Head coach P.J. Fleck and his coaching staff have wrapped up National Signing Day, with 33 recruits — including five transfers and seven preferred walk-ons — signing on the dotted line to play for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Now that these high school players have officially become soon-to-be Gophers, we take a look at the most exciting or intriguing new additions.
Offensive MVP: Darius Taylor
It is ironic — and perhaps anti-climactic — that Darius Taylor’s letter of intent was the first to be delivered this morning via the fax machine in the football office at Minnesota, because none of the Gophers’ signees had seen the status of their commitment under more scrutiny.
Once Michigan extended a scholarship offer in November, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Taylor would spurn Minnesota in favor of playing for the in-state Wolverines. But he held firm in his commitment, even when programs like Iowa, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame made a last-ditch effort to flip his commitment in the week leading up to Signing Day after running backs coach Kenni Burns left Minnesota to become head coach at Kent State.
“He picked us for all the right reasons. He picked it for the relationships. He picked it for the opportunity,” head coach P.J. Fleck said in his Signing Day press conference, after sharing that Taylor had been inundated with NIL offers from other programs.
With Mohamed Ibrahim closing the book on one of the most storied careers in program history and no obvious heir apparent waiting in the wings, Taylor has the opportunity to make an immediate impact at running back next season. He rushed for 2,450 yards and 36 touchdowns this season as high school senior and has the potential to be a dynamic playmaker for the Gophers.
Defensive MVP: Karter Menz
The top-ranked high school senior in the state of North Dakota, Karter Menz has spent the last two seasons living in opposing backfields, racking up 37.5 tackles for loss and 22.5 sacks over that stretch. The West Fargo rush end has a unique blend of speed and power and a great first step, consistently beating offensive linemen off the snap. Menz is also very disciplined and can play fast. At 6’5”, he has a huge frame to build upon when he gets to Minnesota, and his speed and athleticism make him a very dangerous weapon on the edge for the Gophers.
Fleck compared him to Carter Coughlin in his Signing Day press conference.
Most Underrated: Alex Elliott
Alex Elliott comes from a program that won the 4A State Championship a year ago and was the state runner-up this fall. The Hutchinson native played primarily safety and running back in high school but will compete at linebacker for Minnesota.
At his Signing Day press conference, Fleck talked about how Elliott camped with Minnesota multiple times over the last couple years. He and the coaching staff were impressed by his speed and athleticism, but questioned whether he had the size to compete in the Big Ten. After weighing in at 180 lbs. last winter, Elliott added 20 lbs. to his frame before camping with the Gophers in June. Recognizing the work he put in to transform his body without sacrificing his speed and athleticism, Minnesota were confident enough to extend him a scholarship offer.
The strength and conditioning program at Minnesota should continue to help Elliott evolve into a unique combination of size and speed — and a versatile Big Ten linebacker.
Biggest Steal: Kenric Lanier
Kenric Lanier originally committed to Vanderbilt back in June, and the Commodores fought to keep him. Ultimately their efforts were for naught, as Fleck and co. were able to get him on campus for an official visit the weekend before Signing Day. The rest is history. Lanier finished his senior season with 64 receptions for 1,164 yards and 12 touchdowns, and his highlights are chock full of acrobatic grabs and contested catches. Not only can he play physical and use his length to make catches in traffic, but he is also a track athlete with speed to stretch opposing defenses downfield.
Best Position Group: Offensive Line
This is, in my opinion, one of the better offensive line classes that Minnesota has signed in recent years, anchored by a pair of in-state commitments: Jerome Williams out of Osseo, and Greg Johnson out of Prior Lake. Williams has perhaps the higher ceiling of the two offensive linemen, but he has also played the least amount of football. He is still very raw, as a result, but his size, length, athleticism, and bend give offensive line coach Brian Callahan plenty of clay to mold.
Johnson already looks the part of a Big Ten offensive lineman. Fleck describes him as a “mauler,” and he’ll be enrolling in the spring to kickstart his development under Callahan.
Kasson native Reese Tripp is the other in-state offensive lineman, checking in at 6’7” and 315 lbs. The Gophers also got a Signing Day commitment from Cincinnati offensive lineman Phillip Daniels, who was previously committed to Pittsburgh. Even after Daniels committed to the Panthers back in July, Callahan stayed in touch and his persistence eventually paid off. De’Eric Mister, an offensive lineman out of Indiana, rounds out a solid class for the Minnesota Movers.
Best Nickname: Donielle “Nuke” Hayes
The Gophers need explosive playmakers at wide receiver, and the aptly nicknamed Donielle “Nuke” Hayes should provide plenty of fireworks. He hauled in 43 receptions for 743 receiving yards last season, averaging 17.2 yards per catch. He was a top performer at the Rivals Camp Series stop in New Orleans back in March, not only turning heads with highlight-reel catches but also drawing raves for his ability to create space against the defensive backs he was matched up against. Hayes has length and athleticism and has also demonstrated great hands and ball skills.
Fun Fact: Hayes had three rushing attempts as a senior, and all three attempts went for touchdowns. He averaged 47.6 yards per carry as a result.