Fleck, Gophers Piling Up 2023 In-State Commits

PHOTO: DAVID JOLES – STAR TRIBUNE

The state of Minnesota is growing more high school athletic talent than ever before and football is no exception. But that doesn’t explain the early surge of in-state commitments during the Gophers’ 2023 cycle. This, after another homegrown talent, Alex Elliot (LB) from Hutchinson MN, jumped in the boat on Monday.

PJ Fleck and his staff now have NINE total commitments for 2023, so far. These are kids who will play their senior season of high school football in the coming fall, so it’s still early. What’s interesting is that FIVE of those early commitments are local, which would tie Fleck’s career high for one recruiting class (2022).

We have to go all the way back to the 2016 recruiting class to find a recruiting class with more local commitments than what PJ Fleck and his staff have collected already for 2023. You may remember the self-described “legacy class” that included Carter Coughlin, Kamal Martin, Antoine Winfield Jr, Tyler Johnson, Thomas Barber and many others who helped achieve things back in 2019, that most of us had never seen in our lifetime as Gopher football fans. That class had TEN Minnesota kids.

New Emphasis on In-State Recruits

Clearly, the Gophers are putting a new emphasis on local talent. They’ve even made offers to kids of late, who we may not have seen offered (or taken) in year’s past. Their logic seems obvious. In this new age of college athletics, where players are free to transfer without consequence, schools like Minnesota need to stock up on talent that is more likely to stick around through good and bad times. A player who is from the state and has a local support system to lean on is more likely to stick around if they find early success or find that college football life is more difficult than expected.

The Gophers, for example, have lost 23 players to the transfer portal since October. Yet, just TWO of those outgoing transfers are originally from the state of Minnesota (Jonathan Mann – WR – Rosemount and Peter Udoibok – WR – St. Paul). The other 21 were one-time import recruits from other states.

Talent only matters if it stays in Dinkytown

Mar’Keise “Bucky” Irving (Rockford IL), for example, was PJ’s prized recruit from the class of 2021. He and his staff had to work day and night to keep him in the boat through National Signing Day. It was a huge recruiting victory. Maybe the biggest since holding onto Rashod Bateman.

Then, after a true freshman season where he went off for 699 yards on 133 carries (5.5 YPC), Bucky announced his entry into the transfer portal. He’ll play for Oregon next season, one of the richest CFB donor groups in the country. His partner in crime, Ky Thomas (RS Freshman), also transferred this offseason. He is from Topeka and wanted to get closer to home, committing to the University of Kansas.

The transfer portal isn’t going away and neither are big NIL opportunities at helmet schools with deep booster pockets. Sure, Fleck would love to grab all the best talent from around the nation. But, if those guys aren’t going to stick around, then what does it matter?

Grabbing more local kids, who are more likely to stick around, is a smart recruiting maneuver. We’ll see if it pays off like it did in 2016.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan