If you thought Kill and his staff did a nice job of out-recruiting everyone for Nate Wozniak, stealing him from underneath Al Golden's nose, then the news from early this afternoon will put you on the floor.
On the precipice of National Signing Day for the 2013 class, the Gophers kicked off their 2014 recruiting crop with the #1 player on their board and arguably the best in-state running back in a decade: Minneapolis Washburn star Jeff Jones.
Jones, who camped at Minnesota as a freshmen and received an offer after his sophomore year (before most of the in-state juniors got one, no less), is a consensus four star prospect and a national level blue chip recruit. Specifically:
- 89th on the 247Sports' Top 247 list and the 7th rated RB overall.
- Rivals250 for 2014.
- ESPNU Watch List.
- The 8th rated RB overall on Scout.
Jones' stock exploded this past summer after hitting the camp circuit, picking up offers from Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Illinois, Iowa State and Syracuse.
Rivals.com Midwest Analyst Josh Helmholdt on Jones in Joe Christensen's entry:
"I think he’s a legitimate, high-BCS caliber running back. So he’s a guy who immediately jumps off the page at you."
Jones, in his own words, last spring from GopherHole's Chris Monter:
I have been going to the Minnesota spring practices. I haven’t heard anything (new) really. I just sent out my highlights to Oregon, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa State and Michigan State. I haven’t heard anything back, but I am really interested in Minnesota right now. I think that is where I am going to go, overall. They have shown the most interest. It is my hometown. I just want to help them get better.
Another interview with Monter, after his junior year:
The Gophers say I am their number one prospect right now for 2014. Just basically, Coach Kill has been trying to keep in touch with me through letters and talking to Coach Jenks (Washburn head coach Giovan Jenkins). Just keeping a nice eye on me.
Pretty much, but there are schools like Iowa and Minnesota that show more love than others. They are one and two right now because they have been talking to me the most and they have been showing me that they will be in my best interest the most.
YouTubes and/or other Highlights
Junior year highlights via Hudl.
(Likely Fraudulent) Measureables
Weight: 185-195 lbs.
Even if you're not a recruitnik or an individual who gets all worked up about recruiting, this is a pickup you can get excited about. Go ahead, I'm giving you permission.
Sure, 2013 prospects can't even sign with their respective colleges until this coming Wednesday, and opposing programs simply aren't going to give up on Jones with over a year to go to earn his signature. Still, Jerry Kill and his staff have been recruiting the Washburn star since he was a freshman and have arguably represented his top choice for some time now. Much like rival coaches know they have to work hard to pry Jones loose, Kill is equally aware just how diligent he and his staff must be to retain him.
All that said, Jones' pledge is gigantic for the Gophers, and represents a possible paradigm shift for the 2014 class.
The announcement of his decision coincided with his appearance, along with 40+ other top local prospects, at today's Minnesota Junior Day. By landing the top overall prospect in the state this early, the Gophers may use Jones as a pied piper for the other elite in-state juniors, similar to how Phillip Nelson set the tone for Kill's inaugural class at Minnesota by committing at this same event 2 years ago. Big time recruits want to play with other talented kids, so this commitment could get the ball rolling on a string of big time pick ups for the Minnesota staff, namely Frank Ragnow and Andrew Stelter.
Additionally, Minnesota has all too often failed to land the national level prospects who could become difference makers at the next level. While that isn't the only reason Minnesota has struggled recently, consistently losing talent from the state's borders has made the job more difficult. As the best and most celebrated in-state running back since Thomas Tapeh, Jones belongs in the conversation with James Onwualu, Seantrel Henderson, Bryce McNeal, Michael Floyd and Lydon Murtha -- all of whom were among the most recruited Minnesota offensive players of the last decade.
Working in Kill's favor, no doubt, was how Jones grew up watching Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney set NCAA records for rushing productivity. With his combination of speed, power, toughness, vision and scary open field elusiveness, perhaps Jones will become the next great Minnesota running back. In due time, however. In due time.