Taking a look at where Fleck and co. find fertile recruiting ground
The state of Minnesota is not considered a hotbed for recruiting, at least for football, so head coach P.J. Fleck and his coaching staff are faced with the challenge of venturing beyond their borders and bringing back the talent they need to compete in the Big Ten.
Where do they go? Well, 27 different states, to be exact. Since Fleck was hired as head coach in 2017, the Gophers have signed at least one recruit in 27 different states, in addition to Germany and Australia. So I figured it would be worth breaking down which states have become reliable sources of talent for this coaching staff over the last six years.
It should come as no surprise that the Gophers’ own backyard has supplied the program with more recruits than any other state. Landing the top-ranked recruit in the state each year has been easier said than done for Fleck, but he’s still been able to find impact players from around Minnesota, including Blaise Andries, Boye Mafe, and Brevyn Spann-Ford.
This fall should provide opportunities for players like Logan Richter, Danny Striggow, and Cody Lindenberg to become key contributors. Though I think many fans are excited by the prospect of a Gopher defensive line headlined by Deven Eastern and Trey Bixby.
Currently, Minnesota has seven in-state commitments for the Class of 2023, which would be the most in any recruiting class during the Fleck era. They’re even in contention to add more, including defensive linemen Jaxon Howard and Elinneus Davis.
Minnesota commits by year:
- 2017: Blaise Andries, Dominik London, Boye Mafe, Grant Ryerse, and Nathan Bursch
- 2018: Brevyn Spann-Ford, Benny Sapp III, Josh Aune, and Nathan Boe
- 2019: Jason Williamson, Logan Richter, and Cole Kramer
- 2020: Jonathan Mann, Danny Striggow, and Cody Lindenberg
- 2021: Deven Eastern and Logan Purcell
- 2022: Trey Bixby, Kristen Hoskins, Joey Gerlach, Tony Nelson, and Spencer Alvarez
The Gophers love the Sunshine State. They turned to the IMG Academy in Florida to bolster their offensive line in 2018, and now Daniel Faalele will be playing on Sundays. Outside of that, the state of Florida has been more miss than hit for Minnesota.
Of the 16 players they’ve signed from Florida, seven have transferred out of the program. But that has not given them reason to shy away from the state, signing four Floridians in their most recent recruiting class, all on the defensive side of the ball. Hopefully players like Jalen Glaze and Luther McCoy will be making a name for themselves sooner rather than later.
Florida commits by year:
- 2017: None
- 2018: Curtis Dunlap, Daniel Faalele, Bryce Williams, Mayan Ahanotu, and C.J. Smith
- 2019: James Gordon IV and Solomon Brown
- 2020: Jaqwondis Burns, Douglas Emilien, Jalen Glaze, and Tyrell Lawrence
- 2021: Luther McCoy
- 2022: Hayden Schwartz, Aidan Gousby, Rhyland Kelly, and Maverick Baranowski
Fans like to tout Rashod Bateman as the beginning of the Gophers’ pipeline from the Peach State, but don’t undersell the signing of Justus Harris, who held down the starting slot corner position the last two years. Of course, Bateman is the crown jewel of Fleck and co.’s recruiting efforts in the state of Georgia, which have continued year in and year out.
Rashad Cheney was thought to be one of the big gets of the Class of 2019, but he was quickly overshadowed by De’Angelo Carter on the defensive line. Braelen Oliver and Michael Dixon figure to be key contributors on the Gophers’ defense this fall, and Lemeke Brockington will have a chance to break into the rotation at wide receiver.
Georgia commits by year:
- 2017: Justus Harris
- 2018: Rashod Bateman, Nolan Edmonds, Terell Smith, Abi N-Okonji, and Braelen Oliver
- 2019: Rashad Cheney, De’Angelo Carter, and Michael Lantz
- 2020: Michael Dixon and Victor Pless
- 2021: Lemeke Brockington and Darius Green
- 2022: Coleman Bryson
The state of Illinois has been good to Minnesota. Chris Autman-Bell, John Michael Schmitz, Mariano Sori-Marin, and Tyler Nubin all hail from the Land of Lincoln and have been multi-year starters for the Gophers. Fleck and co. raided Illinois to stock their Class of 2021 with top talent, including their quarterback of the not too distant future, Athan Kaliakmanis.
It will be interesting to see if the arrival of Bret Bielema at Illinois impacts the in-roads Fleck and co. have made within the state as the Fighting Illini’s football program has tread water.
Illinois commits by year:
- 2017: Chris Autman-Bell, John Michael Schmitz, Rey Estes, and Noah Hickcox
- 2018: Jamaal Teague and Mariano Sori-Marin
- 2019: Tyler Nubin and J.J. Guedet
- 2020: None
- 2021: Athan Kaliakmanis, Mar’Keise Irving, Cameron James, Jameson Geers, and Dino Kaliakmanis
- 2022: None
Ohio has been a solid source of talent for the Gophers. Thomas Rush has come into his own at rush end, and Donald Willis and Mike Brown-Stephens were mainstays at their respective positions last season. Gage Keys is very much in the conversation for a spot in the defensive line rotation this fall, and there is room for Miles Fleming to climb the depth chart cornerback.
It’s unfortunate Alex Reigelsperger had to retire for medical reasons.
Ohio commits by year:
- 2017: Malcolm Robinson
- 2018: Alex Reigelsperger, Jornell Brooks, Austin Beier, and Thomas Rush
- 2019: Donald Willis and Mike Brown-Stephens
- 2020: Gage Keys and Miles Fleming
- 2021: Devon Williams
- 2022: None
The Gophers have had at least one representative from the Lone Star State in each of their recruiting classes since Fleck was hired, but none of them have been impact players for Minnesota. In fact, almost all of them — save for the two most recent signees — have transferred out of the program. Brady Boyd saw the most playing time, catching two passes for 18 receiving yards last season as a true freshman before transferring to Texas Tech.
Former tight ends coach Clay Patterson, now at Colorado, was the staff’s primary recruiter in the state of Texas. We’ll see if his departure has an impact on their efforts. It’s probably too much of a recruiting hotbed for them to not pull at least one recruit out of there each year.
Texas commits by year:
- 2017: Adam Beck
- 2018: Jack York
- 2019: Jacob Clark and Nnamdi Adim-Madumere
- 2020: Abner Dubar
- 2021: Brady Boyd and Dylan McGill
- 2022: Zach Evans and Nathan Jones
Missouri has been something of a mixed bag for Minnesota. Their top-rated signing, Itayvion Brown, ended up transferring to Michigan State. M.J. Anderson figured to be the Gophers’ starting defensive this season but opted to transfer to Iowa State for medicinal purposes. That said, Brady Weeks enters his fourth year as the team’s starting long snapper, and both Aireontae Ersery and Jalen Logan-Redding could be starters this fall at their respective positions.
Missouri commits by year:
- 2017: None
- 2018: Grant Norton
- 2019: D’Vion Harris, M.J. Anderson, and Brady Weeks
- 2020: Itayvion Brown, Jalen Logan-Redding, and Aireontae Ersery
- 2021: None
- 2022: None
It’s safe to say the Michigan pipeline may have dried up for Fleck.
He signed three Michigan recruits in his first recruiting class, but all three were Western Michigan commits who followed him to Minnesota. After that, the Gophers would only sign two Michigan recruits over the next five years, and both would transfer out of the program without making significant contributions on the field.
With that said, Minnesota has two commits out of Michigan in their current recruiting class — running back Darius Taylor and quarterback Drew Viotto. Both are from the same high school and both were recruited by first-year tight ends coach Greg Harbaugh Jr., who spent the previous two seasons as an assistant at Western Michigan. Perhaps his hiring means Minnesota will be more active in recruiting the state of Michigan, but that remains to be seen.
Michigan commits by year:
- 2017: Nate Umlor, Trenton Guthrie, and Kyle Sassack
- 2018: Erik Gibson
- 2019: None
- 2020: Ali Saad
- 2021: None
- 2022: None
Harrison Van Dyne and Kelvin Clemmons may not have panned out, but I’d say Fleck and co. were 2-for-2 on Daniel Jackson and Ky Thomas, even though the latter opted to return home to Kansas after one season as the Gophers’ leading rusher.
Kansas commits by year:
- 2017: Harrison Van Dyne
- 2018: None
- 2019: Kelvin Clemmons
- 2020: Daniel Jackson and Ky Thomas
- 2021: None
- 2022: None
Three total signings: California, Indiana, and Iowa
Two total signings: Arizona, Kentucky, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin
One total signing: Alabama, Connecticut, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Washington