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Minnesota Football Recruiting: Holding on to the Verbal Commitments

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PJ Fleck’s unique ability to hold on to recruits when other schools come calling

Minnesota v Michigan Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images

Minnesota Football has had a history of finding high school football players who were lightly recruited but end up becoming very talented players and excellent Gophers. Guys like Eric Decker, Thomas Barber, Greg Esslinger, Eric Murray, Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Steven Richardson are all excellent examples. That is certainly not an exhaustive or complete list.

There is also a history of some of these lesser known players who end up having very good senior seasons after committing to Minnesota, only to take a last minute offer from a more prestigious school and flip their commitment.

Nate Andrews is a prime example of this. In 2013 he was a firm Gopher commit after accepting a scholarship offer early in the recruiting cycle. He was publicly firm to Minnesota even as he had a break-out senior season. Then the big offers started rolling in. Bama offered in December, Florida State offered in December and late in January, right before National Signing Day, he flipped to the Seminoles. Andrews went on to be 2nd Team Freshman All-American and had a promising career before injuries slowed him in his last couple seasons.

There are others who were late flips in recent years. Andrews is the biggest name, but it is always a theme heading into the final days before National Signing Day.

But this year has been rather interesting. PJ Fleck and staff have assembled the deepest and most talented class Gopher football has brought in since the dawn of internet recruiting sites. But as the Early Signing Day nears, more and more are getting the hard sell from other programs. Programs who had prioritized other recruits, but now want to fill up their class with the ones they had been slow-playing or waiting to see how their senior seasons went.

But the fun part here is to watch what appears to be total commitment to Coach Fleck.

WR Rashad Bateman is a Georgia kid. In his senior season he led the state of Georgia in receiving, was bumped up to a 4th star and has since been pursued by the likes of Georiga (offered in December), Tennessee, South Carolina and Texas A&M. Even when the in-state premier school came calling, Bateman remained firmly committed to the Gophers. There is still a day till he signs and it isn’t truly over till we have his signature, but he appears to be firmly in the boat.

OT Jack York hails from a small school in Texas. Lightly recruited but he accepted a Gopher offer back in July. He has since received offers from Arkansas, Missouri, Texas Tech, Oregon, Duke and Chip Kelly offered soon after taking the UCLA job. But this southern kid remained true to the northern Gophers despite the additional attention after his excellent senior season.

OT Grant Norton is a Missouri kid who got a call from Scott Frost within a day or two of accepting the Nebraska job. Norton politely declined to visit or take an offer.

LB - Braelen Oliver had a fantastic senior season and late pushes from Duke, Georgia Tech and Iowa were declined by Oliver. He’s staying in the boat.

QB - Zach Annexstad is a preferred walk-on who is getting actual full-ride scholarships and significant interest from other P5 programs. Yet he remains committed to pay his own way to Minnesota. Let that one sink in. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are not exactly like turning down Alabama and Ohio State, but find me an example of a kid who turns down a scholarship from a P5 school to walk on at a school that isn’t a helmet school. Not only is he committed to coming to Minnesota despite other offers, he has been instrumental in helping land two of his IMG high school teammates.

There are plenty more who have received scholarship offers following their Minnesota commitment, that is not unusual. The names above had all had significant interest in the recent weeks, all have shown that they are 100% committed to Minnesota.

The level of commitment from this class is impressive. These kids want to come here, they want to make a difference and they are loyal. Now, many have lamented how PJ Fleck markets himself as much or more than he does the Gopher program. He is the face of Gopher football. There are positives and negatives to that. But one thing is certain, these kids are committed to the message PJ Fleck is giving them. They will wear maroon and gold because of the man they want to come play for. They are remaining committed, thwarting the likes of Georgia, Iowa, Chip Kelly, Nebraska and others because they loyal to PJ Fleck.

This class is unique based on it’s depth and talent alone, but it is special because of it’s overall commitment to PJ Fleck and what is being built here.