Minnesota's Jerry Kill was the Big Ten coach of the year in 2014, but coaches are only as good as the players they recruit. We caught up with Kill to ask him about his latest Gophers class for this recruiting Q&A:
Brian Bennett: You loaded up on defensive backs and the offensive line. Was that the plan going in?
Jerry Kill: Yeah. We have a very, very talented secondary coming back this year, and we're going to lose four of those young people. So we felt like we had to load up this class to make sure we have the depth that we need the following year. And then we'll still add some more the next year. The good thing is, we've had a lot of evaluations on every kid and did our homework, and they can all really run. We've got some guys that are long and some kids in the 5-foot-10, 5-11 range with good ball skills.
The offensive line, I feel very, very good about. I think it's the best up-front class we've signed since we've been here. They're big, they're athletic and we're still recruiting one. I felt like we really, really improved ourselves up front. We needed it, and we're real excited about it.
BB: Big is right. These look like kids that you don't have to worry about putting much weight on.
JK: Yeah they're big and they're lean. None of them are sloppy. Like Bronson Dovich. He's only 17 years old, and he's 6-5, 295. We've got a defensive end, Winston DeLattiboudere, he's 6-3, 216, but he just turned 17 about a week ago. So we've got three or four young guys that are going to continue to get bigger.
BB: Tell us about the quarterback in this class, Demry Croft.
JK: You know what, I think that's a tremendous steal for us. I'm glad he kind of stayed hidden. He played receiver the year before and about halfway through they moved him to quarterback because of an injury, and he just did a great job the last part of his junior year. We had him in camp and he ran a 4.6 [40-yard dash] -- which our guys are awfully stiff on. He's 6-5, 200 pounds, and he can wing the ball around and he's athletic. You look at some of the guys we're playing in the league, certainly Ohio State with the three guys they have, and you've got to have somebody like that. He's a very, very talented kid and his best years are ahead of him.
BB: How much did your connections to his hometown (Rockford, Illinois) help in getting him?
JK: It absolutely helped, being at Northern Illinois, and we've got a coach who was raised in Rockford. I don't know if we would have made the offer if he hadn't come to camp. We spent time with him and were like, "Holy cow, this guy's talented. What's going on here?" All along, I kept thinking, "Oh, somebody is going to jump on this deal." And I think he had some people reach out to him, but we built a good enough relationship early enough that he stayed with us.
BB: You've got recruits from as far away as El Paso, Texas, along with some from Louisiana, Alabama, Kansas and Canada. You cast a pretty wide net, huh?
JK: Yeah, we do, and I think part of that has to do with the relationships we've built. This is my 31st year, and I've built a lot of relationships. We've been able to do a good job in Texas since we've been here. We've always been able to do a good job in the south all the way back to our Southern Illinois days.
When you're in our situation, you can't afford to make many mistakes. I think our class last year, we proved that we had talent -- we played eight freshmen. We have to go and hunt, so to speak, and work at it.
The receiver from El Paso (Rashad Still), he only played two years of football and was on an outstanding basketball team. Not many people are going to go clear to El Paso to find a player. We did our homework. We watched him play basketball, evaluated him in football and again we were just hoping nobody would really know much about him and that we could get one there. We're big at receiver now. We redshirted four kids last year, and with the addition of the two receivers we got in this class, we're going to be big at receiver.
BB: With the success you guys have had the past two seasons on the field, has the reception on the recruiting trail improved?
JK: There's no question about that. Just going to speak at clinics and people reaching out from these states like Texas and Alabama -- they want our coaches to go speak there. And then the recruiting trail is much more open. Even today, we had a situation where we had to turn a good player away because we were filled up. He was a player that was going to a really, really good Power 5 school but he wanted to come here at the last straw. And there wasn't anything to do about it because we were filled up at that position. That hasn't happened before since I've been here, but we've had that happen a couple times in the last few days. I wish we had a few more scholarships. One of them was a four-star player.
BB: The school is undergoing a major facilities campaign. Were you able to sell those plans in recruiting?
JK: Absolutely. We showed them what we're going to do, and we're going to do it, which is even better. I think that certainly opens up the doors a little bit. However, nothing is better than seeing the visual part of it. And that visual part will start in August or September. So I think next year is when that will really help us out.