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Minnesota Football: The Encore 4 and the 2017 recruiting class

A look back at mashed together 2017 class after Fleck was hired

NCAA Football: Outback Bowl-Minnesota vs Auburn Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

At his Big Ten Media Days press conference, PJ Fleck referenced the 4 guys on offense who are returning for their 6th and final season. Tanner Morgan, Chris Autman-Bell, John Michael Schmitz, and Mohamed Ibrahim are all choosing to utilize their bonus Covid season and are the unquestioned leaders of this 2022 Gopher offense. This is their encore season and they have been dubbed The Encore 4.

All 4 were a part of that interesting 2017 class. The class was not yet signed when Tracey Claeys was fired and PJ Fleck was hired as the new head coach.

Those blended recruiting classes are always very interesting. The guys recruited by the outgoing staff will often decommit, looking elsewhere. The new staff will work hard to keep the current class but also add to it. Either with uncommitted guys from around the country or they will poach the top players that had been committed to their old school.

The 2017 class is full of all of this.

Here is the breakdown of the class.

25 total commitments with 19 of them recruited by Fleck after he took the job in early January. There were only 4 players who had committed to Tracey Claeys and then 2 guys who were offered by Claeys but didn’t commit until after Fleck took the job aave been hnd continued to recruit them.

Additionally there were 10 kids who had decommitted after Claeys was fired.

Of the 19 kids who Fleck convinced to commit to the Gophers in the span of about 4 weeks, 8 of them were previously Western Michigan verbals. The list of the 8 is impressive.

  • Esezi Otomewo - drafted in the 2022 NFL Draft
  • Tanner Morgan - one of the most successful Gopher quarterbacks in program history
  • John Michael Schmitz - likely to be drafted in 2023 and potential All-American
  • Chris Autman-Bell - chance to be drafted in 2023
  • Transferred - Kyle Sassack, Nate Umlor, Noah Hickcox, Trenton Guthrie

But 50% of the kids previously assumed to be MAC level recruits have turned into some of the best players at their position in the Big Ten.

What about the 4 Claeys recruits who stayed?

  • Blaise Andries - a long-time starter and excellent OT for the program
  • Dominik London - transferred
  • Grant Ryerse - transferred
  • Nathan Bursch - transferred

Next we get to the 11 Fleck recruits who were brought in by Fleck from the say he was hired till National Signing Day in early Februrary. Most were misses, but a couple were absolute home runs.

  • Boye Mafe - The Hopkins kid that Fleck had to fight off Jerry Kill to land, who eventually was drafted
  • Mohamed Ibrahim - former Big Ten Running Back of the Year
  • Justus Harris - played his 5 seasons
  • Demetrius Douglas - contributed before deciding to transfer
  • Royal Silver - JUCO transfer who was on the team for 2 years
  • Transfers - Adam Beck, Austin Schrick, Ben Davis, Harry Van Dyne, Malcolm Robinson, Rey Estes

Finally we get to the The Encore 4! Great name for the 4 guys who are going to be playing in their 6th year with the program. All have been elite and these guys are the heart and soul of this year’s offense.

Tanner Morgan, regardless of his struggles in 2020 and 2021, is going to be in the discussion for greatest Gopher quarterback in the program’s history. The numbers, the wins, the leadership...all elite.

John Michael Schmitz might be one of the most underrated Gophers in the last couple decades. Playing on lines with local names and guys like Daniel Falaale garnering a bunch of headlines, while he quietly has been one of the best centers in the country. He has a very real chance to be a high draft pick next year and giving the program back to back seasons of an OL drafted.

Mohamed Ibrahim had a chance to really do something special last year, putting his name deep into the Gopher record books before tearing his achillies in week 1. But he’s back for one last season and if he’s fully healthy, he can once again be one of the best backs in the confernce.

Chris Autman-Bell, has shown flashes of dominance along with some minor injuries. With the band back together this year and Kirk Ciarroca back calling plays, the hope is that he has a breakout season and is back on NFL radars.

These four young men are special and are the reason for tremendous hope in this 2022 offense. Just imagine, 3 of them were Western Michigan commits and Ibrahim was a late addition to the 2017 class. Maybe we should be giving PJ Fleck and staff some credit for being able to identify talent and develop it.