Some of the Gophers’ bigger names from this recruiting class will likely redshirt, but others will find themselves in position battles on the first day of practice. This is a look at wide receiver and which players could contribute immediately.
The video starts with a red circle around a wide receiver, No. 12. He runs a go-route, a straight streak for a long touchdown. The next play starts, this time with No. 12 standing near his own 40-yard line as the red circle pops up again. The circle disappears, the play starts and the high schooler moves from near the close sideline to the middle of the field, setting up an apparent screen.
No. 12 catches the ball in the middle of the field in a group of bodies. He runs to his right, makes one tackler miss. He jukes again, two more tackles grasp at air. He moves to his left, he keeps running forward, past two more overmatched defenders and runs the final 50-some yards for a touchdown.
On the highlight video, future Minnesota Gopher Andre McDonald amazes the casual fan. Golden Gopher offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover gushes about the Hopkins recruit as the tape continues, with McDonald looking like he’s playing against defenders several years younger, deeking, stiff arming and simply outrunning his opposition during the entire video.
“Andre McDonald… Ahh.. Umm.. What do you say about ol’ Andre?” Limegrover says at the beginning of the video.
McDonald is part of Jerry Kill’s first true recruiting class at Minnesota, a large part of it. McDonald was rated the No. 1 prospect in Minnesota by Rivals.com and reportedly had offers to go to Ohio State, UCLA, Iowa and Illinois. He committed to the Gophers and then Vanderbilt before eventually deciding again on Minnesota. He’s one of 27 scholarship athletes who have signed on to play football for the “U,” a class led by other in-state recruits that were just as heralded: Philip Nelson, a quarterback; and offensive linemen Issac Hayes and Jonah Pirsig.
I don’t try to put too much time into following college football recruiting. To do so, you’re going to watch a lot of grainy videos on YouTube. You’re going to hear way too much doublespeak from college coaches who are in many cases openly manipulating the futures of these same high schoolers. You’re also going to follow way too many Facebook and Twitter pages of teenagers; no doubt wondering why they haven’t yet learned the difference between the contraction you’re and the possessive your, among other things. You’re going to hear about bag men, about street agents and about fishy player measurements. Inflated 40-yard-dash times and weight room abilities are an accepted part of the deal. Everyone looks amazing on the highlight tape.
Simply put, it’s a crapshoot.
Even if a recruit commits to your school, there’s always hurdles with grades to overcome or coaches changing their minds or players deciding that the recruiting hostesses at University XYZ proved more convincing than the tour of their “committed” school. Nothing is really binding. And again, you’re watching online videos of 17-year-olds (albeit playing football). As “Every Day Should be Saturday’s” Spencer Hall writes: “Recruiting is weird and often sort of creepy.”
Here’s an entire list of all of the Golden Gopher recruits, including walk-ons, along with videos, news articles, and brief bio information provided by the University: Gophers Signing Day Central. I’d love to tell you which Gopher recruits will blossom in the next few years, but I’d be lying. I can however project which players have a chance to contribute next year for the Maroon and Gold.
Today, we’ll hit the wide receiver position.
Current depth: With the graduation of Da’Jon McKnight, the Gophers lost their only proven playmaker at wideout. Senior Brandon Green has played well at times in his career, although injuries have caused his output to be inconsistent at best. By the end of last year, he was behind junior college transfer Malcolm Moulton on the depth chart. In his own right, Moulton was OK, but had a knack for dropping passes and while he turned in a solid first year, he lacks true breakaway speed or the shiftiness that some of the new recruits are said to possess. Sophomore Devin Crawford-Tufts showed flashes in his freshman year and Marcus Jones will be recovering from ACL surgery. If some of the new recruits play well early, playing time should certainly be up for grabs.
McDonald, 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, enters the program as someone tabbed to immediately step into void left by McKnight’s graduation. If he doesn’t play immediately, it’s because he either got hurt, got in trouble or had an awful spring. (I’m not quoting reported 40-yard-dash times here because most of them are unreliable.)
As stated earlier, Gopher coaches are expecting him to contribute.
While McDonald might be X-receiver and main downfield threat, Harbison projects similar to the way Jones was used last year, as a slot receiver who is given the ball in space, on end arounds or screen passes.
“Jamel Harbison may be one of the most electrifying players we recruited this year,” Limegrover said.
Another receiver who could likely step into Moulton’s playing time from last year is junior college transfer Isaac Fruechte, who has three years of eligibility remaining. If Fruechte’s speed is as billed – and MV of Fringe Bowl Team says that it is — and Jones is able to recover from his ACL surgery in time for the season, the Gophers will have a nice rotation of wideouts. I’m particularly interested to see what Fruechte can bring to the table, with his reported speed and height (6-foot-3).
The Gophers could try to redshirt Harbison, but on a team without playmakers, someone with Harbison’s skills in open space would be in high demand. When Kill wants to operate his screen passes and doesn’t have an explosive guy to execute them, it would be hard to look down the bench and see Harbison without a jersey on. Also, playing Harbison would allow the Gophers to bring back Jones slowly.
Another one of the freshmen recruits, KJ Maye, could play some slot receiver, too. He mainly played quarterback in high school, but as Limegrover said, possesses a similar skill set to Harbison. If Jones is healthy by the spring, Maye could be a decent redshirt candidate. He will be a player to watch in spring practice, but I think is a year or two off from really contributing.
Outcome: Seemingly, all of the following recruits could play early, leaving this kind of rotation: McDonald, Crawford-Tufts, Jones, Harbison, Fruechte and Moulton. At any rate, the receiver positions are open to competition this spring and while Kill’s offenses are traditionally very run-heavy, expect at least McDonald and Harbison to contribute early and often as the offense allows.