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U Nabs Headliner in DE Anthony Smith

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December 12, 2021

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Defensive end Anthony Smith from Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, is expected to sign his National Letter of Intent Wednesday with the University of Minnesota. Ryan Burns—the recruiting authority from Gopher Illustrated and 247Sports—told Sports Headliners Smith is a special recruit.

247’s website describes Smith as a four-star prospect whose college offers include Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State. “He’s a guy that Minnesota doesn’t get a chance at too often,” Burns said. “I think Chad Wilt, (Gophers) d-line coach, did a great job there (recruiting Smith).”

There are 16 high school verbal commits the Gophers want to sign on Wednesday but Burns believes Smith has without question “the highest ceiling” of anyone in the class. “He is the ideal size. He’s, 6-4, 6-5, 280. He’s incredibly athletic. …”

Athleticism and length are physical attributes characterizing the 2022 recruiting class that has one player each at quarterback, running back, tight end, linebacker and safety; along with two wide receivers, and three prospects each at cornerback, offensive line and defensive line. The class reflects the need to fill future openings on the roster.

All the players are three-star recruits, per 247, except four-stars Smith and defensive lineman Trey Bixby of Eden Prairie. The Gophers coveted Bixby going back to his days competing as a prep in Ohio. He has fought through health and injury issues at Eden Prairie but is okay now, Burns said.

In recent days 247 evaluators have been looking at future Gopher quarterback Jacob Knuth from Harrisburg, South Dakota. There is a “realistic shot,” per Burns, Knuth could move up to four-star status, as might running back Zach Evans of Rockwall, Texas who has turned heads playing at the highest level of competition in that state.

Ryan Burns

Burns is optimistic coach P.J. Fleck and his staff will hold on to all their commits between now and Signing Day. He expects the Gophers could add three or more signees beyond the 16.

Three-star defensive lineman Hayden Schwartz of Jacksonville, Florida, who de-committed from Nebraska in October, is scheduled to visit the Minnesota campus this weekend. Other prep prospects are scheduled, too, plus there are players the Gophers are looking at from the college transfer portal.

News broke Saturday that Minnesota has a verbal commitment from Abilene Christian transfer Ryan Stapp, a defensive back from the same college program Gophers linebacker Jack Gibbens came from. Stapp turned down offers from various power five teams including Nebraska and Northwestern, per Burns. Stapp was a 2019 FCS freshman All-American.

Here are brief descriptions from Burns of the high school players expected to become Gophers. Smith, already profiled, is excluded.

Trey Bixby: At 6-5, 255 pounds, he seems to have the ideal size and strength to compete in the Big Ten as a defensive lineman. He is skilled at knowing how to use his hands and disengage from offensive linemen. He could play defensive end or tackle in college.

Zach Evans: the 5-9, 200-pound running back is a north-south runner who may draw comparisons with Gopher All-American Mo Ibrahim. He senses where a hole will open and his balance is outstanding. Minnesota coaches told him he would be the only RB in the class offered a scholarship.

Jacob Knuth: As a 6-4, 207-pound quarterback he not only has a strong arm but also is athletic. Has a “high ceiling” and his pass-run balance could be an ideal long range fit in the offense of new coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca.

Kristen Hoskins: At 5-9 and 160-pounds, Hoskins better be quick and fast. Don’t worry about it. The Alexandria, Minnesota recruit runs 4.4 and is probably the most electric open field runner in the state. He will be a wide receiver and kick returner who could see the field next fall.

Ike White: ESPN ranked the 5-11, 185-pound Philadelphia native a four-star wide receiver. Gophers wide receiver coach Matt Simon worked with White at summer camp and likes his abilities including route running.

Aidan Gousby: The coaches want not only athleticism but also length with their cornerbacks. The 6-2, 185-pound Lehigh Acres, Florida native has his position listed as “athlete” by 247 but he is expected to play corner at the U.

Rhyland Kelly: He tested well at a satellite camp Minnesota coaches attended. The 6-2, 185-pound prospect from Clearwater, Florida fits that size and length profile the coaches want in cornerbacks.

Tariq Watson: At 5-10, 165, the Harvey, Louisiana native doesn’t fit the CB profile so much but his speed is special. Word is he ran 4.3 at a couple of summer camps. Could play slot corner or safety.

Coleman Bryson: Gophers secondary coach Joe Harasymiak is a big fan of the Rabun Gap, Georgia native. At 6-2, 190 pounds, the athletic Bryson is taller than past Gopher safeties.

Joey Gerlach: Minnesota defensive coordinator Joe Rossi scouted Gerlach at summer camp and saw a high football IQ competitor with athleticism. The Woodbury High School linebacker prospect is 6-3, 195. He will have to add 20 pounds or more when he plays for the Gophers.

Jack Pyburn: He has 100-plus tackles each of the last three seasons in high school. The Jacksonville, Florida prospect is 6-3, 255 pounds and is a high motor, physical athlete who will be a rush end for the Gophers. He is a state championship wrestler.

Tony Nelson: He is from small town Tracy, Minnesota but at 6-6, 265-pounds he could one day be a big contributor on the offensive line. He has the physical tools of a Big Ten tackle including good feet.

Ashton Beers: The 6-5, 295-pound offensive lineman has been receiving more attention of late and he could be similar in potential to Nelson. The Slinger, Wisconsin native was a North Dakota State commit until recently but the Gophers flipped him. Word is the Bison coaches aren’t happy about their loss.

Nathan Jones: At 6-5, 240, Jones has the size to play tight end. The Brock, Texas native had Big 12 Conference offers but is headed for Minnesota where he has the potential to be another drive blocker like current tight end Ko Kieft.

Spencer Alvarez: It was thought the Columbia Heights High School prospect might play tight end but his Gopher position looks like offensive tackle. He is coming off knee surgery but the 6-7, 255 Alvarez has the frame to be a Big Ten tackle after adding weight and strength.

Among the players listed above, Alvarez, Evans, Gousby and Kelly, plus college transfer Stapp, are expected to be enrolled at Minnesota in January and attending winter classes, according to Burns.

Minnesota’s 2022 class has a composite ranking of No. 45 in the nation. The composite rankings come from the rankings of 247, Rivals and ESPN. (Minnesota has a No. 36 ranking from 247.)

The Gophers’ composite number is bunched near five of its six Big Ten West Division rivals: No. 44 Wisconsin, No. 43 Northwestern, No. 41 Illinois, No. 39 Iowa and No. 37 Purdue.

What do the recruiting rankings mean in the Big Ten and across the country? Well, they’re meaningful but don’t bet your Tesla stock on all of them.

Alabama, Georgia and Michigan are in this season’s College Football Playoff. Their 2022 incoming recruiting classes have composite rankings of No. 1, 2 and 10 respectively. Upstart Cincinnati, the fourth team in the playoffs, has its class at No. 27. “There is a correlation between finishing high in the recruiting ranks, and finishing high in the polls,” Burns said.

Burns said five-star prospects are something like 32 times more likely to reach the NFL than four-stars. Four-stars could be about 100 times more likely than three-stars to one day play in the NFL.

Then there is this: Fleck said awhile ago it’s meaningful if over 50 percent of a Minnesota recruiting class become contributors. “I mean it’s not wrong,” Burns said. “I go back and I look at the 2018 recruiting class and there’s not a lot of those guys left.”

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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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