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Tuesday, October 28, 2008
On-field success fuels Gophers' recruiting machine

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE
 DeLeon Eskridge is one of several freshmen making an impact for the 7-1 Golden Gophers.

As the head coach of arguably the nation's most opportunistic team, Tim Brewster knows that timing and momentum can be everything in college football.

Brewster has a good thing going at Minnesota right now. The Gophers are 7-1 and ranked 17th in the BCS standings after a historically bad 1-11 season in 2007. Their new outdoor, on-campus facility, TCF Bank Stadium, is set to open next September. They have a ton of talented underclassmen. The enthusiasm around the program is building at a rapid rate.

Minnesota's next phase seems clear. Accelerate and improve recruiting. Go after the top prospects while the team is winning. Canvass the state for top talent and tap into familiar spots like Texas and California.

Slam on the gas.

Thing is, when it comes to recruiting, Brewster has always been ahead of the curve. If there was a sixth gear, he would have found it.

"You seize every moment that you can," Brewster said, "but also understanding that we recruited at an extremely high level last year. Recruiting is something that really doesn't change with us, regardless of the now, the moment. We're going to recruit 24-7, 365. That's just kind of our thing."

It was one of the primary reasons why Minnesota hired Brewster, who had built a reputation as Mack Brown's top recruiter at both Texas and North Carolina. He backed it up again last year at Minnesota, despite the team's struggles.

Minnesota's 2008 recruiting class ranked No. 23 nationally, according to ESPN's Scouts Inc. The Gophers landed standout safety Keanon Cooper as well as quarterback MarQueis Gray, wideout Brandon Green, running backs DeLeon Eskridge and Shady Salamon, and linebacker Sam Maresh. Several of the freshmen among the 31-member haul, namely Eskridge and Green, have stepped in immediately and made contributions this season.

The program's standards for recruits won't change much, but the on-field success should smooth out the process.

For starters, Brewster expects negative recruiting to decrease, or at least be on hold for a while.

"There was a lot of talk about us not being able to accomplish what we're doing by some of the teams in the Big Ten," Brewster said. "There's a lot of negative recruiting going on towards us. It was, 'Well, Brewster says he's going to do it. He hasn't done it.' Well, now that we're doing it, the message is going to have to change. There's going to have to be something new."

Brewster loves to mention the numbers 6 and 18, signifying Minnesota's totals for national championships and Big Ten championships. But instead of selling that history to recruits whose fathers might not have been born the last time the Gophers won a title (1967), Brewster can point to what's happening right now.

It creates less hesitation.

"Kids [used to] say, 'Coach, you say you're going to do this,'" Brewster said. "Well, you did it. That's positive."

Another plus is being able to steer the recruiting efforts toward the high school ranks. The 2008 class included seven junior college prospects, three of whom -- Tramaine Brock, Traye Simmons and Simoni Lawrence -- play major roles on a new-look defense.

"They made good choices," said Tom Luginbill, national recruiting director for Scouts Inc. "It can be a high-risk, high-reward proposition. There are reasons why guys go that route, and there's usually baggage involved. Often times, they don't pan out. It looks to me that the guys they've gone after have panned out.

"When you make the wise choice there, it can accelerate your roster."

Minnesota's 2008 class included players from 16 different states, and Brewster likely will continue using his ties in the South and Southeast to lure top talent. But local recruiting has also become a greater emphasis.

In recent years, many of the top-rated high school prospects in Minnesota have gone elsewhere, whether it's to Notre Dame (Michael Floyd, Trevor Laws, John Carlson, Ryan Harris, Matt Carufel), Wisconsin (Marcus Coleman, Brendan Kelly, David Gilreath) or other FBS programs. Brewster hopes to change the trend, and four of the team's 10 verbal commits for 2009 hail from Minnesota.

"It's truly one of the most underrated states in the country, as far as the number of players that it's putting out and the type of players," Brewster said. "There was this thought that only big guys came out of the state of Minnesota, and what we're seeing is dynamic wide receivers, skill players.

"I've looked at it very closely, and there's been a lot of good football players leave the state for whatever reason. What we try to do is put together a thought, an idea, a plan of, 'These are the reasons to stay.' Building relationships and trust with the high school coaches in the state, that's the whole key. I want everybody in the state to feel ownership."

Luginbill agrees that the Gophers have made gains in the state with players like Maresh, but he expects Brewster to keep mining the Southeast, Texas and California.

"He's no dummy," Luginbill said. "He knows where the athletes and the speed is. That's exactly where they're going to target, guys who run the spread [offense]. If a guy can run and he's athlete and they think they've got a shot at him, they don't care what state he resides in.

"Going in and recruiting when you're 1-11 is one thing. Now they could be 11-1, and that's a whole different dynamic when you walk into a school."

The on-campus facility adds to Minnesota's recruiting pitch. Rather than take visiting recruits to the dreary Metrodome, Brewster tours them around the stadium, which remains under construction.

"When you think about the six national championships and 18 Big Ten championships, they were all won on campus," Brewster said. "So there's no way to overestimate how big the stadium is."

Despite the team's success, challenges remain for Brewster and his staff. Minnesota's academic standards for incoming recruits have been questioned, and Gray was forced to leave the team because of eligibility issues.

Then there's always the weather factor.

"You don't want to bring any kids on recruiting visits past November, especially kids from Texas, F
lorida, California," Luginbill said. "Minnesota is always going to battle the weather and the environment."

But right now, things are definitely heating up.