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U Recruiting: Trending to Top 25 Class

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December 14, 2020

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University of Minnesota football recruiting authority Ryan Burns believes Wednesday’s national Signing Day will be special for the Golden Gophers.

Burns is publisher of the popular GopherIllustrated.com website affiliated with 247Sports. In the latest 247Sports major college recruiting rankings for the class of 2021 Minnesota is No. 22. The rankings are not to be confused with the 247 composite rankings that average out multiple recruiting sources and have Minnesota at No. 26 nationally.

The Gophers’ class expected to sign Letters of Intent Wednesday totals 18. “They have seven four-star commits as of today on 247Sports, which would be the highest number of four-stars that Minnesota has signed in the Internet era,” Burns told Sports Headliners today.

The highest ranked of the four-star players by 247Sports is Omaha cornerback Avante Dickerson, the No. 1 senior in the state of Nebraska. He is also 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 earlier this year.

Burns expects all of Minnesota’s verbal commits to sign on Wednesday, including Dickerson who is the target of rumors he might not become a Gopher. “I think some of that is fabricated on the Nebraska end because they know what it looks like for that type of kid to go elsewhere,” Burns said. “I do think there is some smoke there but I will tell you what I have told people for weeks and months now. I expect Avante Dickerson to sign with Minnesota in 48 hours.”

The six other four-stars recruited by head coach P.J. Fleck and his staff are: defensive end Deven Eastern, Shakopee; running back Mar’Keise Irving, Country Club Hills, Illinois; offensive tackle Cameron James, Chicago; quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis, Antioch, Illinois; cornerback Steven Ortiz, Goodyear, Arizona; and defensive tackle Jacob Schuster, Washington.

The total of four-star players could reach eight before Wednesday night. Davon Townley, the defensive end from Minneapolis North High School, is a coveted four-star who the Gophers want as part of their 2021 recruiting class.

“I don’t know what that kid is going to do,” Burns said. “If you put a gun to my head, I would say Minnesota or Arizona State (for his college choice). But there’s a lot of things that have to be figured out on Davon Townley’s end in the next 48 hours or so if he’s going to be able to sign anywhere Wednesday.”

Jaydon Hood is a four-star inside linebacker from Fort Lauderdale who is verbally committed to Michigan but his name is rumored with Minnesota. “I don’t think he is going to sign in December,” Burns said. “I think he is going to sign in February…(the second 2021 signing period).”

Ryan Burns

Burns said the Gophers “badly” want Hood but he isn’t prepared to predict Hood will flip the Wolverines for Minnesota. Hood hasn’t visited the U campus, but in this pandemic era committing to a school without seeing it isn’t unusual. Burns estimated about half of the 18 commits for 2021 haven’t been to the Minnesota campus.

Eastern is one of only two native Minnesotans in the 2021 scholarship class as currently comprised. The other is offensive tackle Logan Purcell of Annandale. Small numbers of players signing on with the Gophers has been the norm for many years. Review the recruiting lists for the Gophers dating back to 2014, for example, and you will see mostly totals of two, three, or four Minnesotans annually in the various recruiting classes.

The state is hardly a hot spot for prep football talent but there are quality players available each year, just not in large numbers. It’s not been for lack of effort by Gopher coaches that some of the state’s best preps over the years have chosen other college programs. This year the three highest ranked Minnesotans, per 247Sports, are Lakeville South offensive tackle Riley Mahlman, Eden Prairie defensive end Justice Sullivan and North’s Townley. Mahlman is headed to Wisconsin, Sullivan to Iowa.

What can reverse the trend of the Gophers losing good and even great in-state players? Rival programs Wisconsin and Iowa have been more successful in keeping talent within their borders. Burns said Wisconsin and Iowa preps stay home because those players grow up rooting for their winning teams, while Minnesotans for decades have mostly watched the Gophers be mediocre, or worse, although last year’s team earned the state’s favor with an 11-2 season.

“…You get an offer from them (Badgers or Hawkeyes), it’s why the heck would you go anywhere else? Whereas here in the state of Minnesota, it’s why the heck would you play for the Gophers? They stink.

“I think for the trend to change, the No. 1 thing that this Gopher football staff can do is…just win, and it’s not going to happen overnight. …You have to win this year and the next year and the year after that and you have to keep winning. And likely you’re going to have to do that with non-Minnesota players until the Minnesota kids can figure out maybe we should just stay here in-state and see what they can do in terms of developing me.”

James Laurinaitis from Wayzata was going to play for the Gophers and head coach Glen Mason until he changed his mind more than 15 years ago. He went on to become a three-time consensus All-American linebacker at Ohio State. By contrast the Gophers have five Minnesota natives who made All-American teams in the last 50 years.

The Gophers listed 116 players on their preseason roster, but only 36 were state natives including many walk-ons trying to earn scholarships. This year’s starters are pretty much players from beyond the state’s borders except the interior offensive line where most positions are filled by Minnesotans.

BTN will have Signing Day Big Ten Conference coverage starting at 1 p.m. Wednesday with a three-hour program.

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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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