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October 24, 2017

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Gopher football fans may want to cross their collective fingers hoping head coach P.J. Fleck and his staff can hang on to Georgia prep football wide receiver Rashod Bateman who is a national player of the year candidate.

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. The 6-foot-1 Tifton, Georgia star has so far this season caught 55 passes in nine games for 1,198 yards and 15 touchdowns, according to stats from Maxpreps.com. Bateman is averaging 21 yards per reception and verbally committed in June to Minnesota’s 2018 recruiting class.

Early this year most major college football programs considered Bateman a basketball-first guy and weren’t in pursuit of him. Ryan Burns, the recruiting authority and publisher of GopherIllustrated.com, said Bateman had basketball offers from Virginia Tech and Penn State, but Fleck and his staff recognized Bateman’s football talent before others did.

Bateman is listed as a three-star prospect in the 247Sports rankings on GopherIllustrated, but Burns said Bateman’s senior tape will be evaluated after the season and the new ranking will be four-star. The Gophers did their homework on Bateman, a dominant receiver who gets separation on defenders and runs by them.

“Rashod Bateman is an immediate impact player once he steps on (the field) at Minnesota,” Burns said.

Ryan Burns

Bateman’s profile is rising rapidly and the question now is whether the Gophers can keep him away from other schools and actually sign him to a Letter of Intent in either the early signing period in December, or later in February. Ole Miss has now offered Bateman and Burns expects other SEC offers are coming for Bateman.

“I am not really concerned about most of them right now because he is very firm to Minnesota,” Burns said. “He has even taken an unofficial visit up here during the season.”

The potential scholarship offer of most concern could be Bateman’s home state Georgia Bulldogs, another SEC team and ranked No. 3 nationally in the Associated Press poll this week. Burns concedes the Bulldogs could be too much competition for the Gophers, but also counters with “every kid is different,” and Fleck’s relationship with Bateman might be strong enough to bring the explosive Georgian to Minneapolis.

Matt Simon, Minnesota’s outstanding wide receivers coach, is a big plus for the Gophers, too. Simon, 31, played a major role at Western Michigan in developing wide receiver Corey Davis into a top five NFL draft choice. Simon has already turned heads at Minnesota including for the work he has done with leading receiver Tyler Johnson, who came to the Gophers as a quarterback and is a potential All-Big Ten talent. Johnson has 27 receptions for 499 yards and seven touchdowns in seven games.

If Bateman chooses Minnesota his teammates could include a quarterback with a lot of national hype, too. For the class of 2019 the Gophers are pursuing two top 10 nationally ranked quarterbacks, according to 247Sports rankings. Both are interested in Minnesota and Burns believes the Gophers might receive a verbal commitment from one or the other in the coming months.

Hank Bachmeier from Murrieta, California is the No. 4 overall quarterback. If the Gophers land him he will be the highest ranked quarterback ever at Minnesota since recruiting rankings began in 1998. Alabama, California, LSU, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Texas and UCLA are among schools that have offered scholarships, according to 247Sports.

Burns said Bachmeier has a relative living in Minnesota and Bachmeier’s parents are favorable toward the Gophers. Burns also said Bachmeier visited Boise State last weekend and is likely to make a college choice before Christmas time.

Max Duggan, from Council Bluffs, Iowa is the No. 10 ranked quarterback nationally in the class of 2019. He has offers from Georgia, Minnesota, Nebraska, Penn State, Wisconsin and others, according to 247Sports. Burns said in-state schools Iowa and Iowa State (both have offered scholarships) are “trying their hardest” to interest Duggan who Burns thinks may announce his college choice after January 1 of next year.

The Gophers aren’t likely to receive commitments from both Duggan and Bachmeier. Both of them will want “to be the guy” at Minnesota or whever they go. Burns said the two coveted quarterbacks are interested in the Gophers because they see the potential to play early in their careers, and like other high school recruits they are drawn to Fleck’s energy and vision for the program.

Meanwhile, redshirt sophomore Demry Croft is trying to claim the job as Minnesota’s starting quarterback now. He made his first career start last Saturday against Illinois and was nervous. He completed of 5 of 15 passes, throwing one touchdown pass and two interceptions in the win over the Illini. On Minnesota’s last scoring drive the Gopher coaches didn’t call one pass play.

It will be interesting to see who Fleck starts at quarterback on Saturday at Iowa. Redshirt senior Conor Rhoda, who started the first six games of the season, has thrown for 839 yards and five touchdowns. Croft is a superior scrambler and running threat on option plays. Rhoda has 11 yards net rushing yards this season while Croft has 159 yards despite starting only one game.

Minnesota, 4-3 overall and 1-3 in the Big Ten, will be at least a seven point underdog in the Iowa game that starts at the unusual time of 5:30 p.m. Iowa, also 4-3 and 1-3, has defeated the Gophers seven consecutive times in Iowa City, with the last Minnesota win coming in 1999. The Hawkeyes also retained Floyd of Rosedale in Minneapolis last season with a 14-7 win.

The Gophers have lost two straight to Iowa but that’s a lot better than the record against Minnesota’s other border rival, Wisconsin. The Badgers have won 13 consecutive games against the Gophers.

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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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