Coach Kill strives to lock down Minnesota borders

Kill signed 12 players from Minnesota schools during his first full offseason with the team.

Andrew Krammer

 

In Gophers football coach Jerry KillâÄôs first full offseason, he managed to recruit seven of the stateâÄôs top nine prospects âÄî a task former Minnesota coaches had trouble accomplishing.

The 2012 Gophers recruiting class, which Kill announced Wednesday on national signing day, boasts 31 players, 25 of which will be true freshmen and six of which are junior college transfers.

âÄúWhere we were at scholarship-wise, we needed to recruit a team,âÄù coach Kill said. âÄúWe recruited on need, but we needed a lot of secondary help, playmakers on offense, and weâÄôre never going to turn down a great athlete. WeâÄôll find a place to play them.âÄù

Kill brought in 12 players from Minnesota schools who have signed either National Letters of Intent or Acceptance of Admission forms.

âÄúWe need to do what we can to keep in-state kids,âÄù athletics director Joel Maturi said. âÄúWhen you grow up in this state and grow up a Gopher, there is far more loyalty, commitment and a built-in love for the Gophers.âÄù

The 2012 class is highlighted by three ESPN 4-star recruits, including lineman Isaac Hayes (Mendota Heights, Minn.), receiver Jamel Harbison (Charlotte, N.C.) and the stateâÄôs top receiving prospect, Andre McDonald (Minnetonka, Minn.).

Eight of the recruits have already enrolled in spring semester classes at the University of Minnesota after graduating from their high schools early and forgoing their final semesters.

âÄúThe great thing about having them here is right now weâÄôre getting them adjusted academically and getting them going in the weight room,âÄù Kill said.

Of the GophersâÄô 31 recruits, eight are defensive backs, six are defensive lineman, three are receivers and two are quarterbacks âÄî including decorated high school quarterback Philip Nelson (Mankato, Minn.).

âÄúCompetition is always good,âÄù Kill said when asked about bringing in two quarterbacks. âÄúIf you donâÄôt have a quarterback, you donâÄôt win. And weâÄôre now getting two of the better quarterbacks in the Midwest.âÄù

Offensive lineman Jonah Pirsig (Blue Earth, Minn.), along with Hayes, will front a group of three incoming offensive lineman âÄî all from Minnesota high schools.

Pirsig was highly recruited by programs like Auburn, Ohio State and Michigan, but chose the in-state Gophers.

âÄúCoach Kill has really won the hearts of Minnesotans,âÄù Maturi said. âÄúHeâÄôs been open and honest with the public when he talks about his team, and I think people really like that.âÄù

Overall, there are 16 signees on the defensive side and 11 on offense, with four signed as âÄúathletes,âÄù whose positions havenâÄôt been determined.

While the Gophers football program certainly has holes to fill coming off back-to-back 3-9 seasons, Kill noticed a quick-fix ability in his incoming athletes.

âÄúSpeed solves a lot of problems,âÄù he said multiple times during WednesdayâÄôs press conference.

Six of KillâÄôs recruits have listed 40-yard dash times of 4.5 seconds or less, according to recruiting site Rivals.com.

âÄúGuys like [Jamel] Harbison, Andre [McDonald], K.J. Maye and Isaac Fruechte âÄî those are four guys that can get it and go,âÄù Kill said.

Kill made the trip out to every recruitâÄôs home, making sure his coaching staff saw the student-athletes in action before signing them.

 âÄúWeâÄôve had a live evaluation of every one of these players,âÄù he said. âÄúWhether it was on campus here, during spring ball or even going to their [high school] basketball games.âÄù

However, Kill had to receive clearance from the NCAA for his wife to chaperone him during his 2011-12 recruiting trips due to the seizure disorder that has prevented him from driving.

 âÄúIf I had a seizure, she knows what to do,âÄù Kill said of his wife. âÄúSheâÄôd take care of it, and IâÄôd go right back into recruiting. ThatâÄôs how that works.âÄù

Kill suffered a series of severe seizures during his first season with the Gophers and ended up hospitalized for five days after an episode during the teamâÄôs Sept. 10 home-opening loss to New Mexico State.

âÄúIâÄôm a pretty independent person, so itâÄôs very difficult for me,âÄù he said. âÄúI need to be seizure-free here pretty quick so I can relax a little bit.âÄù

KillâÄôs recruiting class hails from 13 states âÄî 12 student-athletes from Minnesota; four from Texas; three from Florida, two each from Wisconsin and Ohio; and one each from California, Delaware, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Missouri, Illinois and Alabama.