Does PJ Fleck Have His Recruiting Mojo Back?
It was a rather underwhelming season for PJ Fleck and the Minnesota Golden Gophers football team; a season that ended with a 5-7 record and a Quick Lane Bowl appearance only made possible due to the team’s good academic standing.
While his job may not be in danger, there is a good amount of pressure on PJ to perform next season, especially with the additions of USC, UCLA, Oregon, and Washington to the Big Ten. Fleck and his staff have found a way to cobble together what looks like a pretty impressive roster for 2024, mostly thanks to some slick maneuvering in the transfer portal (more on that momentarily).
In college football, head coaches have to look ahead just as often as they try to focus on the present, if not more. Because in college athletics, recruiting is king. And when Fleck landed at Minnesota, the first noticeable improvement was on the recruiting trail.
PJ Fleck’s Recruiting Prowess Hits NIL Snag
From 2018-2021, PJ brought in four-straight top-50 recruiting classes and three in the top-40. But then, the NIL era hit college athletics like a bag of bricks, and Fleck struggled to navigate all the changes. How much blame he deserves for both the 2022 and 2023 Gophers freshman classes falling out of the top-50, is undetermined.
When the majority of power-5 schools were setting up NIL funds and negotiating NIL contracts with the best players in the country, Fleck was dealing with an athletic department that still had PTSD over a 90s cheating scandal that destroyed its once proud basketball program, which hasn’t recovered since.
No matter the cause, those two down recruiting years took a toll on what Fleck was trying to build before that. But, if Minnesota’s most recent class is any type of preview about what is yet to come, it appears PJ may be figuring this whole NIL-age recruiting thing out.
PJ Fleck Finding His Recruiting Mojo Again?
Fleck has always done fairly well in keeping in-state talent at home, but he took that commitment to another level in 2024, when the Gophers signed No. 1 overall recruit in the state of Minnesota, and the 2nd-highest rated football commit in U of M internet history, Koi Perich.
How impressive is the safety out of Esko? Well, the 4-star (96 overall rating) phenom athlete jumped into the national top-75 at 247Sports after winning the All-American game MVP in front of a national TV audience last month. He won’t get to campus until this summer/fall, because he is a 3-sport athlete, but he’s still expected to get plenty of playing time for the 2024 football season.
#Gophers kept the big fish from their own pond this year in recruiting, Fleck had a fun story about being on the sideline for this game. Koi Perich points at his next coach while returning this one for a score. Fleck joked it was cool as long as he stayed committed to Minnesota. pic.twitter.com/vewpMsz6dc— Eric Vegoe (@evegoe) December 20, 2023
To go along with Perich, Fleck has also gotten commitments from LB Mason Carrier (Detroit Lakes), CB Simon Seidl (Hill Murray), WR Jalen Smith (Mankato West), and DL Mo Saine (Eden Prairie), all top ten in-state recruits. As of this weekend, Minnesota ranks top-40 in every major recruiting rankings for 2024 and 36th overall in the 247Sports composite rankings, which combines all four (247Sports, Rivals, On3, ESPN).
Fleck has also had success going out of state, reeling in the number one player in North Dakota in DL Riley Sunram, the number two recruit in Wisconsin in OL Nathan Roy, and the Arkansas Gatorade Football Player of The Year and top-five recruit, QB Drake Lindsey. After his worst season as head coach since his inaugural year, Fleck is going to need to bounce back, and he is setting his team up to do just that.
Dinkytown Athletes + Minnesota Gophers
No doubt, Dinkytown Athletes — Minnesota’s official NIL collective — has played the biggest role in the recruiting turnaround. We don’t know how money is distributed or who is making what, but it’s impossible not to notice the correlation between Fleck’s recent recruiting success and the rise of Dinkytown Athletes.
But as far as we know, freshmen aren’t making much, if anything, in NIL. Where the new collective has helped most is retaining and bringing in transfer portal talent.
Fleck and the program had a lot of immediate questions that needed answering entering the offseason, too. Problems that can’t be fixed properly by incoming freshmen, especially after starting QB Athan Kaliakmanis hit the transfer portal and went to Big Ten rival, Rutgers.
But thanks to Dinkytown Athletes, Minnesota was able to get a lot more out of the portal than they lost to it this offseason. Fleck and his staff were able to upgrade at QB, WR, and RB, which has their offense looking much stronger at every skill position on the offensive depth chart, compared to 2023.
The transfer portal upgrades started with top FCS Quarterback Max Brosmer, from the University of New Hampshire. Oklahoma RB Marcus Major then jumped in the boat, to pair with blossoming young star Darius Taylor. Before you knew it, Penn State WR Christian Driver (son of former NFL WR Donald Driver) was committed too. It’s all combined to set up what should be an exciting year for Gophers football.