Kill rebuilds defense with next recruiting class

Minnesota has substantial game experience on the defensive side of the ball.

Jack Satzinger

The Gophers could trot out an all-upperclassmen starting defensive unit next season if they wanted to.

Even after losing Ra’Shede Hageman and Brock Vereen to the 2014 NFL Draft, Minnesota has nearly a dozen players on its defense with considerable game experience. Bringing back a seasoned defensive group is great for the Gophers short term, but requires their coaching staff to work hard on the recruiting trail this summer to re-fill the cupboard.

“Basically, on the defensive side of the ball, we’ll recruit a whole defense [this year],” Gophers head coach Jerry Kill said in an interview on May 20.

Kill specifically noted the experienced upperclassmen in Minnesota’s secondary — Eric Murray, Cedric Thompson, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Antonio Johnson and Derrick Wells — as players Minnesota is recruiting replacements for.

Minnesota is going after a handful of defensive backs to fit the bill, including Nigel Warrior and Omari Stringer.

Warrior won’t graduate high school until 2016, but he could make an immediate impact on the team if he chooses Minnesota. The safety out of Atlanta already has offers from strong football schools like Ohio State, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Georgia.

If Warrior picks Minnesota over those programs, he could start from day one.

“I would love that,” he said. “I can really see myself at Minnesota … I like playing in cold weather.”

Warrior said he could also see himself playing for Ohio State, which was the first school to make him an offer.

“I love Ohio State,” he said. “I always watch Ohio State play.”

Warrior’s father, Dale Carter, played at Ellsworth Community College before transferring to Tennessee and eventually playing in the NFL.

Gophers wide receivers coach Brian Anderson played with Carter at Ellsworth, which Warrior said could be a strong selling point for him.

“I’m really close with Coach Anderson,” Warrior said.

Minnesota is also high on Stringer. He said Minnesota is going after him the hardest, followed by recruiters from Wyoming, Indiana and Wisconsin.

Indiana and Wisconsin haven’t offered Stringer a scholarship yet, but he said both schools are “really close.”

Stringer, an Illinois native, is very familiar with Indiana and Minnesota. He watched the Gophers top the Hoosiers 42-39 on the road last November and said he feels like he could fit in well at Minnesota.

Even though Stringer is listed as a safety, he said he played all 11 defensive positions last season. At 6-foot, four-inches, he could move to linebacker for the Gophers and have more opportunities for playing time.

“I think I could fit in very well and could play multiple positions. That’s why I really like Minnesota,” Stringer said.

It also doesn’t hurt that Gophers defensive line coach Jeff Phelps went to Stringer’s high school, Crete-Monee High School.

When Stringer watched the Gophers play last season, he said his attention centered on Hageman.

“He was just so dynamic,” he said.  “I watched him a lot and he was a terror just busting through offensive lines.”

Jashon Cornell of Cretin-Derham Hall High School  also said he was impressed by Hageman’s performance last season. Cornell, a five-star recruit ranked 16th in the class of 2015 by ESPN, called Hageman “an animal.”

“There’s nothing like him. Minnesota turned him into the player that he is,” Cornell said.

The defensive lineman confirmed reports that Michigan State is his favorite school so far, but said Minnesota will probably be one of his three finalists.

Landing Cornell is a long shot for Minnesota, but the Gophers are going all in this summer to attract defensive recruits to take over when the current upperclassmen are gone.

“We recruit length and speed. We’re not going to get all the five-star people,” Kill said to a crowd in Willmar, Minn. at the Gophers’ annual Chalk Talk trip on May 20. “We concentrate on length and speed and building them in the weight room.”