Minnesota Football Recruiting Update - 1/25/13

Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Spo

More frenzied action as the clock counts down to National Signing Day. Plus, a 2014 in-state primer.

Another small official visit weekend. Spots really are becoming scarce in Kill's 2013 recruiting class.

Official Visitors (list courtesy of Gopher Illustrated)

Rankings according to 247Sports industry composite, where available.

Name Pos. Hometown Height Weight Ranking Notes
Nate Wozniak TE Greenwood (IN) Center Grove 6'10" 255 3 star Miami(FL), Purdue and MN finalists
Raphael Webb RB Gainesville (FL) Gainesville HS 5'9" 185 3 star Boston College, FAU and MN finalists

Thoughts

- First off, the official visitor ledger was halved from the previous update; Ole Miss linebacker commit Rashawn Smith canceled his trip and appears 100% committed to the Rebels, while Bartow (FL) cornerback prospect Vontarius West abruptly ended his recruitment and pledged to FIU earlier this week. Smith was a long shot for Minnesota to begin with, so there's nothing lost with the change of plans. West, however, was speculated by some as an insurance policy against Nate Andrews flipping to Florida State; the lack of imminent replacement for a potential decommit at corner is somewhat unsettling.

Back to recruits actually visiting. Wozniak -no, not that Wozniak- is an intriguing prospect. Yes, you read that height correctly: Nate is a 6'8"+, 255 lbs. high school tight end, which should naturally give everyone visions of a nimble left tackle three years down the road. Whether the Gopher, Hurricane or Boiler coaches have the same idea is unknown at this point, though Lou Holtz was always of the belief that a program should pursue players with position flexibility in case he doesn't work out at the first option. [Lou Holtz also had a different moral compass when it came to the topic of cheating.] In Wozniak's case, he may start out as a blocking tight end but eventually outgrow the position and move to tackle. Considering how lean he appears in his junior year video...

... I wouldn't act surprised if he were 280/290 lbs. by the end of a redshirt year.

Now, regarding the chances. If Minnesota's competitors (and the Gophers themselves) were recruiting Wozniak exclusively at tight end, I'd assert Kill and his staff are in good position: Purdue just landed a tight end verbal, while Miami already has 2 TEs pledged for the 2013 class -- including a JUCO. As a potential offensive linemen? The Boilers do not currently hold an offensive line commit, while the Hurricanes have 3 and the Gophers not only have Alex Mayes, but have effectively shut down their recruitment of all other scholarship offensive linemen.

- Minnesota's interest in Webb may seem counterintuitive on the surface given the crown jewel of the 2013 class, Berkley Edwards, is the same type of running back. Same height, weight, speed and running style -- ok, Edwards is faster. But the point remains the same: why pursue a back that fits the mold of your class' lynchpin?

Occam's Razor: the staff wants more speed and playmakers on offense. While Donnell Kirkwood and Rodrick Williams, Jr. are productive backs in their own right, they lack the extra gear to turn a 15 yard scamper out of the Maryland-I into a home run. While Edwards has that kind of wheels, it doesn't hurt to stockpile more athleticism on offense for other potential uses.

Just like most active recruiting battles, analyzing the Gopher's probability of landing Webb is complex. His fortunes, as far as Boston College is concerned, are tied to that of Silas Spearman*, a teammate of current Minnesota commit Rayfield Dixon. If Spearman lands an Eagle offer -as expected pending BC admissions- he's likely headed to Beantown to play football, crowding out a spot by the Hawwwwbuh for Webb. Oddly enough, FAU may present the biggest competition for Coach Kill, as the Owls do not have a running back committed for this class and have the recent NFL success of Alfred Morris to sell.

* The Gophers initiated contact with Spearman late in the recruiting cycle and have since backed off.

Numbers Game

With the recent news regarding Matt Garin and Eric Jacques' early graduation plus Brendan Beal's medical leave, the staff now has -by my count- 18 official scholarships to give for the 2013 class. If Beal were to simply not return from his stay and take the medical disqualification waiver, the total bumps to 19. Currently sitting at 15 commitments, simple arithmetic produces a maximum of 3-4 more spots available in the current cycle.

In terms of how the staff finishes in the next two weeks, they could end up with a maximum of five additions... or possibly 0-1.

While the latter may sound bad from a momentum standpoint, consider this. Holding back on spots gives the staff flexibility to add prospects after National Signing Day if a recruit or two falls through the cracks, similar to how they ended up with Cedric Thompson and David Cobb. It also provides the opportunity to reward walk-ons with full rides (i.e. the Barker's Mom's Best Friend Memorial Scholarship) for starters or outstanding contributors, with several prospects haven proven themselves in 2012 (Derrick Engel, Zach Mottla, Jon Christenson and Caleb Bak) and have placed themselves in contention for a scholarship.

Keep that in mind if the Gophers strike out on some of the more highly sought prospects remaining on their board and they don't scramble to replace them.

The Targets

  • Wozniak
  • Webb
  • Tedric Thompson, S/ATH - Valencia (CA): Brother of Cedric Thompson.
  • Drew Wolitarsky, WR - Canyon Country (CA)
  • Brandon Arnold, S - Encino (CA) Crespi HS: Current Oregon State commit, took an official visit to Minnesota last weekend.
  • Duke Riley, LB - River Ridge (LA) John Curtis: Finalizing college choice next week between Minnesota, TCU, Ole Miss, Tulane and an LSU greyshirt offer.
  • Reggie Spearman, LB - Chicago (IL) Simeon
Of this group, I see Thompson and Wolitarsky holding the highest probability of becoming Gophers.

Junior Day

Jumping ahead to the next crop of reinforcements, the Gophers Junior Day will be held next Saturday, February 2nd. If there's an in-state prospect on anyone's -D1, 2 or 3- radar, they'll be on campus. This is a good thing, since 2014 is looking like a deep pool of local recruits similar to the 2012 class.

The names you need to know, and yes, they'll be there:

- Jeff Jones, RB - Washburn: Offers from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan State, Iowa State and Syracuse.

- Frank Ragnow, OT - Chanhassen: Offer from Minnesota.

- Andrew Stelter, DL - Owatonna: Offer from Minnesota.

- Preston Woods, OL/DL - South St. Paul

- JC Hassenauer, OL - East Ridge

- Ejodamen Ejiya, RB/LB - Spring Lake Park

- Tim Gordon, CB - Cretin-Derham Hall

- Christian Triplett, DL - Delano

- Zach Hovey, TE - Eden Prairie

- George Behr, TE - East Ridge

- Josh Parks, RB - Chisago Lakes

- Blake Banham, RB - Cretin-Derham Hall

- Chris Williams, RB - DeLaSalle

- Raymonte Maynard, RB - Washburn

DeLaSalle's Reid Travis may also be in attendance, though we already know his recruitment is dependent upon whether he wants to play basketball exclusively (he's a top 50 prospect nationally for the 2014 class) or if he goes the dual sport route.

You'll notice three local prospects hold Gopher offers already, which using your inductive reasoning skills would lead you to the conclusion these guys are big time prospects. Your thinking is on point.

Jeff Jones is the prize. Not only is the Washburn star the latest offensive blue chip prospect in a lineage of James Onwualu, Seantrel Henderson and Michael Floyd, he may be the most celebrated Minnesota running back prospect in over a decade**. The Gophers and Hawkeyes appear at the moment to be duking it out for Jones' signature, though there's a long way to go before his recruitment is concluded; JJ has indicated he'll make his final decision at the Army All American Bowl, pending an invite.

Ragnow, in my opinion, is every bit the prospect Jonah Pirsig was when the current Gopher was manning the trenches at Blue Earth Area HS. Frank should see his recruitment start to blow up soon, as he's receiving interest from a number of other Big Ten programs. The same holds true for Stelter, who has unofficially visited Minnesota and Nebraska with the rest of the conference in pursuit.

The 2014 in-state pool is an especially good year for linemen and running backs, the former of which is always in demand while the latter is a particularly big need for the Gophers. I wouldn't be shocked to see a wave of offers to go out on or around Junior Day, with Hassenhauer and Woods perhaps next in line.

Beyond the big 3, the most interesting prospects to me are Ejiya and Maynard. Ejodamen is in the mold of a Lamonte Edwards: the type of athlete that could play either running back or linebacker, depending upon his physical development. Maynard actually led Washburn in rushing last season -not Jeff Jones- and is listed on some recruiting sites as a fullback. However, I can't help but see a little Donnell Kirkwood in Maynard, who we know is more than capable of playing within Limegrover's rushing offense.

I don't know if the 2014 class will rate out higher than 2012 (there isn't a QB of Philip Nelson's caliber and the class is too concentrated with running backs) but the top level prospects are certainly deserving of the recruiting attention. As numbers go, the Gophers currently have 15 juniors on scholarship (14 if Beal doesn't come back), which should put the final signing day '14 figure closer to 19-22.

** While Marion Barber III is obviously the best Minnesota born running back of the last two decades, the honor for most celebrated back belongs to Thomas Tapeh -- a high school Parade All-American.

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