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Minnesota Football: Past recruiting crushes for Gopher football

We all have our favorites in each recruiting class.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes unexpected parts of your life converge in unique ways. This happened to me this week when it was announced that former Gopher, Melvin Holland Jr, is going to be on a reality dating show.

Strangely, this brought my love for Gopher football, my unhealthy interest in college football recruiting and my (not-so-) secret passion for The Bachelor. Melvin Holland came to the Gophers under the Jerry Kill staff as a part of the 2014 recruiting class. A Virginia native who never really was able to become a contributor.

But when he was signed, he was very much one of my personal favorites of that 2014 class, a recruit crush, if you will.

Now, Holland is going to be on the CBS reality show, Love Island USA. A reality dating show that begins on July 7th. Not exactly The Bachelor, but intriguing nonetheless.

But as these things all collide for me, it has me thinking back to more of my recruit crushes and curious how these personal favorites played out.

To define a “recruit crush,” I am going to identify a player in each class that I was particularly excited about. Usually these are guys not atop the class in terms of stars and rating, but rather lower ranked guys who I thought were destined to be elite. Lets look back.

2013 - Berkley Edwards

OK, OK, I did just say that a recruiting crush is supposed to be lower ranked. But Edwards was the highest rated recruit of this class...and I was VERY EXCITED. I’d like to say that Jalen Myrick was the guy I secretly loved in this class, but it was Edwards.

What happened: The highlight of his career may have been a spring game when he got loose down the sideline for about an 80 yard touchdown run. Edwards saw some action during his freshman and sophomore seasons but playing time never stuck and he transferred to Central Michigan in 2016.

Hindsight: The right answer in this class would have been Damien Wilson or Jalen Myrick. Neither had a P5 offer, both ended up in the NFL.

2014 - Melvin Holland Jr

I was a huge fan of Holland. The kid played very little at WR as a junior in high school and then had a monster senior season setting school records and leading his team deep into the Virginia playoffs.

What happened: Rarely saw the field despite having great size and speed, it just never translated to earning playing time. Perhaps it was the notoriously bad receiver coaching under the Kill regime and maybe staying his senior year to learn under Matt Simon would have been a refreshing change. But he didn’t stay for 2018, finishing his Gopher career with 2 catches over 3 seasons before playing a final season at Tennessee Tech.

Hindsight: I should have gone with Rodney Smith. The back who had ACL surgery after his junior year, had no P5 offers and looked to be a depth back after nabbing Jeff Jones in this class.

2014 - Craig James

I had two in this class and James was my crush on the defensive side of the ball. Not quite having that “tall status” as a corner but was very fast. James, under the tutelage of the Claeys defensive staff was sure to be our next great corner.

What happened: Played in 13 games as a true freshman, played half of the games as a sophomore before missing the rest due to injury. Transferred to Southern Illinois for his final 2 seasons where he was great. Undrafted free agent signing with the Vikings in 2018 and is currently still on the Eagles roster.

Hindsight: I wasn’t wrong, just with the wrong team and I don’t recall the circumstances around his decision to transfer.

2015 - Rashod Still

Oh man did I love Still. The Texas kid was 6’5”, long arms and was FAST.

What happened: Over three seasons he did have 38 catches and over 600 yards, but struggled with consistency and taking a step towards being more dangerous. Still transferred after the 2017 coaching change. Went do a D2 school, didn’t play and spent a year in the Arena Football League.

Hindsight: This one was close, but still a miss. I really like Demry Croft and Hunter Register in this class as well. Not quite at the “crush” level, but they were fun recruits.

2016 - Antoine Winfield Jr

OK, I nailed this one. I love kids with NFL pedigree. And even out of high school, the younger Winfield was getting the same kind of comparisons to his father. Undersized, great tackler, smart football player, etc. But the offers from P5 schools never came.

What happened: He played for a few years, led a very good defense during the 2019 elite season, was drafted in the 2nd round and now has a Super Bowl ring.

Hindsight: This was a loaded class. It was ranked highly and it turned out that many of the names in this class turned out to be very good. But Winfield was a coup.

2017 - Nobody

The weird combo recruiting class year. Which of the Claeys recruits would stick and who would Fleck bring into the class with approximately 2 months to get commitments. There were players I liked in this class, but nobody that I was recruit crushing.

What happened: Turned out it was a pretty good class, mostly the late additions from Fleck.

Hindsight: Tanner Morgan, Mohamed Ibrahim, Justice Harris, Boye Mafe and Blaise Andries have all been quite good. Andries was the top of the class, but other than that I wan’t really enamored with any of the names I just typed.

2018 - Terell Smith

If you want to find a pattern in my crushes it is tall and fast recruits who play corner or wide receiver. Smith is a Georgia kid who went to state in the 100 and 200 while also coming here to play corner at 6’2”. He had quite a few P5 offers, but chose the Gophers.

What happened: Had a great true freshman season, starting 9 games in 2018. But Smith has struggled since then. Played in 9 games during the 2019 season and just 5 games last year. He did have a nice Spring game, so the hope that he rebounds to have a great 2021 season and then stick around for his bonus Covid-year in 2022.

Hindsight: The top of this class were home runs in Daniel Faalele, Curtis Dunlap and Rashod Bateman. The rest are still making their mark, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Smith is one of those names, but he could still be a standout from this recruiting class.

2019 - James Gordon IV

This guy came into the program with great size and just looked mean. Like he would finish his career decapitating 3 or 4 opposing running backs. And maybe one of our own in practice. He fits the prerequisite of really only having MAC school offers and App State.

What happened: Year 1 he was obviously playing behind a few NFL caliber linebackers. Year 2 was a the Covid season but with playing time wide open, Gordon didn’t really grab hold of the opportunity. I did think it was very telling that the four games he was allowed to play in 2019 were key games like Penn State and Iowa. Thinking that was indication of just how highly the staff thought of Gordon. He played in all 7 games of 2020 and has a chance in a now crowded linebacker group to play a lot in 2021.

Hindsight: There’s still a chance that Gordon becomes a regular contributor and possibly a starter. I’d look way smarter if DeAngelo Carter had been by 2019 crush.

2020 - Ky Thomas

Yes, another running back near the top of the class. But I really like the prospects of Thomas. A year ago I was rather “meh” on Ibrahim and thought Thomas had a chance to be special. A guy who would seize the available carries and *cough* run with it.

What happened: Did not play as a true freshman and will be a redshirt freshman this coming fall. Every opportunity to still have a great Gopher career.

Hindsight: At this point, I should have gone with Cody Lindenberg. Started game one of the 2020 season as a true freshman at linebacker. He hit a steep learning curve, but a rare true freshman starter from a very lightly recruited kid is certainly what recruit crush dreams are made of.

2021 - Justin Walley

Steven Ortiz is the highest rated corner we’ve ever secured and Avante Dickerson was supposed to be even better before he backed out of his verbal. Those two were the talk of the secondary recruits in this class. But I love Walley. Certainly had some P5 offers but never really got the love from his in-state Mississippi schools. He’s going to be a stud (I think).

What happened: Looked good in the spring and is expected to play a lot as a true freshman.

Hindsight: too early for hindsight. Cameron James is a very close 2nd in this class.

2022 - Rhyland Kelly

If you’ve actually been reading all of this, you know why he’s already my 2022 crush.

What happened: He’s about to play his senior season up in Canada and will see his recruiting stock blow up. And he’ll remain a Gopher before becoming a draft pick after his junior season.

Hindsight: I’m also a big fan of Tariq Watson.

The Way Back Machine

2011 - Devin Crawford-Tufts - fits the tall/fast/WR mold and also just never figured it out at this level.

2011 Jephete Metilus - another mean, hard-hitting linebacker.

2010 - James Manuel - a really strong safety who seemed to have a Big Ten ready body from day 1.

2010 - Zac Epping - it was probably the red hair, but I wasn’t wrong on this one.

2009 - Ben Perry - lightly recruited defensive end from a Texas powerhouse. I thought maybe Brewster stole one here. He didn’t.

2008 - Troy Stoudermire - ah yes, the highly acclaimed Tim Brewster class with Marqueise Gray and the Skyline 4. Keanon Cooper was the highest rated of the crew, but I was always high on Stoudermire. Nailed this one too as he ended up in the NFL.

It’s OK to have some recruiting crushes. Just don’t tweet at them, OK?