Jerry Kill says his straightforwardness and the way he forms relationships helps him land recruits. And the recruits Minnesota landed this year just might help the Gophers turn the corner.
There's no question that Minnesota put an emphasis on offense in recruiting this year, and running back Jeff Jones will certainly boost the Gophers' talent level in the backfield.
Steve Kotvis / Amateur Athletics on the Go
By Tyler MasonFOX Sports North
MINNEAPOLIS -- Jerry Kill is driving again for the first time in two years, which means he's been seizure free for at least three months. His health issues have been well-documented during his tenure as the University of Minnesota football coach, but it hasn't seemed to affect Kill's ability to recruit.
In fact, Kill believes it had the opposite effect, as he lauded the 2014 class as one that can help the Gophers' program take the next step.
"With that class, that didn't affect it at all. As a matter of fact, I think it helped," Kill said of his health Wednesday, which is also National Signing Day. "I went right at them and said, 'This is the way it is.' Maybe in some ways, it helped. . . . It might have helped us because I was straightforward. Not everybody is straightforward in the world."
That's especially true in the recruiting world, where some college coaches will do anything to land prized recruits. But Kill has always had a reputation as an honest coach and a straight shooter. He didn't hide from the fact that he has epilepsy, and his players -- current and future -- have appreciated that approach.
Kill's ability to build and maintain relationships is what allowed he and his staff to land Minneapolis Washburn running back Jeff Jones, the top recruit in the state. They've watched him for years and were the first school to offer him a scholarship during his sophomore season. Kill's recruiting ability also led him to Quebec, Canada, where he landed Julien Kafo, a defensive end who speaks four languages.
"There's some times I was in four different places in one day," Kill said. "You've got to hunt, now. When you're in Minnesota you've got to go do some hunting."
Kill also maintained relationships at Mt. Carmel High School in Chicago by signing defensive tackle Steven Richardson from the same school where he once recruited quarterback Jordan Lynch when he was coaching at Northern Illinois. And aside from Jones, Kill and his staff were able to keep a handful of the best in Minnesota within state borders, including defensive end Andrew Stelter and tight end Brandon Lingen, both three-star recruits.
While Jones is the headliner of this year's class, Kill had plenty of praise for many of the players who signed their Letters of Intent on Wednesday. That includes center Connor Mayes, who Kill said was "recruited by everybody in the country." Mayes comes to Minnesota via Van Alstyne, Texas, and will join his older brother Alex on the Gophers' offensive line.
Minnesota also added players who have what Kill referred to as "cold weather skill." Among those are wide receiver Isaiah Gentry from Cincinnati, cornerback Craig James of Edwardsville, Ill., and wide receiver Conner Krizancic, another Ohio product.
At the same time, Kill and the Gophers were able to land some recruits from the South, like defensive tackle Gary Moore and tight end Jerry Gibson, both of whom came north from Alabama.
"When they come over to my house and they see the 10-foot snow drifts, you've really got to work at recruiting," Kill joked.
There's no question that Minnesota put an emphasis on offense this year after focusing on the defensive side of the ball with last year's recruiting class. Of the 20 recruits the Gophers signed Wednesday, 12 of them are offensive players, as are four of the walk-ons who signed Acceptance of Admission letters.
Kill said his staff felt good about most of the defensive positions and the depth they had on that side of the ball, especially in the secondary. They knew how important it was to land a good crop of skill players on offense for 2014.
"Competition is good. We needed help at the skill positions on offense," Kill said. "We did that. . . . We got some really good receivers."
Among those receivers are the aforementioned Gentry and Krizancic, as well as 6-foot-3 wide receiver Melvin Holland, whom Kill said was a "great get" for Minnesota. By the end of the 2013 season, the Gophers were playing a pair of true freshmen at receiver, so that was certainly an area addressed with this year's class.
As Kill enters his fourth season at Minnesota, he does so on the heels of an eight-win season as the Gophers have progressed in each of his three years. But Kill knows that this year's recruiting class is by far his most important as he continues to build Minnesota's program from the ground up.
"That class is the one that turns the tide, so to speak," Kill said. "You've seen where I've been before, that's what's happened. You've built a foundation and you've got a good foundation. . . . This class is the one that's got to help us turn the corner. It's all about the players. We've got to continue to recruit and put pressure on the other players to perform."