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Hometowners Loom Big for P.J. Fleck

 

The 2021 University of Minnesota football recruiting class is looking like the best of the internet era for the Gophers, but there is still more potential.

Totino-Grace’s Joe Alt and Davon Townley from Minneapolis North could join others who have already made verbal commitments to the Gophers—and the hometowners would be significant additions to the class of 2021 that 247Sports ranks No. 15 in the nation.

Recruiting authority Ryan Burns told Sports Headliners a decision regarding college choice may come from Alt within the next 30 to 60 days. Burns, publisher of GopherIllustrated.com, said a summer timeline has been in place for awhile for the high school tight end who projects as a big time college offensive lineman and could finish his prep career as a four-star player.

Joe’s father John Alt was a great offensive tackle for Iowa but Burns thinks interest in the Hawkeyes might be cooling given the program’s already high count of offensive line prospects. But Notre Dame, where the family also has ties, could be even more competition for the Gophers. With the COVID-19 pandemic, though, a visit to the South Bend campus and meeting with the Fighting Irish coaches hasn’t been possible and might not be in place for awhile.

How that plays out Burns isn’t predicting but he acknowledged the importance of Alt becoming a Gopher could potentially be a “significant milestone.” Fleck and his staff have frequently been frustrated in efforts to land top players from the state of Minnesota, particularly offensive linemen who have instead chosen Nebraska, Notre Dame and Wisconsin. “I think that would represent a very serious win for P.J. Fleck,” Burns said about Alt committing to Minnesota.

The Gophers have lost two defensive linemen who once made verbal commitments including D’Marion Alexander from Texas who backed out just this week. Burns said social justice issues happening in Minnesota this spring prompted the change in plans. The departures puts a focus on Townley, a four-star defensive end.

Quality defensive linemen might play the most prized of all the positions in college football, with Burns believing “supply never meets demand.” Townley is an athletic basketball player turned football star, and Burns praises his skills including a “great first step” that is so important to pass rushers. While Penn State has offered a scholarship, Burns said Minnesota is in the lead for Townley who is related to former Gophers All-Big Ten wide receiver Tyler Johnson.

In the back and forth world of teenagers, players can decommit and recommit again. But Burns doesn’t see that happening with Albert Regis, the other defensive lineman the Gophers lost. He said the four-star Texas native wants to stay closer to home and Minnesota is too far away for him.

Better news for the Gophers among defensive linemen could come with the eventual commitment for the class of 2022 by Trey Bixby, a four-star defensive end from Ohio. Michigan State is among interested schools but Burns said the Gophers could have an edge because the family is originally from Minnesota and Bixby has a strong interest in the program. “He grew up a Gopher fan,” Burns added.

247Sports lists 16 verbal commits for the 2021 class including four-star cornerback Steven Ortiz from Arizona. Not only is Ortiz a talented player, but he has been a vocal leader with the recruiting class. His leadership among fellow recruits reminds Burns of former Gopher Carter Coughlin who while in high school in Eden Prairie was so enthusiastic about Minnesota. “He (Ortiz) is the best recruiting leader Minnesota has had since Carter Coughlin’s class (2016),” Burns said.

Ryan Burns

Burns expects the 2021 recruiting class to eventually total in the low 20s. He predicted Fleck is in no hurry to use up all his scholarships. A winning 2020 season on the field is predicted, and Minnesota could leverage that success to be a factor with hyped recruits.

Speaking of wide receivers, Burns doesn’t believe Eden Prairie native JD Spielman, who left Nebraska this spring, will transfer to Minnesota. The Gophers have an opening for playing time with Tyler Johnson gone and Spielman was one of the Big Ten’s more explosive receivers at Nebraska. Spielman’s next stop is unknown.

The Gophers do have one of the nation’s best wide receivers in junior Rashod Bateman. CollegeFootballNews.com this week ranked Bateman the No. 7 player in the Big Ten in its listing of the conference’s top 30 players. Minnesota quarterback Tyler Morgan is No. 9. Ohio State QB Justin Fields is No. 1.

Asked about possible breakthrough players among true freshmen from the class of 2020, Burns likes Florida wide receiver Douglas Emilien on offense. Another Florida native, defensive back Jalen Glaze, is his choice on defense, with the possibility for playing time at the nickel position or another spot in the secondary.

No Delay for Miguel Sano Arrival

Club president Dave St. Peter told Sports Headliners this afternoon there is no anticipated problem in arranging for Minnesota Twins players to report for training in Minneapolis by July 1, including slugger Miguel Sano who is in the Dominican Republic where he encountered a personal issue earlier this month.

“There is no concern about getting Miguel in here,” St. Peter said. “His case (alleged kidnapping) was dismissed today so there is no personal problem.”

The 6-foot-4 Sano encountered off-field issues in the past including a weight problem. Team officials monitored his 2020 offseason training and like the reports. “We expect Miguel to report in shape and ready to go,” St. Peter said.

The 27-year-old had a career season in 2019 for home runs, 34, and RBI, 79. St. Peter said the club doesn’t talk about projected future numbers but clearly there is an expectation of high performance this season and beyond.

After emerging as one of baseball’s better teams last year and adding quality players in the offseason, the Twins talked in spring training about the goal of reaching the 2020 World Series. “That goal remains in front of us today,” St. Peter said.

MLB teams begin the 60-game regular season July 23 or 24. All the Twins games will be on radio and TV. For the first time in 60 seasons the game can be heard in the metro area on both AM (WCCO) and FM (102.9 The Wolf). The addition of FM is expected to help attract a larger listening audience among young fans.

The club’s radio network will be over 80 stations, the second or third largest in MLB, St. Peter said. The radio voices will be Cory Provus and Dan Gladden. Justin Morneau and Bert Blyleven will work a package of games on TV with Dick Bremer, with other analysts expected to join play-by-play man Bremer.

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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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