One of the things that has kept the Minnesota Golden Gophers near the bottom of the Big Ten for a significant amount of time is the fact that they have been unable to keep the best players in the state of Minnesota from leaving for greener pastures. However, second-year head coach Jerry Kill appears to be turning that around.
According to the recruiting experts from Scout.com, Kill has managed to land nine of Minnesota's twelve best high school football players from this past season, including seven that Scout has ranked as five-star recruits. Let's take a look at some of the big name high school stars from the state of Minnesota that will be featured at TCF Bank Stadium starting this fall.
If it seems a little cloudy in Minneapolis today, it probably has something to do with Jonah Pirsig being outside. Pirsig is huge, measuring in at 6'9" and weighing in at just a shade under 300 pounds. He was rated as the 35th best offensive tackle in the nation by Scout.com, and 48th best by ESPN. Pirsig helped lead his team to a 10-2 record this past season, as well as a berth in the state quarterfinals. He was also a finalist for Minnesota's Mr. Football award. Even though he also played some defensive end for Blue Earth, his future is clearly on the offensive side of the ball.
That Mr. Football award that I just mentioned? Yeah, it went to this guy. The 6'2", 220-pound quarterback racked up the hardware this past season, winning not only the Mr. Football Award, but also the ESPN Gatorade Minnesota Player of the Year and AP Minnesota Player of the Year awards. Last year for Mankato West, Nelson passed for 2,784 yards and 35 scores, while rushing for 1,243 yards and 20 more touchdowns. Those 55 scores were a state record for single season touchdowns, and helped propel Nelson to the state record for career touchdowns with 135. He's also second in Minnesota state history in completions (490), passing yards (7,561) and TD passes (94).
Scout.com's 48th ranked tight end in the nation has also decided to stick around to play his college ball. Williams lined up at six different positions during his high school career, and was selected to the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl as a punter, but the Gophers see him as a tight end. His numbers reflect his potential versatility. . .he threw for 784 yards and eight touchdowns as a quarterback in 2011, and rushed for 902 yards on 120 carries, throwing in 13 more touchdowns. On the defensive side of the ball, he recorded 80 tackles and two interceptions. The 6'4", 235-pounder is a very interesting prospect for the Gophers going forward.
Between Leidner and Nelson, the Gophers could have a very interesting quarterback battle in a couple of seasons. Leidner, a 6'4", 225-pounder, was an all-conference selection in basketball as well, but will play football for the Gophers. Scout.com had him rated as the 56th-best quarterback in America, and gave him a three-star rating. As a senior, he led Lakeville South to a section championship in 2010. As a senior, he threw for 1,872 yards and 20 touchdowns.
If that last name sounds familiar, it ought to. Nick's brother, Mike, will be a senior for the Gophers this year and was one of their starters at linebacker this past season. As it stands now, Nick is a bit on the smallish side, measuring in at 5'11" and 200 pounds, but he was still Scout.com's 56th-ranked outside linebacker this past season. His size is likely going to move him to the defensive backfield rather than a linebacker position. He only played three games in his senior season because of an injury, but as a junior in 2010 he racked up 72 tackles, six pass break-ups, two forced fumbles, and three blocked kicks.
This might be the most surprising get for Jerry Kill in this class. McDonald, a 6'3", 210-pound wide receiver, had originally verbally committed to Vanderbilt, but switched to the home-state Gophers. He was an All-State selection by the Associated Press in both of the last two seasons, and is thought by some to be the next in a line of Minnesota high school receivers that includes current Arizona Cardinal Larry Fitzgerald and Notre Dame's Michael Floyd. In his past two high school seasons, McDonald has caught 124 passes for 2,397 yards and 36 touchdowns.
This kid has the potential to be a bad mutha. (Shut yo mouth!) In all seriousness, the 6'2", 275-pound Hayes could join with Pirsig to be the foundation of a great offensive line in the future for the Gophers. Opinions on him vary greatly. . .Scout.com has him as the 75th best guard in the nation, while ESPN not only named him as the top high school player in Minnesota, but the 9th-best guard in the entire nation.
The Gophers' in-state recruiting class also includes a few players that were named as two-star recruits by Scout.com. Those players are Wayzata offensive tackle Ben Lauer (6'6", 270), Blaine wide receiver Duke Anyanwu (6'4", 200), and Isaac Fruechte, a wide receiver that has transferred from Rochester Community and Technical College (6'3", 215).
Later on today, we will take a look at some of the players that will be bringing their talents to Minnesota from some places that are a bit further away.