Apple Valley High School’s four-time state champion wrestler Chad Erickson was surprised to see Gophers assistant coach Marty Morgan standing at his doorstep on the morning of last July 1.
The date marked the first official visiting day for Division I wrestling recruiters, and Morgan wasn’t about to waste any time.
“I knew that a lot of teams would be coming after him,” Morgan said. “It’s important to get in the house and show your interest early.”
Morgan’s persistence proved effective on Nov. 13, when Erickson signed a national letter of intent to attend Minnesota. Erickson knew wrestling for the Gophers would be an option, but he didn’t expect the attention that he received.
“I had been talking to them since eighth grade, and I knew that they’d come after me hard,” Erickson said. “But it was flattering to see how much they cared.”
In his first year as the Gophers’ top assistant coach, Morgan has played an instrumental role in signing seven high-ranked wrestlers — possibly creating one of the best Gophers’ recruiting classes ever assembled.
“You could make the argument that it’s as good as any No. 1 class that we’ve ever had here,” Gophers coach J Robinson said. “It’s definitely among the top in the country right now.”
Erickson will be joined by six nationally-ranked high school standouts. Matt Kraft (Lakefield), Mike Cuperus (Worthington), Julio Alaniz (Mankato) and Owen Elzen (Eyota) comprise the lineup of instate recruits. Joe Calivitta (Anaheim, Calif.) and Leroy Vega (Portage, Ind.) will add strength as the Gophers’ out-state recruits.
“As a group I think they’re the best,” Morgan said. “If they aren’t right now, the guys that are already here will make them that.”
With all 10 of the Gophers’ starters returning next season, a limited amount of scholarship money is available for this year’s recruits. That fact, however, didn’t hinder the new talent from choosing Minnesota.
“The U has one of the best coaching staffs in the country,” Erickson said. “I know that I’ll be part of a good team and have the best workout partners.”
Minnesota’s wrestling reputation is solid. A third-place finish at this year’s NCAA Tournament tied for the highest finish in Gophers wrestling history. Five starters claimed All-American status.
A good part of Minnesota’s recent success is because of Morgan’s aggressive recruiting style. Robinson has confidence in his assistant’s judgement and is impressed by his ability to relate to young recruits.
“I think kids like him because he’s down to earth and sincere,” Robinson said. “He has a raw honesty that kids can sense.”
Through countless hours of organizing, phone calls, home visits and film watching, Morgan has undertaken the primary role of recruiting for the Gophers.
“Marty is the catalyst of the whole process,” Robinson said. “He helps kids believe. He sells the dream that a kid can come here and become what he wants to be.”
Morgan’s approach is credible. As a three-time All-American (1989-91), two-time NCAA finalist and national champion for the Gophers, Morgan has lived the dream. A native of Bloomington, he is distinguished in the Minnesota wrestling community.
“He’s a product of the state. People remember him wrestling in high school and college,” Gophers assistant coach Joe Russell said. “Kids that wrestle grew up hearing his name.”
Since becoming an assistant coach at Minnesota in 1992, Morgan has helped to recruit several of the top in-state wrestlers. Chad Kraft (1994), Ty Friederichs (1995), Brad Pike (1996) and now Erickson (1997) comprise a lineup of consecutive Minnesota high school title winners.
Since finishing his high school wrestling career after winning a fourth consecutive state title, Erickson is pleased with his choice to join the Gophers.
“Right now, I think it’s the best decision that I could’ve made,” Erickson said.
This July 1, Morgan will most likely be standing on another promising wrestler’s doorstep, hoping persistence, honesty and sincerity will draw another Gophers hopeful.
Note: The Gophers were the only Division I wrestling team in the country to finish in the top 12 athletically and academically for the 1996-97 season.