 class but Burns has a high regard for Handy-Holly too, the four-star safety from Alabama. “My hope for him is that he can be a player like (former Gopher) Damarius Travis. A guy that is the leader of a defense, can get everyone lined up.”

Burns thinks Holly could play as a freshman, like Antoine Winfield, Jr. did last year. Winfield played early in the season on special teams, then became an impressive starter at safety for the Gophers.

Worth Noting

The Signing Day Social for Gophers football fans at TCF Bank Stadium Wednesday night is sold out. Over 800 attendees are expected at the Goal Line Club sponsored event where Fleck will talk about his first recruiting class at Minnesota. The social begins at 5 p.m. and KFAN’s Dan Barreiro will broadcast his show from the stadium.

A former Big Ten assistant coach who has followed Minnesota high school basketball for decades didn’t want his name in print but told Sports Headliners Jericho Sims is the best prep player from the state he’s ever seen including Kevin McHale and Tyus Jones. The 6-8 Sims is a senior at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis and the son of former Gopher Charles Sims. Sims has signed to play next fall for Texas and head coach Shaka Smart. The ex-Big Ten coach said Sims will be an immediate force in the Big 12, predicting he will play power forward in college while praising his varied offensive skills and his physique. “He’s built like a marble statue,” the source said.

I was in Williams Arena on October 15, 1971 when first-year Gophers coach Bill Musselman led his first official team practice. The Gophers were at least 15 minutes late taking the floor for practice, and I later learned that Musselman was giving the team a hyper-passionate pep talk about the season ahead including challenging Big Ten title favorite Ohio State. It was 45 years ago last week the famous Minnesota-Ohio State brawl took place at Williams Arena. Few people know Musselman was targeting the Buckeyes months before the game.

John Tauer

The St. Thomas and Bethel men’s basketball teams are tied for first place in the MIAC standings with 10-3 records. They play each other tonight at the Tommies’ Schoenecker Arena. Coach John Tauer’s Tommies are defending MIAC champions.

The Twins, expected to be down in their season tickets total this year, are able to offer more prime seating locations because of the decline. A source with the club told Sports Headliners the total season tickets in 2017 is projected at 11,000 to 12,000 after being about 13,000 last year.

Speedy Byron Buxton, the long-hyped Twins prospect and the big league club’s fastest player, stole only 10 bases last season in 92 games and 298 at bats. The center fielder hit .225, struck out 118 times and walked just 23 times. Buxton, though, has stolen 125 bases in 301 minor league games.

Twins super fan Kirk Detlefsen holds his annual Ticket Draft at Target Field on Wednesday. The event is an opportunity for people Detlefsen knows to share in the season tickets he buys each year. The gathering isn’t open to the public but in advance Detlefsen welcomes inquiries (612-701-7244). Twins authorities Derek Falvey, Dave St. Peter and Dan Gladden will speak to attendees, plus Town Hall Ball Parks of Minnesota author Todd Mueller will personalize complimentary copies of his book.

A sports awards industry source said Theo Epstein’s relationship with Jostens years ago was likely a major factor in the Minneapolis-based company being named the designer for the Cubs 2016 World Series rings. Epstein, the Cubs general manager, was the Red Sox’s baseball boss when Boston won the World Series in 2004 and Jostens produced that team’s rings. Look for Jostens to also make a Cubs World Series fan ring.

Dave Stead, executive director of the Minnesota State High School League, told Sports Headliners his organization projects distributing about $1 million to MSHL schools that participated in state tournaments during the 2016-2017 school year. The distribution amounts are determined by a formula to reimburse schools for expenses. Stead said 12 of the 36 state tournaments sponsored by the MSHL, including the Prep Bowl, are profitable.

Minnesota North Stars caps for $39.99 each are on sale at the Minnesota Wild’s hockey-themed restaurant in Terminal 2 of the MSP airport.

Ross Bernstein, the locally-based author of sports books who is also a motivational speaker for businesses, was in Scotland last month where he found time to visit but not play the famed St. Andrew’s Golf Course.

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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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