MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — De’Vondre Campbell verbally committed to Kansas State. He had offers from Tennessee and Texas.
But Minnesota coach Jerry Kill and his staff didn’t give up. And they persuaded Campbell to change his mind and choose the Gophers, giving them a 6-foot-5, 225-pound linebacker to help build this year’s recruiting class around. Campbell, from Fort Myers, Fla., played last season at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, where Kill and his assistants have strong roots.
The key to Campbell’s decision? That might have been the in-home visit Kill has made a priority in establishing relationships that are critical in the cut-throat game of college football recruiting.
“Went to see mom, and not everybody did that,” Kill said, adding: “I think at the end of the day that helped us more than anything.”
The Gophers gained another late addition in Donovahn Jones, from Stockbridge, Ga. His original commitment was to Missouri, but despite a deep group of young quarterbacks he decided to join the Gophers for the chance to play his favored position rather than wide receiver as others courted him as. Minnesotans Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner were prominent pieces of last year’s quarterback class, and Chris Streveler of Crystal Lake, Ill., is another heralded player in the 2013 group.
“I’ll recruit as many as athletic quarterbacks as I can get,” Kill said.
In a down year for in-state talent, the Gophers have only one scholarship player from Minnesota: linebacker Chris Wipson, a standout for state power Wayzata High School. Kill called the hard-nosed Wipson his “type of guy,” but he acknowledged regret about missing on wide receiver James Onwualu, who’s from Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul. Onwualu picked Notre Dame.
“We got out there and recruited our tail end off, and it didn’t happen,” Kill said.
Another sought-after in-state player was defensive back Keelon Brookins, from St. Paul who played at Tartan High School in nearby Oakdale.
The Gophers were ranked last in the Big Ten by two of the major recruiting analysts, Scout.com and Rivals.com. But Josh Helmholdt, who covers the Midwest for Rivals.com, said after Michigan and Ohio State there’s not a big difference in quality among the remaining 10 teams in the conference. Minnesota was ranked 74th among FBS schools by Scout.com and 61st nationally by Rivals.com, ahead of Stanford, Kansas State and Syracuse.
“It’s not a banner year for Minnesota recruiting, but it’s a solid class,” Helmholdt said in a phone interview.
At his news conference on campus, Kill shrugged off the rankings like any coach would.
“We’re doing it the right way, and I think we’re getting people that fit into what we do,” Kill said.
That includes running back Berkley Edwards from Novi, Mich. He’s the brother of former Michigan star and current NFL wide receiver Braylon Edwards. The Wolverines didn’t recruit him, and the 5-foot-9, 190-pound Edwards wasn’t happy about it.
“He’s got a chip on his shoulder about a lot of the Big Ten not going after him. I think that will only play to Minnesota’s advantage,” Helmholdt said.
Edwards rushed for 1,329 yards and 21 touchdowns on 204 carries last season for Chelsea High School.
“He’s one of the top 10 or 12 sprinters in the country. Those things we need,” Kill said. “And he’s a great fit for us at running back, because we’ve got some big backs but we’d like to have one just to hand it off and it’s over. Good night. And he can do that because he’s got that kind of speed.”
The Gophers got size, too, and not just in tight end Nate Wozniak, who’s 6-foot-9 and 258 pounds from Greenwood, Ind. They signed 6-foot-5, 260-pound kicker Ryan Santoso from Pace, Fla.
Santoso was a soccer goalie who joined the football team as a sophomore.
“The first time I saw him kick I knew he was going to be special,” his high school coach, Mickey Lindsey, said in a phone interview. “The ball just explodes off his leg.”
Santoso sent 46 of 49 kickoffs into the end zone this season, according to Lindsey, and made 14 of 17 field goals with a long of 42 yards.
“I don’t want to ever have to see a dang kickoff ever returned again,” Kill said. “I want him to kick it out of the end zone, period, and he’s got the leg to do that.”
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