Football update: new signing class, bowl game, suspensions, sit outs

Head coach P.J. fleck held his last press conference of the season on Wednesday before the bowl game on Dec. 26.

The Gopher football team huddles during a time out on Saturday, Sept. 15 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Courtney Deutz

The Gopher football team huddles during a time out on Saturday, Sept. 15 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Jack Warrick and Paul Hodowanic

A lot happened in the world of Gophers football after the final regular season game ended with a 37-15 victory over Wisconsin.

After a report came out last week that stated players were suspended from the Quick Lane bowl due to violating team rules, head coach P.J. Fleck said Wednesday the report was wrong. He said there was at least one player suspended — still suspended for violating team rules— and they will miss the Quick Lane Bowl on Dec. 26 in Detroit.

“Either a player or players will not play in the bowl game,” Fleck said, though he didn’t talk about how many or who. “If you do not do the right things, you will not play.”

He said the suspension had nothing to do with legal issues or domestic violence. 

Fleck added that there is the possibility of a starter missing the bowl game.

Fleck said the reports could bring up rumors about players who are thought to have been involved in the alleged suspension. In the 2016 season, 10 Gophers football players were suspended for an alleged sexual assault. The University of Minnesota disciplinary panel cleared four of the involved players.

“It’s unfortunate that some of those players get tied to certain things because people just speculate and talk. Young men go on and go somewhere else, and they’re tied to things that people are talking about, and that’s unfair for young people,” Fleck said.

Cashman and Greene sitting out

Gophers offensive lineman Donnell Greene and linebacker Blake Cashman will sit out the bowl game to prepare for professional football. Cashman led the team in tackles this season with 104. Greene played in 36 games and started 29 throughout his career with the Gophers.

Fleck said he didn’t expect any others to sit out for the NFL.

“We’re here to make sure their dreams come true down the road, whatever they want to accomplish,” Fleck said when asked about the conversation with the two players. “I can give them advice, but I’ll never tell anybody what to do. I’ll give them my opinion, but I’m never going to say, ‘you have to do this, and if you don’t, why are you or why aren’t you doing that.'”

2019 recruiting class

College football’s early signing period began Wednesday morning and the Gophers and Fleck wasted no time in signing 23 players. 

“This is the highest ranked consecutive class in school history, which we’re very very proud of, since the internet era,” Fleck said. “Thirteen of the 23 members are enrolling in January, which we wanted to make sure these guys are here early because, again, we’re going to need a lot of them to play for us next year.”

The class ranks as the 33rd best in the nation and eighth in the Big Ten, according to 247Sports. 

The Gophers added 10 defensive players including five defensive lineman, which has been a key point of emphasis for Minnesota’s staff.

“We wanted to focus on the defensive side of the ball. Not to say that we didn’t focus on some of the 19 positions on offense, but we wanted to focus on the defensive side,” Fleck said.

Rashad Cheney Jr. is part of that group who will help bolster their interior defensive line. The 4-star, 6-foot, 3-inch, 280-pound lineman from Ellenwood, Georgia is the team’s top-ranked recruit. Cheney was committed to Alabama and Georgia before switching to the Gophers following his official visit last week. He ranks as the 215th best recruit in the nation according to ESPN. 

The team added a pair of talented quarterbacks, Cole Kramer and Jacob Clark, to bolster their depth and challenge for the starting job. Kramer, an Eden Prairie native, was named to the Star Tribune and Kare 11 all-metro teams in 2018 and is known for his dual-threat abilities. Clark, a Rockwall, Texas native, was ranked as the No. 19 pro-style quarterback in the nation and is the highest ranked quarterback to sign with the Gophers in over a decade. 

The Gophers snagged Minnesota Mr. Football Jason Williamson on Wednesday. The running back led Owatonna Senior High School to back-to-back state championships and ran for 3,012 yards and 46 touchdowns as a senior. 

Minnesota beefed up its special teams unit, which is losing seniors kicker Emmit Carpenter and long snapper Payton Jordahl after the season. The team grabbed one of the top-ranked long snappers in the country, Brady Weeks. Weeks was invited to the 2019 Under Armour All-American game after snapping the ball in .64 seconds. They also added 3-star kicker Michael Lantz. Lantz made 119-123 career extra points, and made 21 career field goals.