With just under two weeks until National Signing Day, Minnesota came into the day with the lowest number of verbal commitments in the Big Ten. While that low number is directly related to the staff's due diligience and care with a limited number of scholarships available for the 2014 class, that hasn't stopped fans from growing apprehensive about the finish of this recruiting cycle. Going a month in-between commitments and watching Gopher targets pledge elsewhere also had something to do with it.
Fear not! That streak is now over, as the Gophers landed another piece of the puzzle this evening.
Jonesboro (GA) Mundy's Mill HS running back Rodney Smith pledged to Minnesota this afternoon, becoming the 14th member of the Gophers' 2014 recruiting class and 2nd running back. Smith is a back that put himself on Minnesota's radar after a ridiculous senior season in which he ran for over 2,200 yards and 26 TDs, an impressive enough accomplishment made more remarkable given Rodney tore his ACL the prior year. Smith took an official visit to Dinkytown during the big recruiting weekend cumulanating with the Wisconsin game, and the staff's persistence on the trail eventually paid off.
Rodnet is rated as a 3 star prospect according to 247Sports' Industry Composite, choosing the Gophers over his other finalist ECU, Southern Miss, Middle Tennessee, South Alabama and others.
Gopher247's Kyle Goblirsch with an article after Smith's official visit on what he liked about Minnesota ($):
"How much they've (Coaching staff) put into turning the program around not only athletically but academically and the opportunities that will be available while in the city of Minnesota."
Commitment article from the Clayton New Daily's Derrick Mahone:
Smith led the Tigers to their best season in the program's history this past season. Mundy's Mill won eight straight games to reach the Class AAAAA quarterfinals before losing to Gainesville.
Smith showed no ill-effects fromoffseason knee surgery as he rushed for rushed for 2,201 yards and 26 touchdowns to earn all-region, all-state and was named the Clayton News Daily Offensive Player of the Year.
Smith's 2012 season ended with a knee injury against Ola in the ninth game of the season, but still managed 1,575 yards. In that Ola game, he had 197 yards in the first quarter before the knee injury.
(Likely Fraudulent) Measurables
Weight: 190-195 lbs.
Fake 40 Time: 4.54s
Senior year, via Hudl.
Smith's commitment is sort of funny to me, since fans will naturally see his pledge relating back to Jeff Jones and Doomsday scenarios in which the Washburn mega star either doesn't sign or qualify with the Gophers. Smith's pledge has nothing to with Jones; the Minnesota staff had always planned on signing two running backs in the 2014 class. The irony? Rodney and Jeff are remarkable similar backs, though there's no mistaking who the All-American is.
Smith is quicker than fast but hits the gap hard and runs strong with his more compact frame. He's a patient zone runner who will recognize the cutback and run behind his blockers, timing his burst at the right moment to reach the second level. His high school ran a zone based blocking scheme relying heavily on fullbacks, extra tight ends and pulling guards, where Smith displayed good recognition for when to bounce runs outside versus powering through the tackles. In the open field, he runs with good lean and can make defenders miss with quick, decisive cuts. Based upon his skills and experience in a similar scheme, Rodney is a good fit for what the Gophers like to do on offense.
Moving forward, adding two backs in the 2014 class with similar frames and running styles adds to the bench of capable runners for Coach Kill and provides the necessary depth of skillets. Both Jones and Smith have the capability of becoming workhorses, similar to David Cobb, while the roster also has skill versatility in the form of lightning quick Berkley Edwards and the bruising Roderick Williams. Since Cobb and Donnell Kirkwood will graduate this season, adding backs capable of getting feed the ball constantly was incredibly important this particular cycle. Mission accomplished. Plus, there's every chance Smith redshirts this season to balance out the classes.
Rodney's under-recruitment is a product of his ACL tear his junior year and programs waiting to see how his knee responded. This is yet another case of the Gopher staff kicking all the necessary tires and getting a longer look at a prospect into his senior year, a scenario that's occurring less frequently now with the push in college football to fill up classes earlier.
As an added bonus, Rodney Smith has a connection with the top receiver prospect on Minnesota's board: Melvin Holland Jr. Perhaps Smith making the switch from recruit to recruiter will be enough for the Virginia native to make the call.
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