Gophers recruit 4 players from Lackawanna College

New Gopher football players hail from more than 1,000 miles away.

Michael Rietmulder

The 2010 Gophers football team will now feature four players who all hail from the same junior college more than 1,000 miles from Minneapolis. Lackawanna College is located in Scranton, Pa., and with an enrollment of only about 1,000 students, some people might not think of it as a hotbed of gridiron talent. However, that assumption would be incorrect. LackawannaâÄôs alumni include a host of players who have gone on to play for Division I schools, most notably former Miami and current Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie. The first former member of the Lackawanna Falcons to come to the University of Minnesota was offensive tackle Jeff Wills, who started every game for the Gophers last season. The University added his former teammates Tiree Eure, Herschel Thornton and Dwight Tillman to its 2010 recruiting class. âÄúItâÄôs kind of a rags-to-riches story going from Lackawanna to a Big Ten school,âÄù Wills said. Wills was originally recruited by the Gophers offensive line coach Tim Davis while he was coaching at the University of Alabama. After joining Tim BrewsterâÄôs staff, Davis told linebackers coach John Butler, who recruits in the Scranton area, about the 6-foot-7, 365-pound lineman. Butler, who is originally from Philadelphia, about an hour and 40 minutes away from Scranton, said he knew McKinnie had played at Lackawanna and recruited Wills after DavisâÄô recommendation. Butler has since built a strong relationship with the program and head coach Mark Duda âÄî something Butler said is imperative to successful recruiting. Butler said Duda is one of the most trustworthy coaches in the business. âÄúSome guys tend to oversell their kids,âÄù Butler said. âÄúMark does a pretty good job of giving you a very honest and realistic evaluation of what youâÄôre getting.âÄù Duda said Butler is a meticulous recruiter and puts in extra effort to bring student-athletes to the University. âÄúNobody wants to fly in to Scranton, Pa., during spring practice, but he does that,âÄù Duda said. âÄúI donâÄôt see anybody more competitive than John Butler is in the recruiting process.âÄù Duda said itâÄôs not uncommon for junior college players to transfer to Division I schools in clusters and that landing Wills in 2009 gave Minnesota an âÄúagentâÄù who could relay his experience to his former teammates. Both Thornton and Tillman said that knowing they would be able to bring part of the camaraderie they built at Lackawanna to Minnesota played a large role in choosing the Gophers over other teams. Thornton turned down offers from the University of Pittsburgh and Rutgers University to come to Minnesota. Tillman was considering the University of South Florida until head coach Jim Leavitt was fired. In the past, Duda has sent bundles of players to West Virginia University, North Carolina State University and Purdue University. While many universities have recruited Lackawanna players, Pennsylvania State University is one school that hasnâÄôt, despite its close proximity to the community college. âÄúPenn State doesnâÄôt have to look very far to find players,âÄù Butler said. âÄúI think we have to dig under more rocks.âÄù Recruiting players who already have chemistry could help the Gophers become a closer group. At Lackawanna, the entire football team lives in the same dormitory, which Thornton said helped them to become a tight-knit group. âÄúEverything you do is with your teammates, so itâÄôs like a brotherhood,âÄù Thornton said. Wills said that when Thornton and Tillman came to the University on their official visits, they brought with them WillsâÄô old nickname he had hoped to leave behind in Scranton. When asked about the nickname, Wills chuckled and declined to reveal his former alias. His teammates, however, were not as tight-lipped. When Wills first arrived at Lackawanna, the coaches nicknamed him âÄúBig BabyâÄù because of how big he was for his age. Like most 23-year-old men, Tillman was quick to have a little fun at his friendâÄôs expense. âÄúHe got a little Hollywood on us since he left,âÄù Tillman said. âÄúSometimes weâÄôve got to pull him back [and say], âÄòHold up man, we know youâÄôre in Minnesota, but we know who you are.âÄô âÄù