Three years from now, Gophers fans may look back on the incoming draft class of the 2012 mens’ football team as the beginning of the end of what has been a frustratingly consistent exodus of Minnesota’s most talented prep football stars.
Reports are circulating that Hopkins’ Andre McDonald has decided that he is going to bring his considerable pass-catching skills back to the University of Minnesota. Calling his commitment a roller coaster might be the understatement of the year. He originally committed to the Gophers in the summer of 2011, then, abruptly de-committed and committed to Vanderbilt. With all the indecision and drama, locals felt like extras in an episode of Jersey Shore (minus the tanning and hair gel). When the coach who recruited McDonald took a job elsewhere, McDonald de-committed from Vanderbilt and eventually elected to return to the Gophers.
When asked why he decided to return to the maroon and gold, McDonald insisted that it was the perseverance and persistence of the Gophers’ coaching staff that kept him from taking the I94 or I35 out of town this summer. McDonald’s recruitment is a great example of a shift that has slowly taken place with prep athletes in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. That shift, a renewed desire to play for and attend the University of Minnesota, can be attributed to Coach Jerry Kill, that leader of young men who is entering his second year as head coach.
For the past ten years, the prep football scene in Minnesota has been an untapped talent pool for charismatic coaches from around the country. The Jim Tressels and Pete Carrolls of the world supplemented great teams with the top talent from Minnesota. Perhaps the worst offenders were our cheddar loving neighbors to the East. The Badgers’ coaches were annually making their trip on I94 to pirate the spoils of Minnesota’s prep scene. Taking, not only some of Minnesota’s top recruits, but, also sniping the middle tier recruits that are the difference between a losing season and the Dippin Dots Chocolate Sundae Bowl. And, make no mistake, for the Gophers, that Chocolate Sundae Bowl would be a significant improvement on the efforts of Coach Kill’s predecessor, the “Recruiter” Brew.
A side-by-side comparison of The Recruiter’s “genius” with Coach Kill’s “aw-shucks” approach clearly exemplifies why closing the borders in-state is the foundation of any successful program. When The Recruiter was hired, he was cast as just that, a recruiting guru from the national champion University of Texas. This was the recruiter architect that helped build that team. And, he promised the masses that he would persuade top, prep talent to brave Minnesota’s winters to play for the Gophers. Unfortunately, while The Recruiter’s focus was in Florida and Texas, places where the University of Minnesota has less pull than Kris Humphries at a Feminists For Life meeting, the Badgers and other Big Ten schools were supplementing their rosters with the spoils that Minnesota had to offer.
When Coach Kill was hired, his first order of business, aside from moving Marquis Grey back to quarterback, was making a month-long trip around the State of Minnesota to meet with the local high school coaches that he no doubt hopes will feed his program for years to come. Time and again, those high school coaches left luncheons and other coordinated, elbow-bumping shin-digs with the impression that Coach Kill meant business. He was reshaping the way the Gophers were viewed in the Minnesota prep community.
His efforts took almost immediately and the results have been almost instantaneous. According to most talent evaluators, Coach Kill has managed to lock down six of the top eight prep recruits in Minnesota, including the top three prep athletes. If Coach Kill can continue to build on this success, it will not be long until the Gophers field a squad that can compete in the Big Ten’s Legends, or is it Leaders, Division. Who knows, after Coach Kill has restored order to the border in Minnesota, maybe he can make his way out of state and do his best Recruiter impression in Florida and Texas. This Gopher fan is just glad the homegrown talent is staying home.