The 2016 class of Minnesota high school athletes is deep and talented. Maybe deeper and more talented than any we have seen in decades. Gopher Football has traditionally had a problem keeping in-state talent. The cream of the crop, who had options to go to any school in the country, would most often choose those other schools. Notre Dame, Ohio State, Miami, Oregon, Alabama and other blue-chip programs have routinely taken the best this state has had to offer over the past few decades. But that is changing with the 2016 Empire Class.
There is something going on over in Dinkytown and that trend is beginning to change. I would attribute this change in the local recruiting culture to three key people. Obviously Jerry Kill deserves credit first and foremost. Kill has this program headed in the right direction by laying a solid foundation that now has this team capable of playing with anybody. There is talent, depth and confidence on this roster along with players being developed and drafted. After Kill I credit goes to two local kids who had legitimate offers to play for some of college football's elite programs, yet they intentionally chose to stay put. Jeff Jones was the first in 2014 and Carter Coughlin followed suit in 2016.
Jeff Jones was an elite running back who had legit offers from top-line programs, saw his recruiting stock take off like a rocket and was then heavily pursued by the likes of Florida, Michigan and others following his Under Amour All-American MVP performance. But Jones stuck to his word, never wavered from a very early commitment.
"Minnesota and especially Coach Kill have been on me for a long time and I firmly believe that he'll get it turned around here. I wanted to be a part of something special and I think we can do that here in my home state of Minnesota."
That was 2014, the class of 2015 had a couple defensive studs who didn't get the memo that it's OK for Minnesota kids to stay and play for the Gophers. Then the 2016 class got a very early commitment from the state's best player who had his choice among Oregon, Ohio State and Minnesota. Gopher fans know that "among" really meant "between" and the two he was really deciding "between" were the programs in the conversation for national championships year after year. But this time was different and Carter Coughlin chose the Gophers. Then he took his verbal and took it further, Coughlin wants to help write a new chapter for Gopher recruiting. He is recruiting others to join him while building bonds with his not-yet-Gopher teammates, bringing them to his cabin and branding T-shirts with "Empire" on them.
The Future〽️ Cabin weekend with my brothers! The Empire can't be stopped pic.twitter.com/7or50RvE4H— Carter Coughlin † (@Cmoe34) June 14, 2015
Looking at the definitions of the word empire most refer to a conglomeration of nations under the rule of one in particular. I think this is the one that is most apt.
Empire - a powerful and important enterprise or holding of large scope that is controlled by a single person, family, or group of associates:
To be honest I don't think Empire best describes what is happening and what this class of 2016 is trying to represent but the name has been applied, it has stuck and any efforts to change it would be futile. We all know what they are trying to say, but I would argue that dynasty is more appropriate.
Dynasty - a family, team, etc., that is very powerful or successful for a long period of time
A line of succession, a lineage that is passed down from recruiting class to recruiting class that leads to dominance, success and control for generations. But empire works, the T-shirts were made and who am I to quibble.
This has turned the 2016 recruiting class into "The Empire Class!" Below are the top 14 kids in the state according to the 247 Composite. You will notice that the majority of committed prospects have chosen Minnesota. They are starting something, they want to build something...
The Top 2016 Minnesota Kids
|1||Carter Coughlin||Eden Prairie||4-stars||OLB||Minnesota|
|2||JoJo Garcia||East Ridge||3-stars||DT||Minnesota|
|3||Tyler Johnson||Mpls North||3-stars||ATH||uncommitted|
|4||Philip Howard||Robbinsdale Cooper||3-stars||WR||Minnesota|
|5||Sam Schlueter||Mayer Lutheran||3-stars||OT||Minnesota|
|6||JD Spielman||Eden Prairie||3-stars||ATH||uncommitted|
|9||Patrick Kasl||Forest Lake||3-stars||OT||Wisconsin|
|10||Thomas Barber||Robbinsdale Armstrong||3-stars||LB||Minnesota|
|12||Amani Hooker||Park Center||3-stars||DB||Iowa|
Overall 8 of the top 14 have committed to Minnesota with three yet to make a decision. Five of the top seven with the two others yet to make a decision. And the three who have chosen other Big Ten schools? Two of them did not have a scholarship offer from the Gophers, meaning only one on this list has turned Jerry Kill down to go elsewhere. Then on top of that group of Minnesota 8, the staff added a quarterback out of Michigan whom Kill referred to as special (I assume he meant in a good way), a 4-star OT out of Illinois, a much needed JUCO DE and then a pair of defensive backs out of Florida.
Carter Coughlin is already leading this class of future Gophers. Not just because he has the highest star rating or because he had an impressive showing at Nike's The Opening event, but he is showing leadership characteristics not often seen in a soon-to-be high school senior. This kid is looking to be something special and a future Gopher who has the makings of being a Gopher Great. Hats off to him for starting a trend and being the first to start the Empire.
So far the 13-man Empire Class is looking to be something unique for Gopher Football. The impact on the field of the Empire Class is at least a couple years away but the impact it will have on local recruiting should be immediate. Something unique today, but hopefully something that is building and will be much more common in subsequent classes.