Dec. 16, 2020: Wednesday, officially marks the beginning of the Early National Signing Period. Gophers football has gotten busy, as their 2021 recruiting class continues to take shape.
Early National Signing Day has officially begun! Starting today, high school and junior college prospects can put pen to paper and sign their National Letter of Intent continuing up until Friday, Dec. 18. There will still be a traditional National Signing Day on Feb. 3, but with so many prospects choosing to enroll early this gives them an opportunity to fully participate in spring workouts. With 19 total players putting pen to paper, there is so much information to share, so I have narrowed it down to what I believe to be the three biggest stories of ENSD 2020.
- QB, Athan Kaliakmanis officially chooses Gophers
Quarterback is the most talked-about position in all of American sports. The position can take a team over the edge or limit its ceiling. Kaliakmanis, an Antioch, IL native is the Gophers highest-rated quarterback commitment since MarQueis Gray in 2008. So how good is the 6-foot-4 four-star recruit?
As freshmen, Athan and his brother Dino (who is also committed to the U) started on the varsity team for Carmel Catholic High School before transferring to Antioch High School for their sophomore season. Later that winter, the Gophers’ offensive coordinator at the time Kirk Ciarrocca made the trip to Antioch to see Athan sling around some balls to Dino. The school offered Athan a scholarship on the spot, and Dino two weeks later when the brothers made a trip to Dinkytown. Up to that point, Athan had offers from Iowa, Tennessee, and Virginia Tech to name a few, while Dino was offered by Kansas, Northern Illinois, and Toledo. The two mutually agreed that committing to the Gophers was the best choice.
Athan is one of four 2021 commits that rank in the top four for Minnesota all-time in the “internet-era.” The dual-threat QB is known for his terrific arm talent, and ability to extend plays with his feet. He will be a great fit in P.J. Fleck and Mike Sanford Jr’s offense, as he extensively ran an RPO-style in high school. On paper, Kaliakmanis could be the perfect predecessor to Tanner Morgan.
- Three MN-kids opt to stay home
P.J. Fleck has had far more success with keeping top Minnesota talent home compared to some other coaches, “wink…wink,” Richard Pitino. Shakopee’s Deven Eastern and Annandale’s Logan Purcell both rank in the top 8 of Minnesota high school recruits according to 247sports, while Chanhassen’s Eli Mau will only be coming as a preferred walk-on, but the OLB is still a 2020 Mr. Football finalist in his own right.
Eastern, standing at 6-foot-6 280 pounds there is not much more that you want a defensive end to have physically. Rated as a four-star prospect on multiple recruiting sites, he had Nebraska, Missouri, and Iowa State interested in his services. His physical tools alone make him a very intriguing prospect, but his 54 tackles, 12.5 for loss, and 2.5 sacks in 10 games a junior make the sight of him in maroon and gold that much more exciting.
Logan Purcell might be even more physically imposing than Eastern. Standing at 6-foot-7 Purcell also has all of the tools to find success at the Big Ten level. He has great footwork and agility for his size. He is consensually rated as a three-star prospect. I fully expect Gophers’ o-line coach Brian Callahan to get the most out of the former Annandale standout.
Eli Mau is arguably the most accomplished of the three players. As a senior, he played all over the field at OLB and TE, while he even kicked and punted for Chanhassen. His versatility warranted being voted as one of 10 finalists for Minnesota’s Mr. Football award. The 6-foot-2 hybrid expects to play at the will linebacker spot for the Gophers.
- Best class ever?
By mid-day Wednesday, the Gophers’ 2021 class currently ranks No. 27 in all of the country. This would be Minnesota’s highest ranking ever, making four consecutive classes that P.J. Fleck and his staff have had that designation one-upping the previous year’s mark every year.
Outside of Athan Kaliakmanis and Deven Eastern, the Gophers have two other four-star recruits. CB, Steven Ortiz, and RB, Mar’Keise Irving. Ortiz turned down 20+ offers from schools such as Oregon, Washington, and Penn State in favor of the Gophers. His 6-foot length is ideal for a Big Ten cornerback and he has the chance to contribute right away. Mar’Keise or “Bucky” Irving ranks as the Gophers’ second-highest RB commit in the “internet-era,” only behind Washburn legend Jeff Jones. You can never have too many weapons on your roster, but with so much talent in the backfield, it might be a little longer before we see Irving make a major contribution for the Gophers.
The 13 total signed three-star recruits include:
- OT, Cameron James
- WR, Lemeke Brockington
- DT, Jacob Schuster
- OLB, Devon Williams
- DE, Austin Booker
- TE, Jameson Geers
- CB, Justin Walley
- OT, Logan Purcell
- WR, Brady Boyd
- DB, Darius Green
- WR, Dino Kaliakmanis
- DT, Luther McCoy
- ATH, Dylan McGill
- *(GRAD-TRANSFER), LB, Jack Gibbens
*Avante Dickerson ranks as the top-rated defensive back in the Internet Era to potentially sign with Minnesota, and he ranks third all-time regardless of position behind only Jeff Jones and Carter Coughlin. But the Omaha, NE defensive back opted to not officially sign with the Gophers, Wednesday, as Minnesota remains as only a verbal commitment.
I would like to announce that I will not be signing along with my teammates. I am simply not ready to make a final decision that will impact my future as a student athlete. I will be at the signing at Westside high school to support my teammates but not available for questions.
— AD #28 (@_dickerson1) December 16, 2020
What is next:
P.J. Fleck continues to impress on the recruiting trail year in and year out. What separates the good coaches from the great ones is the ability to get the most out of your players. Fleck has gotten “his guys” now he just needs to get some wins.