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U Takes Recruits from the ‘Big Boys’

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December 17, 2019

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University of Minnesota head football coach P.J. Fleck announces on Wednesday names of players accepting scholarships for his 2020 recruiting class. Perhaps most meaningful to fans of the program is Minnesota persuaded expected signees to pass on offers from high profile teams like LSU and Texas, and verbally commit to become Gophers.

Linebacker Jaqwondis Burns, a Texas native from IMG Academy in Florida, switched his commitment from Mississippi to Minnesota this month. Beating out an SEC school like Ole Miss is impressive, but there’s more good news. Gopher recruiting authority Ryan Burns told Sports Headliners that last week the Texas Longhorns sent head coach Tom Herman and four assistants in pursuit of Jaqwondis.

“Anytime you are able to beat Texas for a Texas kid… it’s good. I mean it’s really good,” said Burns, publisher of GopherIllustrated.com.

Another recent commit is Florida wide receiver Douglas Emilien. Joe Brady, the passing game coordinator for No. 1 ranked LSU, said in the fall the Tigers wanted Emilien, according to Burns. Emilien, though, is expected to join the Gophers, a program that surprised college football this fall by going 10-2, and tying Wisconsin for first in the Big Ten West with 7-2 records.

“You don’t get him without 10 wins,” Burns said. “You don’t get him without (Gophers) Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson finishing No. 1 and No. 2 in the Big Ten in receiving (yards).”

Johnson, a senior, will be a big loss to the receiving corps next season but Bateman and Chris Autman-Bell will return as quality juniors. Filling a third spot might be Emilien, or another 2020 verbal commit, Daniel Jackson from Kansas who had offers from Wisconsin and Iowa State.

Linebacker Itayvion Brown from Missouri could have chosen a number of “helmet schools,” as Ryan Burns refers to the better programs in college football. He said Brown turned down LSU, Iowa, Missouri, TCU, and Texas A&M to commit to the Gophers.

Jaqwondis Burns is among a half dozen or so expected signees who Burns believes will enroll at Minnesota in January and have the benefit of winter football preparation and spring practice. Others may include New York City wide receiver Justin Bellido, Ohio defensive end Gage Keys, German native and defensive end Melle Kreuder, Anoka linebacker Cody Lindenberg, and Kansas running back Ky Thomas.

Thomas is last in the alphabetical listing above but he was the first name Burns mentioned when asked who among the 20-plus verbal Gopher recruits was most coveted. He refers to Thomas as “the real deal,” and he mentions the impressive stats of the Topeka, Kansas prospect, who is about 5-11, 200 pounds.

As a senior Thomas rushed for 3,027 yards, with 35 rushing touchdowns. Career totals included over 7,000 rushing yards and more than 90 touchdowns. The Gatorade Kansas Player of the Year is the only running back Fleck is taking in the 2020 recruiting class.

Ryan Burns

“What makes Ky really special is he is incredibly tough to bring down,” Burns said. “He doesn’t allow you to get good hits on him. He is really good at staying on his feet and going through contact. He is really good at making sure that he can make you miss in the open field, (and) he can make you miss at the line of scrimmage. He can get north and south, very, very quickly.”

Burns has a lot of praise for the playmaking ability of the other Gopher recruit from Kansas, Daniel Jackson who Burns said had 74 receptions for 1,500 yards and 27 touchdowns as a senior. The Kansas City area prospect isn’t a big target at about 5-11 but he has quality hands and other skills. “He can make you really think about what route he is going to run next, and he is incredibly elusive in the open field, just like Kai is,” Burns said.

Thomas, like Jackson, could receive considerable playing time next season. The Gophers lose seniors Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks in their three-man running back rotation that does return Mohamed Ibrahim, who will be a junior next fall.

Minnesota’s lead recruiter on Thomas and Jackson was assistant coach Joe Harasymiak, who is assigned to the Kansas region. Harasymiak joined the Gophers in December of 2018 after leaving Maine where he had been head coach.

Other recruits in addition to Emilien, Jackson and Thomas who Burns mentioned might earn playing time next season include linebackers Brown, Jaqwondis Burns and Lindenberg, defensive linemen Keys and Danny Striggow (Orono). Lindenberg will be transitioning from safety and receiver at Anoka. He also might be the steal of the recruiting class, per Ryan Burns.

The most coveted prep linebacker in the state is Minnehaha Academy’s Kaden Johnson, who likely will sign with Nebraska. “I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he (Lindenberg) ends up better than Kaden Johnson…every time I have seen Cody he’s been incredibly impressive to me,” Burns said.

Burns expects the Gophers to sign in the range of 23 to 25 players for their 2020 class. As of earlier this week, he ranked Minnesota’s class No. 26 nationally, sixth in the Big Ten and third in the West Division behind Iowa and Wisconsin, two teams that have historically been the division’s leader.

“You have to be recruiting like Iowa and Wisconsin are, and I think Minnesota is finally at that tier,” Burns said.

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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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