Monday, Mar. 1, 2021

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U Football Transfers in School Already


Golden Gophers football transfers began classes at the University of Minnesota this week, per recruiting authority Ryan Burns of Head coach P.J. Fleck and staff made news in recent weeks by bringing in more transfers than at any time in his regime dating back to 2017, with the number of newcomers distinguishing Minnesota from its six West Division rivals.

“I think that Minnesota in the West has certainly done the most to improve their short-term (talent) in 2021 using the transfer market,” Burns said. The transfers are linebacker Jack Gibbens, Abilene Christian; defensive tackles Val Martin and Nyles Pinckney from N.C. State and Clemson respectively; kicker Will Mobley, Temple; guardKarter Shaw, Utah State; punter Daniel Sparks, Louisiana-Monroe; and wide receiver Dylan Wright, Texas A&M. All but Mobley are in school now, with the Temple athlete enrolling in May, according to Burns.

The arrival of the newbies, most of whom have considerable college game experience, bolsters the overall Minnesota roster depth, while adding quality talent and potential starters. “I look at every position now and I see competition,” Burns said.

Competition will highlight the team’s offseason as players go through conditioning, weight training, meetings, drills, practices and scrimmages. Intense competition for playing time should make the Gophers more prepared and better on the field for next season starting with an opening game against Big Ten and national power Ohio State, expected to be ranked in the preseason AP top five.

Starting spots on defense are really open, with perhaps cornerback Coney Durr and end Boye Mafe the only locks. Gibbens, a grad transfer with four years experience at Abilene, is expected to provide leadership and quality play at linebacker where the Gophers were both thin and inexperienced last season. Defensive line was also a trouble spot in 2020 and Burns said junior defensive tackle Jamal Teague, who opted out last season, might not return. Another junior tackle, Noah Hickox, has left the program, leaving the defensive line roster even more inexperienced. The arrival of veteran grad transfers Martin and Pinckney clearly fills a need with their immediate eligibility.

Pinckney is a headliner after being a four-star recruit out of high school and playing in 55 games for the powerful Clemson program. The Tigers are heavy on defensive line talent for 2021, with two of their players named this week to an early ESPN preseason All-American team. Pinckney comes to Minnesota looking for a big season and invite to the NFL.

The Minnesota offense contrasts with the defense, having veterans returning at every position, but the arrival of Shaw and Wright, both underclassmen, can mean potentially helping the Gophers this year and beyond. Burns said Shaw has been told he is the center of the future, eventually replacing John Michael-Schmitz. Shaw can play multiple positions and could have helped the Gophers last season as they struggled with depth.

Wright looks like the other headliner among the transfers and Gopher fans need to hope the NCAA soon announces a new policy that underclassmen like he and Shaw can move to new schools and have immediate eligibility. Wright was a four-star recruit out of high school and wooed to A&M by former Gophers assistant Maurice Linguist who worked for Fleck at Minnesota before joining the Aggies, and is now with the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. Burns credits Linguist with playing a huge role in Wright choosing to transfer here.

“It’s Linguist who actually tells Wright I can vouch for everything that P.J. is doing up there—look at their wide receiver development. Minnesota is able to land him,” Burns said in telling the Wright recruiting story. “He is a kid that Minnesota doesn’t have anybody in their wide receiver room right now that looks like him. He is a specimen at 6-foot-4. The question is going to be how long is it going to take for (wide receivers coach) Matt Simon to refine his game where he can help Minnesota win football games.”

Ryan Burns

Minnesota’s extra points and field goal kicking last season was poor. Burns said grad transfer Mobley, who is expected to challenge returnee Brock Walker for kicking duties, holds the Temple record for consecutive extra points made (51). Sparks was among the Sun Belt Conference’s best punters last season as a freshman and if eligible will offer competition to returnee Mark Crawford who has to improve.

Burns said Fleck obviously “wasn’t blind” to special team woes last season that included poor field position on kickoff returns. Burns’ research showed primary returner Cam Wiley, who struggled with decision making, had 11 returns resulting in average starting field position on the 16-yard line. A fair catch places the ball on the 25.

“They lost nine yards of field position every time he decided to return a kick. I cannot stress to you (enough) how horrible that is,” said Burns, who noted the Gophers had the fourth worst starting field position following kickoffs in college football last season.

In yesterday’s interview with Sports Headliners Burns also talked about Minnesota’s 2021 freshman recruiting class that has 17 players signed to national letters of intent, with two highly publicized players pending. The next date for signing is February 3, and the Gophers hope to lock up offensive tackle Saia Mapakaitolo from Arizona and Nebraska cornerback Avante Dickerson.

Mapakaitolo was committed to USC and had his choice of West Coast offers, per Burns who said a California recruiting authority raves about the athleticism of the young tackle. Listed at 6-5, 280 pounds by 247Sports, Burns is intrigued by Mapakaitolo’s size, athleticism and participation in rugby, a grueling sport.

It was a disappointment to Gopher fans that Dickerson, a four-star recruit and the highest ranked of Minnesota’s verbal commitments last year per 247Sports, didn’t sign in December as expected. Burns believes Minnesota and Nebraska are the front runners for the gifted cornerback. With only about two weeks until the February signing date, Burns said Dickerson and his mother may visit Minnesota to help make a final decision.

The issue of location, staying closer to home and playing for the Cornhuskers in Lincoln is apparently a major factor in trying to make a decision. For Burns, there is no question what school Dickerson should choose.

“I don’t think particularly highly about Nebraska, with all the (outgoing) transfers they’ve had in the last year, their win-lost record. … To me it doesn’t make a ton of sense, because especially I believe (head coach) Scott Frost is on the hot seat. So why would you want to be going to a school, other than it’s close to home, that you could potentially be playing for a new coach in the next year or two?”

Worth Noting

The Gophers also have several players from the 2021 freshmen class who have enrolled early and started classes.  247Sports identifies early enrollees as DE Deven Eastern, WR Brady Boyd, WR Lemeke Brockington, “athlete” Dylan McGill, CB Justin Walley and LB Devon Williams.

Word is the Gophers have given up on recruiting Davon Townley, the defensive end from Minneapolis North High School. At one time Minnesota coveted the four-star for its 2021 recruiting class. Where might Townley be headed? “I have no idea,” Burns said. “All I know is I assure you…it ain’t going to be at Minnesota.”

Legendary Herb Brooks, who led the hockey Gophers to national championships in 1974, 1976 and 1979, was named the WCHA’s 1970s Coach of the Decade today as part of the league’s 70-year celebration.

The NFC title game Sunday in Green Bay features the franchise, the Packers, with the most world titles (13) against the quarterback, Tom Brady of the Bucs, with the most post season wins, 32.

Packer wide receiver Davante Adams had 18 touchdown receptions during the regular season. That total ranks behind only former Viking Randy Moss (2007) and ex-49er Jerry Rice (1987), who are tied for most in NFL single season history with 23 each.

Jeff Crilley’s email newsletter, “The Rundown,” included a story yesterday listing the states whose residents are most to least stressed during these turbulent times. Citing a OnePoll survey for stress supplement Natrol Relaxia, Minnesota ranked among the most relaxed citizenry. Iowa is the least stressed, Missouri the most.

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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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