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U Looks on Track with Jaxon Howard


How are the Golden Gophers doing in pursuit of the state’s No. 1 football prospect in the class of 2023?  “I think Minnesota truly is in the thick of it for Jaxon (Howard),” Ryan Burns told Sports Headliners Monday.

Burns is the Gopher Illustrated and 247Sports authority who tracks U football year round.  Howard, a potential college tight end or defensive lineman in college, has LSU, Miami and Minnesota among his preferred destinations.  The Robbinsdale Cooper star will make official campus visits to all three schools next month, per Burns. And yesterday on Twitter Howard announced those three programs and Michigan comprise his final four list.

Jaxon and his dad Willie Howard, the Cooper coach and a former NFL defensive lineman, have a close relationship so that could be a factor in the college choice.  As a hometown prospect, Jaxon has witnessed positive developments with the Gopher program including two of the last three seasons winning nine games or more.  Hopkins alum Boye Mafe stayed home to play defensive end for the Gophers and was drafted in the NFL’s second round this spring.

The Gophers also have four verbal commits from Minnesotans in their class of 2023.  Jerome Williams, Reese Trip, Greg Johnson and Martin Owusu are the state’s No. 2, 4, 5 and 6th ranked prep players for 2023, per 247Sports.  Knowing the state’s better prep prospects appear Minnesota-bound could influence Howard.

Burns said 2023 commit Darius Taylor, the running back from Walled Lake, Michigan who Iowa and Wisconsin offered, is friends with Howard and has been encouraging him to become a Gopher.  The two spent time together at the spring game and Taylor has been pitching on social media for Howard to stay home.

Head coach P.J. Fleck and his assistants are recruiting now.  After a short break around Memorial Day, recruiting intensifies for power five schools like Minnesota with the staging of camps during June.  The Gophers will host two camps in June, according to Burns, and will attend others out of the state to evaluate talent.

Burns thinks Anthony Brown, the four-star wide receiver from Ohio who was a prize verbal commit before backing off his pledge, will be interested in earning an offer from Ohio State in June when he attends a Buckeyes’ camp.  Brown’s brother Michael BrownStephens plays wide receiver for the Gophers and Anthony was wooed at the U spring game, but Burns isn’t wagering he will take up residence in Dinkytown. “They’re in the mix. (But) I don’t anticipate a reunion between the two parties. …”

The Gophers passed the football less than any other power five school last season and that was a red flag to Brown. If he doesn’t commit elsewhere before Signing Day in December, Brown could be watching the Gophers this fall to see if they revive their passing attack.

Perhaps the Gophers will end up with high three-star wide receiver recruit Tamarcus Cooley from North Carolina.  “Minnesota has been pushing for him tremendously hard,” Burns said.

Ryan Burns

Gopher assistants Greg Harbaugh Jr. (he has North Carolina ties) and Matt Simon are in pursuit of Cooley who is expected to visit campus next month.  “I think the offer list (for Cooley) would be just as comparable to someone like Anthony Brown,” Burns said.  “I think it will be very interesting to see how much of an impact they can make on that June official visit with…Tamarcus Cooley.”

Burns also said Simons watched Georgia WR Jarvis Hayes work out recently and the Gophers have offered a scholarship.  Hayes has shown his athleticism with a high jump of 6-feet four-inches, per Burns, and the Gophers “pretty badly” want him.

Hayes and West Fargo defensive lineman Karter Menz are two names Burns mentioned when asked who may make verbal commitments to Minnesota during the summer.  Nebraska has also offered a scholarship to Menz.

247Sports ranks Elinneus Davis from Moorhead as the state’s No. 3 prospect and the defensive lineman’s college offers include the Gophers and Washington. He could project as a 300-plus nose tackle on the next level.  “Academics are going to be important to him,” Burns said.  “I know Minnesota wants him tremendously bad.  I think they’ve got a pretty legitimate shot at him.”

The Gophers’ on-campus camps will be June 5 and 15, with official visit weekends for recruits June 10 and 17.  Burns doesn’t expect any verbal commits during the busy month of June, but that will change in the summer and fall.

Worth Noting

What was the biggest positive Burns took from watching spring practice? “The passing game looks like they know what they want to be,” he said.

Burns’ evaluation is that under 2021 offensive coordinator Mike Sanford the Gophers continually tried something different in the passing game.  With the return of previous coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca the expectation of Burns is a return to the RPO passing game “that was so prolific in 2019.”

Major concern? Burns wants to see the emergence of playmaker receivers beyond senior Chris Autman-Bell now in his sixth season with the program.  The candidates are Dylan Wright, Michael Brown-Stephens, Daniel Jackson and Brevyn SpannFord.  “I just want to see with my own two eyes that when the lights come on Saturdays that those four guys are ready to help Tanner (QB Morgan) and his passing game take a step forward.”

Worth watching too in fall camp and early games will be the status of veteran running backs Mohamed Ibrahim and Trey Potts.  Both were injured and missed most of last season, and then had no risky contact in the spring while they recovered.

Ibrahim is recovering from an Achilles tear and that’s serious business for a college running back, although he always relied more on his strength, toughness and savvy in finding holes than he did speed.  He does need to be able to make decisive cuts as he did in the past as a 2020 All-American.   “I am hopeful we see him at least 90 percent,” Burns said. “I think that’s realistic.”

Potts’ injury was never publicly disclosed but Burns said it didn’t involve soft tissue. He predicts a “100 percent” likelihood of Potts being able to perform as in the past.

Wishing the best for former Minnesota Mr. Basketball chair Ken Lien in his convalescence following 10-plus days in the hospital.

The postseason results for men’s pro sports franchises in Minneapolis-St. Paul has been discouraging for years and the first round exits by the Wild and Timberwolves this spring add to the woes.  Check the records back to October 1, 2004 and the combined postseason winning percentage of the Timberwolves, Twins, Vikings and Wild is 28 percent—32 wins, 71 losses.

In Game One of the AL Division Series on October 5, 2004 the Twins defeated the Yankees in New York 2-0.  Since then the Twins haven’t won a postseason game, compiling 18 consecutive losses and a 1-19 record.

The Timberwolves are 3-8 during the period referenced, with two playoff appearances.  The Vikings 4-7 and the Wild 24-48.

The Vikings announced Monday they have released a player with one of the best football names I recall: linebacker Tuf Borland.  He played in two games last season for the Purple.

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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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