It has been a busy several days for Gopher Football Recruiting. The staff has been getting verbal commitments to fill in the rest of the 2016 Empire Class and yesterday they announced seven who have signed as early enrollees. This group of seven is a mix of JUCO athletes who will be coming to the Gophers with two years to play and a few high school early graduates who will be getting a jumpstart on their careers with an extra semester to prepare for their first Fall of post-secondary football.
Lets meet the early enrollees and the first OFFICIAL Gophers of the 2016 Empire Class.
DT - Merrick Jackson (Scroll of the Sworn) - a pull from the JUCO ranks at a position of extreme need, Jackson picked the Gophers over Iowa State and Illinois (and others). A big, big boy and man do we need help at DT. You may recall the Wisconsin game when all our DTs were injured and walk-on Justin Carr being pressed into action. He will have two years to play and obviously Spring Practice to help get him ready for the Fall. I would be very surprised if Jackson is not a significant contributor and part of the defensive tackle rotation. Jackson was an NJCAA First Team All-American for his production this past season.
OL - Vincent Calhoun (TDG Commitment Story) - With so many offensive linemen leaving this year, and considering the position was not exactly a strength this past season, Calhoun is a huge get. Huge both in terms of his size (6'4", 330) and because the Gophers were able to hold off an offer from Mississippi State for this Mississippi kid. There will be a lot of competition for playing time along the OL and Calhoun should certainly be in that mix. Calhoun was a 2nd Team All-American.
OL - Garrison Wright (SotS is coming) - Yes...this is an area of extreme need and the Gophers have added two who may contribute immediately. Wright visited TCU recently and had a handful of offers from mid-major level schools. A big guard coming in at a position of huge need. Likely filling in at guard but considering Wright is 6-5 and 310 pounds he could be valuable at tackle as well. Both Wright and Calhoun are very important gets, seeing both (or even one) develop into a starter right away will eliminate some questions heading into 2016's schedule.
DB - Elijah Battle (SotS is coming) - This is a legit flip from a quality program as the Gophers convinced Battle to change his mind on West Virginia and take his talents to Minnesota. Battle was recently playing Dodge City CC in Kansas. He had previously committed to West Virginia and had also previously been offered and visited Arizona. This adds a speedy corner to the mix for next year after the Gophers will be losing a pair to the NFL. He also plays the position with a lot of physicality. The secondary is going to be hit hard by graduation next year and Battle is a great steal.
The Four Year Guys
DE - Taiyon Devers (SotS) - A Florida kid in high school who spent this past season in Georgia at a prep school The good news is that Devers is eligible to enroll now and will be here for Spring Ball. The bad news is that he is raw, really raw. Only been playing football for a couple years and is learning, expect this prospect to marinate for a couple years as he adds strength and learns the position. Depth along the DL is important and needed for 2016, but expect Devers to be more of a project.
LB - Thomas Barber (SotS) - A legacy recruit to add to the Empire Class. Thomas Barber adds to the list of Barbers who played football in maroon and gold. His father played and both of his brothers played for Minnesota. It only makes sense that he continues the tradition right? He committed early, never wavered and is excited to be a Golden Gopher. A tackling machine and will likely find a home as an inside linebacker on this Gopher defense down the road.
QB - Seth Green (SotS) - Green and his family were previously from Woodbury and he played for East Ridge, but they moved to Texas for his senior season due to his father's work. It was just over a year ago that Green gave his verbal commitment to play for Oregon in college but as Matt points out, both parties decided to look at other options. Landing Green is a huge boost to the Empire Class. He is big, athletic and has a strong arm. The past several years the program has really struggled to find the answer at this crucial position. Green is the kind of prospect who could really elevate the offense and be a legit two-way threat in the Big Ten. This is a huge get for the Gophers. Not a polished product and he'll need to be developed but he is talented and could be a very nice piece down the road. While splitting time down in Allen, Green still managed to throw for 1,481 yards, 19 passing touchdowns, 865 yards rushing and 10 rushing touchdowns.
Other Recent Verbal Commitments
Like I said, it has been a busy week or more for the Gopher staff. The seven above are locked and loaded for the 2016 class but there have been a few other verbal commitments as well to add to the mix. Can someone say Empire?
CB - Antoine Winfield Jr (SotS) - Yes, the son of the former Viking and now a future Golden Gopher. Winfield played for The Woodlands HS in Texas leading his team to a 10-2 record and earning his district's defensive player of the year honors. Much like his father, Winfield is an aggressive tackler and has a high football IQ. He just so happens to be incredibly fast as well. He is not terribly big, but his speed and IQ should make him a contributor sooner than later. I'm personally very excited by this commitment.
CB - Coney Durr (SotS) - last but certainly not least is another defensive back to add to the stable. Durr has been a primary target of the staff's since the spring and he finally verbally commited picking the Gophers over Kansas State. This is another huge get and along with Winfield Jr's commitment, you can count corner back as done for this recruiting class.
TE - Kody Kieft (SotS is coming) - A tight end prospect out of Iowa. Kieft had previously committed to NDSU and the Gophers convinced him to play in the Big Ten. There was not a lot of room in this class at TE and Kieft is likely the only one in this class. An athlete who has played QB and LB for his high school team but was primarily recruited at TE or DE at the next level. Kieft is a solid addition to the squad.