MINNEAPOLIS — Jerry Kill doesn’t pay much attention to college recruiting websites. He doesn’t know who is behind the rankings given to each high school player.
So it came as no surprise that the University of Minnesota football coach didn’t necessarily agree with — or care about — the sentiment that the Gophers’ 2013 recruiting class generally ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten by many of those sites.
Kill’s recruiting classes were never ranked high when he was at Northern Illinois — 90th in the nation in 2011, 103rd in 2010 — yet some of his recruits were part of the Huskies’ Orange Bowl team this year. Scout.com is ranking the Gophers’ class last in the Big Ten and 77th in the nation, but Kill sounded pleased Wednesday with the players he was able to add on National Signing Day.
“We feel good about how we’re doing it. We’re doing it first-class,” Kill said at a press conference to introduce the newest 19 Gophers recruits. “We’re doing it the right way, and I think we’re getting people that fit into what we do.”
Kill was particularly excited about Minnesota’s ability to add depth at thinned-down position: linebacker. The Gophers will be losing four linebackers from the 2012 team to graduation. Of the 19 players from which the Gophers received letters of intent, five were linebackers.
That includes one recruit who didn’t commit to the Gophers until Wednesday. Junior college transfer De’Vondre Campbell had offers from Texas, Tennessee and Kansas State but ultimately chose Minnesota late in the process. Kill credited a visit he and linebackers coach Bill Miller paid to Campbell’s parents for helping recruit the talented linebacker.
“I didn’t know if he would commit today or not. We had him committed, but I wasn’t sure,” Kill said of Campbell. “De’Vondre is a three-year player, which is good for us. He was committed to Tennessee and then decommitted because they switched coaches, and then it was Texas, K-State and us. And again, I think we all built a great relationship with De’Vondre. At the end of the day, he just couldn’t tell us no.”
Minnesota also added two quarterbacks, Chris Streveler and Donovahn Jones, both of whom Kill spoke highly of for their athleticism.
“When we recruited Streveler, he came in and he played quarterback in camp and he played receiver and he did them both very good,” Kill said. “He was good enough he could have gave us time at receiver this year. He’s just an athletic, gifted kid.”
Jones was a late addition to Minnesota’s class, giving his commitment just one day before signing day. He had other offers from Cincinnati, Missouri and NC State, among others but was drawn to the Gophers by the opportunity to play quarterback, something the other schools weren’t necessarily offering him.
“When Donovahn he comes in, you’ll know early in camp if, hey, this guy is special at this position or whatever,” Kill said. “But we can’t go wrong with either one of those kids, because again, they can do a lot of things. They’re not one-dimensional. Some guys are just quarterbacks and they can’t do anything else, and we couldn’t afford to do that in this class. We had to recruit athletes. So we’re excited about both of them.”
Last year’s class included 10 Minnesota natives, including the state’s top quarterback, Philip Nelson. This year, however, the Gophers signed just one Minnesotan, linebacker Chris Wipson. The Wayzata native tore his ACL during his senior year, but Kill believes Wipson will be good to go after the injury.
The Gophers did let a few of the state’s top recruits get away, including four-star wide receiver James Onwualu, who is headed to Notre Dame. But Kill said this year didn’t offer as strong of a crop in terms of Minnesota recruits.
“It’s just according to the year and what the situation is,” Kill said. “I knew last year in Minnesota was going to be a good situation for us, so we got after it. So we’ll continue to recruit Minnesota hard. That’s our job.”
Kill talked Wednesday about how happy he was with last year’s recruiting class, citing that the Gophers played around a dozen freshmen in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. Those players gained valuable experience right away, and Kill believes there are several members of the 2013 recruiting class who can contribute immediately.
But like any recruiting class at any school, the fruits of a school’s labor won’t truly be known for a few years.
“Everybody gets excited on signing day. Everybody’s got the best class in America,” Kill said. “There’s never been a good coach say he didn’t have a good class, but there isn’t anybody that knows until they come and start summer school and go through the grind. … You just don’t know how they’re going to be able to transform to that college world.”