MINNEAPOLIS — Jerry Kill's sudden retirement last fall quickly made this recruiting class at Minnesota a question mark.
Carter Coughlin's unwavering commitment to his home-state school helped dispel any doubts and give new coach Tracy Claeys a solid foundation entering his first full season.
Coughlin, a consensus four-star linebacker from prep power Eden Prairie, highlighted a group of eight Minnesotans among the 20 scholarship players who signed national letters of intent Wednesday with the Gophers. Coughlin's many suitors included Ohio State.
"I think the kids in the state are bigger fans of the program, and high-school coaches have been very supportive of us. So if we can continue to improve the product, I think we'll continue to get the majority of the kids in the state," Claeys said.
The Gophers also signed two players raised in Minnesota who finished high school in Texas: quarterback Seth Green (Woodbury) and defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr. (Eden Prairie), the son of the former Vikings standout.
Though the Gophers lost some their initial commitments, the encouragement of Coughlin and the determination of Claeys helped keep the class largely intact. The Gophers were ranked 50th in the FBS by Rivals.com (10th in the Big Ten), 46th by 247sports.com (ninth) and 42nd by Scout.com (eighth), their highest national scores of the Kill-Claeys regime that started in 2011.
"I was in a different airport every day, because you didn't want to leave anything to chance. You wanted to make sure you got into homes and those things were all solid, because change is a scary deal," Claeys said.
Other things to know:
Top 25 class: No
Best in class: Carter Coughlin, LB, Eden Prairie, Minnesota
Best of the rest: QB Seth Green, Allen, Texas; Tyler Johnson, WR, Minneapolis North HS; Garrison Wright, OL, Butler CC (Kansas); Sam Schlueter, OL, Victoria (Minnesota)/Mayer Lutheran HS; Kamal Martin, LB, Burnsville (Minnesota) HS; Philip Howard, WR, Minneapolis/Robbinsdale Cooper HS; Coney Durr, CB, Geismar (Louisiana) Dutchtown HS; Thomas Barber, LB, Plymouth (Minnesota)/Robbinsdale Armstrong HS; Vincent Calhoun, OL, Southwest Mississippi CC; Merrick Jackson, DL, Iowa Western CC.
Late addition: Mark Williams, QB, Jackson (Alabama) HS.
One that got away: Dedrick Snelson, WR, Pembroke Pines, Florida Signed with Central Florida.
How they'll fit in: Green will compete with sophomore Demry Croft to be the backup to Mitch Leidner. Calhoun (335 pounds) and Wright (318 pounds) could be in the starting lineup right away. Johnson and Martin are converted QBs marking a focus on athleticism.
For the full list: http://www.gophersports.com/index.html