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Gophers Picking Up 4-Star Momentum

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April 28, 2020


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The football Gophers are trending toward their best recruiting class in more than a decade and this spring are picking up more four-star preps. Minnesota has four four-star players among 13 preps who have made verbal commitments for the class of 2021 that eventually may have about 20 scholarship freshmen.

In the latest rankings by 247Sports for 2021, Minnesota is No. 5 nationally and No. 2 in the Big Ten (behind Ohio State). When national Signing Day comes along in December it seems like this class could be as hyped (or more so) by recruiting authorities as coach Tim Brewster’s group in 2008 that 247Sports ranked No. 26 in America. None of Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck’s previous four recruiting classes have made it into the final 247Sports top 30 rankings.

Ryan Burns, the publisher of affiliated with 247Sports, believes Fleck and his staff could pick up three or four additional four-star players to go with a load of three-star recruits. “That wouldn’t surprise me one bit,” Burns told Sports Headliners.

The Minneapolis-based recruiting authority sees a possibility that two more four-star targets could commit in the next 30 days. Running back Mar’Keise Irving from Hillcrest High School in Country Club Hills, Illinois and Chicago Simeon offensive lineman Cameron James both have strong interest in Minnesota despite the COVID-19 epidemic preventing them from visiting campus.

Ryan Burns

Burns said Minnesota also has commitments from players currently ranked with three-stars who could move up to four-star status (next highest from five stars) if a fall high school season is played and they excelled. He mentioned Shakopee defensive end Devin Eastern is on the edge of moving up because of his on the field skills and also his impressive offseason training.

It doesn’t look like Minnesota will land two of the state’s top rated players in the class of 2021, per Burns. Four-stars Justice Sullivan from Eden Prairie and Riley Mahlman of Lakeville South appear headed to Iowa and Wisconsin respectively. Justice is labeled an “athlete” whose college position appears undecided, while Mahlman could add to the Badger legacy of great offensive linemen.

As of today, 247Sports ranks Iowa’s 2021 class No. 6 nationally, with the Hawkeyes having 12 recruits including four four-star players. Wisconsin is No. 13 in the rankings, with 10 commits including three four-star prospects.

The list of Gopher four-star commits so far is comprised of cornerback Avante Dickerson, Omaha; quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis, Antioch, Illinois; cornerback Steven Ortiz, Goodyear, Arizona; and “athlete” Sam Jackson, Naperville, Illinois. All but Athan Kaliakmanis verbally committed to Minnesota this spring.

Burns doesn’t foresee any of them dumping Minnesota to attend other schools, although he will remind a listener “18 year olds” are unpredictable.

Dickerson is the highest ranked Gopher recruit since Washburn running back Jeff Jones committed to Minnesota in 2014. “He (Dickerson) is everything athletically you would ever want in a corner,” Burns said.

It’s almost unheard of for the Gophers to receive a pledge from a Nebraska recruit. Not only are the Nebraska Cornhuskers a legendary team in the state, many of college football’s blueblood programs were also in pursuit of the 6-foot, 165-pound Dickerson who many observers think is the best prospect in the state. Burns believes it’s nearly a lock Dickerson comes to Minnesota and doesn’t give in to the pressure of Big Red Nation.


Because Dickerson highly values his relationships with coaches and the Gophers won him over led by assistant Joe Harasymiak, according to Burns. He said “Nebraska didn’t put in the work that Minnesota did” to land the gifted prep cornerback. While the Husker staff is likely to try “catch up,” Burns believes Minnesota’s investment in time and effort will keep Dickerson committed until he can sign a National Letter of Intent.

“I think his (recruiting) ranking is warranted,” Burns said. “I think the ceiling is incredibly, incredibly high for him.”

Kaliakmanis gave Minnesota a verbal pledge more than a year ago, per 247Sports. Burns said an indication that Kaliakmanis will keep his commitment is the dual-threat quarterback is recruiting others to become Gophers.

Ortiz committed earlier this month and Blair Angulo of 247Sports predicts an 80 percent likelihood he becomes a Gopher. The University of Washington has a 20 percent chance of having the cornerback eventually land in Seattle. Burns said Ortiz intends to enroll at Minnesota in January and could see playing time in 2021 as a nickel coverage man.

Jacknson was offered a scholarship by Notre Dame to become a defensive back, a position he has never played. He was a sophomore wide receiver before switching to quarterback as a junior last year. “All I know is he is truly one of the most dynamic athletes in the Midwest and that’s why he was so highly sought after,” said Burns who expects Jackson to play wide receiver or QB at Minnesota.

Burns believes Jackson’s intentions toward Minnesota are solid. Jackson de-committed from the Gophers awhile back, and Burns said it would be unusual for a recruit to do that twice with the same school.

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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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