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Tracy Claeys puts his stamp on Minnesota's recruiting class

Tracy Claeys took a different approach than his predecessor when it came to recruiting on the offensive side. AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt

Tracy Claeys has been a college football coach for more than 20 years, so recruiting is hardly new to him. But Claeys found himself in a different position last fall, suddenly elevated to head coach at Minnesota after Jerry Kill retired for health reasons.

Claeys, who had been the Gophers' defensive coordinator, was used to going out on the road at various times to visit defensive prospects. Now, he had to travel for home visits with as many players as possible in the condensed time that head coaches are allowed to recruit off campus.

"It was a different airport each day and somebody's home each night," Claeys said. "That was the biggest difference for me."

There were also some philosophical changes made after Claeys was named permanent head coach on Nov. 11. He decided to hire a new offensive line coach and offensive coordinator, leaving some recruits on that side of the ball feeling unsure. The Gophers had a slew of decommitments, some of them mutual.

Claeys himself got heavily involved recruiting and reassuring offensive linemen in the class, especially junior college transfers Vincent Calhoun and Garrison Wright. He had a vision for what he wanted up front.

"We went back to recruiting some guys who are run blockers first," Claeys said. "I think the last couple of years, we had gotten more into worrying about pass protection more, then teaching them run blocking. Philosophy-wise, I want to start off with guys who have a chance to knock people off the ball."

Claeys brought in Jay Johnson from Louisiana-Lafayette as his offensive coordinator, and Johnson prefers to employ dual-threat quarterbacks. So the Gophers went out and added Seth Green, a Minnesota native who spent last year playing in Allen, Texas. Originally an Oregon commitment, Green flipped to Minnesota in December.

"For me, the hardest quarterbacks to defend are dual-threat type of guys," Claeys said. "So I wanted to make sure we had one of those guys on the board."

The Gophers' class includes nine players from Minnesota, one of the highest totals in recent years. It helped that this was an unusually strong year for high school talent in the state. It also helped that one of the state's best players, linebacker Carter Coughlin, spurned offers from programs such as Oregon and Ohio State and went about recruiting other local guys to join him in Dinkytown.

"He's a great leader," Claeys said of Coughlin. "You want to be around him, and other kids want to be around him. He kept in touch with a lot of those kids during the coaching change, and he definitely played a big role in putting together this class. That means a lot not just to me but to the whole staff."

Claeys said the program was able to keep more talent home this year in part because the school's long-awaited facilities expansion -- which will include an indoor football practice and training centers -- broke ground in October.

"They were moving some dirt around when a lot of the kids came to campus [on their visits]," Claeys said. "We've been showing them a new set of drawings about every two years, and there's only so long you can show them drawings. I think it will have an even bigger impact on next year's class, because they'll be able to see the structures coming out of the ground."

Next year's class will come from Claeys' first full cycle of recruiting as a head coach. He has already put the foundation in place.