Mason closes borders, signs 20 recruits

Michael Dougherty

He was brought to Minnesota with a reputation as an excellent recruiter, and with Wednesday’s signing of 20 recruits to national letters of intent, Gophers football coach Glen Mason is living up to expectations.
Wednesday was the first day recruits could officially sign, and the list of future Gophers includes six of the top high school players in Minnesota.
Mason said he and his assistant coaches expect to recruit Minnesota better than anyone, and called the in-state recruiting effort one of the program’s “highest priorities.”
This class of recruits, coupled with last year’s class — which included offensive lineman Jake Kuppe and linebacker Ryan Iversen — have shown Mason has a knack for keeping home-grown talent here.
“We’ve effectively closed the borders,” Mason said at a press conference announcing the signings.
Minnesota men’s athletics director Mark Dienhart said the ability to ink in-state players “is big from a perception standpoint.
“When you get a player the caliber of Thomas Tapeh that Michigan wants and Wisconsin wants, it tells you something about the fact that he’s willing to buy into what we are doing here.”
Tapeh, a running back from St. Paul Johnson, heads the list. He’s joined by Cretin-Derham Hall linebacker Phil Archer, Stillwater offensive lineman Anthony Dabruzzi, Hastings wide receiver Ben Utecht, Greenway defensive end Adam Johnson and New Hope kicker/punter Dan Nystrom to form a group of in-state recruits that might go down as one the Gophers best in the 90s.
But Tapeh is the cream of the crop. He is ranked in the top 50 nationally according to most recruiting experts, and announced a week ago that he was choosing Minnesota over conference rivals Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa. Mason said the more he hears about Tapeh, the more impressed he is.
“I thought I knew everything about Thomas Tapeh until I read all the papers the past week,” Mason said. “I really think he’s going to be a good football player, and that’s an understatement.”
Mason said the team only recruited one running back, and admitted the pressure to land Tapeh was coming from every where, even grade-school relatives.
“It’s hard when your 6-year old girl says, ‘You better get Tapeh,'” Mason said.
The list of signees includes 11 defensive players, eight offensive players and one kicker. Mason said there were three quarterbacks because he thinks that’s “an obvious need on our team.”
Asad Abdul-Khaliq, a quarterback from Elizabeth, N.J., could be a key contributor if he is cleared to play. Khaliq originally signed with the Gophers a year ago, but failed to qualify academically.
He spent the year at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia where he broke Vinny Testeverde’s school record for best touchdown-interception ratio with 18 touchdowns and three picks.
Mason said Abdul-Khaliq received a lot of attention from other colleges while he was at Fork Union, but continually turned them down to stay with the Gophers.
“I like a kid that’s loyal,” Mason said. “He made a commitment to Minnesota and stuck with us.”
Besides the team’s need for a solid signal-caller, Mason said he would have liked to sign more offensive linemen. But signing Dabruzzi and Matt McIntosh (from Hartland, Wisc.) will shore up a young and inexperienced line that showed signs of improvement at the end of last season.
Mason said he thinks the new weight-room facility and remodeling of the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex are a big factor in landing recruits.
“Tremendous, I can’t underestimate it or understate it,” Mason said when asked about the facilities impact. “It’s called commitment. Kids and parents don’t want to hear about commitment, they want to see it.”
But more importantly, Mason said an appearance in a bowl game is a better recruiting tool than anything. He said the one-point loss to Indiana in November, which eliminated the Gophers from bowl contention, is in the back of his mind every day.
“When you’re dealing with perception, it will help,” Mason said about a bowl appearance. “It will show we are a winning program, and not a losing program.”