Updated: February 1st, 2012 6:24pm
Notebook: Jerry Kill hoping recruits can fill some of Gophers' needs

Notebook: Jerry Kill hoping recruits can fill some of Gophers' needs

by Judd Zulgad
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Jerry Kill made one thing clear when it came to his first full recruiting class as coach of the Minnesota Gophers football team. He had many holes to fill on the roster and, in some cases, he's hoping the incoming players can help do that in short order.

"You go for need," Kill said Wednesday when asked if he targeted specific positions. "I don't think there's any question. Right now, where we're at scholarship wise, we needed to recruit a team. We won't be able to do that next year, we won't have as many scholarships available. But in this case, we can recruit a team."

That isn't exactly what a Big Ten school is looking to do, although getting more numbers in will help. "We have to recruit, I think that's fair enough to say, and Notre Dame probably selects right now," Kill said.

Wednesday marked national signing day in college football and gave Kill his first opportunity to talk about the 31 players who made their commitments to the Gophers official.

This included eight defensive backs, six defensive linemen and at least three wide receivers and offensive linemen. Sixteen players are listed as being from the defensive side of the ball, while 11 are from the offensive side and four are considered "athletes," meaning they could end up on either side of the football.

Ten of the players are from Minnesota, including wide receiver Andre McDonald from Hopkins High School. McDonald, one of the top talents in Minnesota, had verbally committed to the Gophers, then de-committed and recently changed his mind again.

Quarterbacks Philip Nelson (Mankato West) and Mitch Leidner (Lakeville South) also were on the list of signees. They are among two of eight players who already are enrolled in classes at the university.

The Gophers finished 3-9 overall and 2-6 in the Big Ten, putting them last in the Legends Division, in Kill's first season as coach in 2011.

The recruiting class that came in last February - one that was deep in offensive linemen and linebackers - was in large part pursued by former coach Tim Brewster and his staff.

"I think every coach is going to get up here and tell you, 'We feel good about the class,'" Kill said. "The thing I feel good about is we've researched it, we've seen it. I've seen them run, I've seen what they've done in the classroom. I've got a good evaluation of it. ... I think we're headed in the right direction. It's going to take time, but I'm pleased with the direction we're going right now."

Kill acknowledged the importance of keeping some of the top players in the state at home, something that hasn't always happened. He also said he talked to former Gophers coaches Glen Mason and Lou Holtz about recruiting players to the school.

"What happened here with the state of Minnesota, I can't be more (pleased) with," Kill said. "It's loyalty, the high school coaches, we had tremendous help in the recruiting process. Our state helped us. I don't think there's any question about that. But those kids helped each other. If you talk to a Phillip Nelson, once he came on his visit he got to know Andre.

"Then they fit in with the players on our team. Our players did a good job of recruiting. When you get the kids on campus and they interact. There was some chemistry involved there, and I think that once Phillip Nelson jumped on board and said, 'Hey,' I think it was just kind of a domino effect."

The more QBs the better

The Gophers are creating plenty of competition at quarterback with the two new additions, joining MarQueis Gray and Max Shortell on the roster next season.

"If you don't have a quarterback, you're not going to win," Kill said, "and you better have some of them. And I'd like to have too many than not enough. With both those youngsters, I feel like we're getting two of the better quarterbacks in the Midwest.

"I got to see them live. They were right here, they worked out, I got to see them through passing leagues. They are both smart and they are both talented. Don't worry about it, competition is good. It will all workout in the long run."

Travel companion

Kill revealed that his wife, Rebecca, accompanied him on recruiting visits because of his issue with seizures. Kill isn't able to renew his driver's license at this point because of the seizures that he has had on-and-off for several years.

"My wife had to travel with me because of the situation I'm in," Kill said. "That's the deal. She came because of my health situation. We had to get it cleared with the NCAA. ... If I had a seizure, she knows what to do. She'd take care of it, and I'd go right back into recruiting. That's how that works."

Kill suffered several seizures during his first season as Gophers coach, including a severe one of Sept. 10 during the team's home opener against New Mexico State. That one landed him in the hospital for five days.

Kill said he has been doing well and is hoping he will be able to get his license soon so he won't have to be driven around.

"I love my wife, she loves me, but we've been together enough right now," he said. "I'm a pretty (independent) person, so it's very difficult for me. ... I need to be seizure free here pretty quick so I can relax a little bit. My wife's got me under a microscope, that's what I'm telling you. It's a good thing. I love her to death."

Early arrivals

Kill acknowledged there is a trend with in-coming players enrolling in January, especially when it comes to the quarterback position. This gives players the advantage of being able to begin classes early and also enables them to be around the football program.

But Kill admits he does have some concerns about it.

"I think we have to be careful, to be honest with you," he said. "It's like anything. You've got to keep up with everybody, but it's not always what you want to do. I know that we've talked about it from an academic standpoint. Marcus Jones could handle it because he was highly intelligent, great student and all that kind of stuff.

"I think the kids that we brought in as freshman can do that, but does it make me a little bit nervous? Sometimes that speeds up the process of growing up. Sometimes I think you need to have that high school experience. It's a tough question, it really is. But at the same time we're caught up in the recruiting process that they want to come and if you have a need, you don't want to lose them because you don't do it."

Kill did say it's a "pretty good deal" for the quarterbacks, such as Leidner and Nelson, because it gives them a chance to start learning as soon as possible.

Quick hits

• This recruiting period might be finished, but Kill said he isn't done with the process. "You're never done," he said. "Always recruiting. We're recruiting today. We had a recruiting meeting just 30 minutes ago. There's three or four players that I'd like to continue to recruit. When I say recruit, that's whether they are scholarship or not scholarship players. Sometimes the best player you ever recruit is a non-scholarship player."

• The Gophers had four players sign Acceptance of Admission forms, meaning they will be preferred walk-ons but technically are not committed to the school. That list includes defensive backs Cedric Dicke of Cannon Falls, Minn. and Ben Holcomb of Germantown, Wis.; defensive lineman Tyler Hartman of Andover, Minn.; and Josh McKelvey of Hunting Valley, Ohio. McKelvey is not listed as having a position.

• Kill said he gave a few players worst case scenarios in an effort to let them know that he meant business. "I de-recruited about three or four of these at the end," he said. "I said, 'Listen, I'm hard to get along with.' I wanted to make sure they wanted to come here. Our coaches will tell you, as a head coach, when I go in (players' homes), most of the time I don't tell them what they want to hear because we can't afford to lose people. We have to make sure we make the right decisions so we de-recruit them a little bit sometimes."

• Kill has discussed the academic struggles of some of the players he inherited from Brewster and made it clear that he looked for student-athletes in this class. "We can't take a lot of (academic) chances," Kill said. "I feel very good about the kids that we recruited. I feel very good about their capabilities. There are some kids in here who are 4.0 students and going to be engineers and there are some kids like me that are 2.5 and going to have to work at it. But I think they've got the want-to to do it. So I think it's a good mixture, and I feel very confident. We can't make a lot of recruiting mistakes and I feel good. I think we've got a good mixture in this class of athletic ability and want-to to get things done. We'll see." 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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