Kill inks 22 to first recruiting class

In a short recruiting window, first-year head coach Jerry Kill was able to keep the players that committed while Tim Brewster was still coach and sign many of the state’s top prospects.

Football head coach Jerry Kill speaks to members of the media about new player signings at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex on Wednesday.

Simon Guerra

Football head coach Jerry Kill speaks to members of the media about new player signings at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex on Wednesday.

Andrew Baker

On paper, the GophersâÄô 2011 football recruiting class may not inspire any knee-jerk Rose Bowl predictions, but at his signing day press conference Wednesday, Gophers head coach Jerry Kill expressed optimism about the recruits from whom he and his staff were able to secure commitments.

Despite getting a late start on the trail due to the UniversityâÄôs ongoing search to find a replacement for ousted coach Tim Brewster, Kill managed to hold on to most of the top prospects who had already made verbal commitments to Brewster, as well as ink a few of his own.

Kill stressed the importance of patience and going about recruiting in a thorough, ethical manner when trying to rebuild a program, which is his essential task at Minnesota.

âÄúYouâÄôve got to be careful on what you do,âÄù Kill said, relating a situation in which, he said, he could have convinced a player to sign with the Gophers, but did not because to do so would have meant potentially burning a bridge with the playerâÄôs high school coach.

Kill said MinnesotaâÄôs recent lack of success and the mid-season coaching change have presented challenges, but not in terms of securing commitments from players who had already expressed interest in the program.

âÄúI think certainly if youâÄôve come off, and youâÄôve won the Rose Bowl or something like that, itâÄôs easy,âÄù he said. âÄúBut some kids want to jump in on the challenge of rebuilding and coming in with a new coaching staff. I didnâÄôt really feel that hurt us at all.âÄù

Wednesday was the first day that high school seniors could sign letters of intent to college programs, and by early afternoon Kill had received 22 of them: high school and junior college prospects, including quarterback Max Shortell of Bishop Miege (Kan.) High School, Holy Family linebacker âÄî and MinnesotaâÄôs 2010 Mr. Football âÄî Peter Westerhaus, Mahtomedi offensive lineman Tommy Olson, Edina wide receiver Devin Crawford-Tufts, Rosemount offensive lineman Joe Bjorklund and Moorpark (Calif.) High School linebacker Quinn Bauducco.

All six are rated as three-star (out of five) prospects by the recruiting site Rivals.com. The GophersâÄô 2011 class features no players listed on the siteâÄôs top 100 list.

Minnesota, Northwestern and Purdue are the only Big Ten teams without a four or five-star Rivals recruit in their 2011 class.

Zach Johnson, who runs Gophersillustrated.com, RivalsâÄô Minnesota branch, called KillâÄôs first recruiting class âÄú[relatively] solid,âÄù but said he was surprised it did not include any running backs or defensive tackles.

The absence of the latter in the 2011 class was made especially glaring by the recent departure of MinnesotaâÄôs sacks leader, defensive tackle Jewhan Edwards.

Kill addressed this point, saying itâÄôs not as simple to load up at every position as he would like, due to a finite number of available scholarships and scholarship money.

âÄúYou can only have so many committed at each position,âÄù Kill said. âÄúI think thatâÄôs tough for everybody to understand.âÄù

Johnson said it will be hard to evaluate KillâÄôs prowess as a recruiter until he is one or two seasons into his tenure at Minnesota, but he is off to a good start.

âÄúI think the big thing was they were able to keep a lot of the kids that the previous staff had committed, and they didnâÄôt have to start from scratch,âÄù Johnson said.

Johnson said KillâÄôs toughest loss, in terms of players who had expressed interest in the Gophers but signed with other schools, was Matt LaCosse, a three-star recruit who backed out of a verbal commitment to Minnesota to sign with Illinois.

Minnesota Athletics Director Joel Maturi said Kill is a scrupulous coach and not the type to sacrifice integrity for a quick fix.

Citing the situation with the unnamed recruit, Kill could have signed, Maturi said. âÄúItâÄôs a situation where heâÄôs a class guy, heâÄôs an ethical guy and heâÄôs here for the long haul. He may have won somebody over but âĦ in the long run he didnâÄôt think it was the way to do it and thatâÄôs why I like him.âÄù

– Josh Katzenstein contributed reporting