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Updated: February 5th, 2014 7:38pm
Kill says latest recruiting class must help Gophers 'turn the tide'

Kill says latest recruiting class must help Gophers 'turn the tide'

by Nate Sandell
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Jerry Kill's mood said it all.

Kill sat at the podium in the TCF Bank Stadium media room Wednesday, officially unveiling the Minnesota Gophers' 2014 recruiting class.

There was a laidback quality to Kill, a steady stream of excitement and notable confidence layered into his discussion of his third full recruiting class entering his fourth year at the helm of the Gophers.

High optimism and grandiose statements are staples of National Signing Day. Kill displayed those traits, but it was hard not to pick up on the genuinely strong emphasis the Gophers had put into compiling this class.

"(The third) class is the one that turns the tide, so to speak. You've seen with where I've been before, that's what happens," Kill said, referring to his previous coaching stops at Northern Illinois and Southern Illinois.

"We've built the foundation ... This class is the one that has to help us turn the corner ... I can tell you that I feel very, very confident that we really have (filled) some needs that needed to be."

Kill had reason to be upbeat. The Gophers are a ways off from cracking the top echelon of the recruiting rankings compiled by the bounty of online recruiting outlets, but they have been on the rise from where they were at the start of the Kill era.

In 2013, Rivals.com and Scout.com both ranked the Gophers' class last in the Big Ten.

Now, with a crop that is highlighted by in-state prospect Jeff Jones, one of the top rated running backs in the nation, Minnesota has moved up from its bottom slot. Rivals ranked the Gophers' newest class at 53rd in the nation, and No. 8 in the soon-to-be 14-team Big Ten with the addition of Rutgers and Maryland. Scout.com put them ninth in the conference but at No. 51 overall.

In three seasons, the Gophers have begun the slow climb back towards respectability in the Big Ten. Despite a deflating loss to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl, Minnesota's 2013 campaign was a success and a major step forward for a program still trying to shed decades of mediocrity. The Gophers notched only their fifth eight-win season in the last 50 years, and they did it with a defense that has developed into one of the better units in the Big Ten.

But getting the offense to progress to similar heights has been a slower process. As a result, bolstering the offense, especially at wide receiver and in the backfield, was a critical focus in the approach Kill's staff took with this year's class.

"We've got to improve our offense," Kill said. "We needed help at the skill positions on offense. We've got good skill position help now. The more people you have and the depth you have at those positions will make you better. So we concentrated on that."

If you were to isolate the position group that has lagged behind the others in the previous three seasons, the obvious answer lies at receiver.

The Gophers hope to change that with the addition of Isaiah Gentry, Melvin Holland - a 6-foot-3, 205-pound prospect out of Virginia - and Conner Krizancic. All three come in with three-star ratings and high expectations.

"We needed receivers," Kill said. "We needed guys that are flexible. We want guys to be able to play, because of personnel stuff, guys who can play tight end, guys who can flex out, who can do different things."

Other highlights from the 2014 class include center Connor Mayes, a 2014 US Army All-American Bowl participant and the younger brother of current offensive lineman Alex Mayes; tight end Gaelin Elmore, who the Gophers beat out Wisconsin for.

While signing day may be over, the recruiting process is still in underway.

"I've always got a couple things in the pocket just in case something happens," Kill remarked.

The aura of optimism that surrounded the Gophers program Wednesday spoke to the upward direction they could be headed. Kill's fourth season will be a crucial factor in determining if that optimism is valid. But for now, the building foundation of confidence and excitement around the team is a welcomed mark of progress.

Nate Sandell is a contributor to 1500ESPN.com.
Email Nate | @nsandell
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