Top recruit commits to Minnesota

Michael Dougherty

Fighting back tears and declaring dedication to his family as the deciding factor, St. Paul Johnson running back Thomas Tapeh announced he will accept a scholarship tender to play football at the University.
With a crowd of about 100 students, faculty, coaches and media, Tapeh made his announcement in the library at St. Paul Johnson High School.
“I have made my decision,” he said.
But before he announced his choice, Tapeh continued with a dramatic pause and proceeded to thank all of the coaches from the schools who have recruited him. Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa were part of the final foursome.
Then came the announcement the crowd and a handful of Big Ten football coaches were waiting for.
“I have decided to go to the University of Minnesota,” Tapeh said.
The room erupted with applause, and St. Paul Johnson Athletic Director Carl Dickman pulled out a few Gophers t-shirts and hats and Tapeh and his family draped themselves in maroon and gold.
Cecily Woiwor, Tapeh’s mother, brought her son here in 1989 from Liberia, and works as a nurse. Tapeh said his dedication to his mother and his two sisters and brother were the driving force behind the decision.
“I’d like to thank my family, especially my mother,” Tapeh said. “She’s always been there for me, and she’s been supportive and has encouraged me to try to be the best in everything I do.
“By leaving my family I would abandon them, and that’s something I cannot do.”
Tapeh rushed for more than 1,800 yards and 26 touchdowns in only eight games during his senior season, before a leg injury kept him out of the playoffs.
The 6-foot-2, 210 pound Tapeh runs a 4.37 second 40-yard dash and can bench press more than 350 pounds. Allen Wallace of the recruiting magazine Superprep and the official recruiting analyst for the USA Today, said Tapeh was ranked as the 10th best running back in the nation, and the 45th best player overall.
“He’s a great kid for the Gophers, and I think it was really necessary for them to keep him at home,” Wallace said. “If they were going to lose this battle, it was going to be lost to either Michigan or Wisconsin and that’s not something Minnesota could afford to do.
“He’s a big, powerful and bruising running back who has good vision. Plus he’s got good enough speed to play tailback.”
Tapeh is believed to be the only running back the Gophers were actively recruiting, and by landing him Minnesota coach Glen Mason has solidified his ability to keep the state’s top recruits.
The University and Mason can not comment on recruits until Feb. 3, the first day of the national signing period. When Tapeh was asked if Mason knew of his decision, he said Mason was finding out at the same time everyone else was.
Tapeh said he made his decision two weeks ago, but wanted to keep it a secret.
“I am relieved — very relieved — that the recruiting visits are over,” he said. “It was a lot of fun, and I had a great experience. It’s not something everybody gets to do.
“But it was also tiresome, with so many people calling me day and night. I’m glad it’s over with.”
Woiwor, meanwhile, said she was extremely happy and proud of her son. She said that when Tapeh first started to play football two years ago, he told her he was doing it so he had a way to go to college.
“He’s very unique, and he’s so good to our family,” Woiwor said. “He’s the only one that has ever helped me. I have no one else.”
Tapeh thanked God, his offensive line, his friends and his coaches. And in a moment of pure emotion, he declared his feelings for his mother with his sister weeping at his side.
“Mom, I love you,” he said. “Thanks for being the mother that you are.”