Minnesota, Mason ink 24 on solid signing day

Michael Dougherty

He never plowed under his corn crop to build a baseball field, and he never played catch with a ghost in pinstripes, but Gophers football coach Glen Mason might have heard a voice from the sky tell him, “If you rebuild it, they will come.”
The 8-4 record of last season was the best for the Gophers since they went 8-2 in 1967, and the Sun Bowl appearance was the team’s first since 1986. Consequently, Mason introduced 24 new recruits he hopes will be playing on his field of dreams.
Highlighted by the player of the year from both Minnesota and Wisconsin (DeLaSalle safety Dominique Sims and Milwaukee running back Demetrus Johnson) the list is pretty impressive.
“I feel good about our recruiting class, but in some cases, we came about that close from me coming in here and saying, ‘Yes, we knocked ’em dead,'” Mason said. “Maybe we’re not ready to knock ’em dead yet, but in saying all that, it’s important to me … that we get kids that really want to come here.
“I try to guard against a guy that comes here because we’re the last one standing. I don’t want that. I want a guy that buys in and is willing to take this challenge.”
Besides Sims and Johnson, the group of guys that wanted to come here is heavy with offensive lineman, and heavy is not an exaggeration. The six blockers average 6-feet-6 and 291 pounds, with bookends Arthur Smith and Ricky Wymer towering above the rest.
The two are both from Ohio, stand 6-9 and tip the scales at 323 pounds and 325 pounds, respectively.
According to NCAA guidelines, Wednesday was the first day recruits could officially commit to colleges. The signing period began at 7 a.m. Wednesday and runs until April 1. The Gophers had 25 scholarships available and Mason said he has already has plans to fill the 25th spot.
The impact the bowl game had on recruiting was a big one. Mason said it didn’t necessarily secure big-name recruits, but it did get his foot in the door.
Proof of his team’s elevated status came with the signing of linebacker Darrell Reid. A 6-foot-3, 235-pounder out of Freehold Boro High School in New Jersey, Reid had originally committed to Ohio State. But the dismissal of some key members of the Buckeyes staff who helped recruit Reid were fired. Reid changed his mind and chose Minnesota.

The expert
Allen Wallace, a recruiting expert for SuperPrep Magazine and USA Today, said Minnesota’s recruiting list was impressive, yet he only ranked the team’s class eighth in the Big Ten. (Wallace ranked the Gophers ninth last year.)
Wallace billed Penn State’s class as the top in the nation (with Florida a close second). Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Purdue, Wisconsin and Indiana are ranked ahead of the Gophers in that order. Illinois, Northwestern and Iowa bring up the rear in the conference, respectively.
Despite the low ranking, Wallace said the difference between the Gophers’ class with that of a team like Wisconsin and Purdue ahead of them is fairly insignificant.
“Some people might look at Minnesota and say, ‘How come we’re not ranked higher than Purdue, Wisconsin and Indiana?'” Wallace said. “But if you look at those signing lists that we have right now, they would all look very similar.”
Wallace said the Gophers’ successful season has had an immediate impact in the eyes of recruits.
“I think Minnesota has become much more of a high-profile program, and there’s a lot of attention that has been directed toward the Gophers because people believe that Glen Mason is a coach that is going to get them to a much higher status,” he said. “The victory over Penn State, and just the way the program has been moving along, it gives people hope that Minnesota could enter the upper echelon of the Big Ten, and that just hasn’t been the case for a long time.”

The turnaround
The fact Mason has turned the program around in just three seasons is a credit to the rebuilding reputation he has constructed.
But Mason said he doesn’t like to use the word “rebuild” because it isn’t fair to the players who are in the program to begin with. Any way you look at it, Mason did tear apart his house, and the continuing remodeling is coming along splendidly. And during the work, he even let his players live in some pretty good conditions.
As for which of the 24 recruits will have an immediate impact, Mason said it is tough to tell.
“Every year I’ll ask my coaches, ‘Let’s play this game. Let’s pick out the ones that will play for us the first year,'” Mason said. “We’re always wrong. It’s just hard to speculate on that, and I think it’s unfair to put any young guy — whether it’s Dominique Sims or anybody else — in a situation where (people) are saying, ‘Everybody’s counting on you to come in and play right away.'”

Michael Dougherty covers football and men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]