Minnesota signed a class of 20 players on Wednesday, including one player in the ESPN 300. I spoke with Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill earlier today to talk about the Gophers' commits and the recruiting process:
There's some negative recruiting out there, and I'm sure other teams have brought up your health issues to try to persuade recruits not to head to Minnesota. What kind of impact has that had on this class, and how do you try to tackle the issue with recruits?
Jerry Kill: You know what? I just shoot it out straight. I'm sure there are things that happened -- I know it happened three or four times -- but I don't think it made any difference in recruiting at all. It may have helped. Sometimes, when you get attention, whether good or bad, it ends up being good. I think people respect me because when I come into a home and I tell them I'm epileptic, it is what it is. But I won a hell of a lot of football games and turned around three programs doing this.
If you're straight forward, I don't think it affects it at all. Do some people go and say things? Yeah, I've heard that. But people are competitive, they want to compete, and I don't get worried about it. The best answer to that is probably that I drove last night -- the first time in two years. I drove right down the highway. I didn't drive very good, and I'm probably going to have to take a driver's ed course, but I did drive -- so maybe that'll put an end to all of that. ... I'm honest with recruits. And I think if you're honest, people say, 'Hey, he's honest -- and I'm not going to worry about it.'
Let's kind of shift gears a little bit, because I don't want to just focus on that. How exactly does Minnesota's evaluation process work? How do you go about ranking recruits?
JK: Oh, we spend a lot of time on that because we're in a situation that, right now, we're not Ohio State. We spend a lot of time watching film and watching practices, evaluating them, looking at their character and all kinds of stuff -- and we really learned that by sitting in on a couple NFL meetings. We try to do everything we can not to make a mistake. And, so far, we've done pretty good at it because our APR has been pretty high. I think that's important.
Speaking of that big board, just how high up on your list was ESPN 300 Jeff Jones (Minneapolis/Washburn)? And how important was it to get a talent like Jones on the Gophers?
JK: I've known Jeff since he was a freshman in high school and I've known him because he's been in camp. I've known him for a long time, so we knew he was a special athlete then. We had to work hard to get him to come here and, sometimes, it's harder in-state than out-of-state because some kids just want to leave. But we're very fortunate to get Jeff. He's a very good player and fits into what we do because he runs downhill -- and runs downhill very well.
Let's put aside my 14-second 40 for a moment and pretend I'm a five-star recruit. What is the Jerry Kill pitch to get me into a Gophers' uniform?
JK: I think we have a lot of things we can talk about. This is an unbelievable city to come to, and we have 19 Fortune 500 companies here. There are great opportunities here. We have a tremendous school, a great academic school and, with having that and all the Fortune 500 companies, that's important. We have summers and springs and falls that are outstanding. It's the Land of 10,000 Lakes, a beautiful state. And I think we're the top four in the country in fitness states. So we have so many things to offer -- a brand-new stadium -- so we just have to get people to visit. To be honest with you, when we get people to visit, we've usually got a pretty good chance to get them committed.
I know when I got this job I was like,' Boy, that's a long way up there.' But when people get here, they just don't leave -- and I'm talking about the business world. That's important.
Some five-star recruits are going to underachieve, and some lower-tier recruits -- whether in our rankings or your eyes -- are inevitably going to overachieve. What do you think all those overachievers have in common?
JK: They got a chip on their shoulder. Shoot, I've had a chip on my shoulder my whole life. Some people feel entitled in life, and we always try to get people who are hungry and get people who have a chip on their shoulder. People always talk about rankings, but I believe Mark Dantonio had three-stars and two-stars -- and I don't know how they come up with that -- but I'd say he had a pretty good football team this year. So I've kind of followed Michigan State and how they've done things for a long time. So, to me, you get the best player you can for your system. And this year, we got some great players. We were fortunate to beat the SEC for some recruits. We got our needs, and that's important.
You filled a lot of needs, but you also grabbed about half of your commits after Dec. 1, and that also basically happened last season. Why is that exactly?
JK: I think that everybody has to do it different. Right now, with what we're doing, we can't afford to make a lot of mistakes. We've come a long way in a lot of things. When I first got here, academically, things weren't very good -- and now we've had four straight semesters with a GPA of 3.0 and above, and we got one of the higher APRs in the country. And I think a lot of that has to do with us being selective. ... So we're slower -- it might hurt us -- but we want to do our research and make sure someone fits in.
JK: The big thing is -- and we've been able to have good quarterbacks -- is that Mitch Leidner is a young man who was a redshirt freshman last year and, mentality-wise, what he stands for, he's going to be a very good quarterback. Chris Streveler is behind him, and he's a very good quarterback, and we feel good about him. And then Dimonic comes in -- so I'm not worried about time tables. We're in good shape there. We're probably in the best shape there that we've been.
Are there specific players, or a position grouping, that you do expect to have a more immediate impact?
JK: We don't have a lot of seniors leaving, and that's a good thing. We're a young football team, but we needed to fill some specific needs. Melvin Holland is a big get for us, and Conner Krizancic is a good get for us at receiver. Isaiah Gentry was really under the radar. They've all got length, and they've got speed. And Jerry Gibson and Gaelin Elmore are guys that are athletic enough to play tight end, H-back, wide receivers -- they can be all over the place. And we want that versatility in our offense.
Offensively, we really improved our football team. We recruited a lot on defense the first two years -- you build your team on defense; the Seahawks proved that -- and, offensively, we moved slower.