MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - In his first full season leading the Gophers football program, P.J. Fleck’s staff has signed the highest-ranked class in University of Minnesota history. At his National Signing Day press conference, Fleck said the Gophers are ranked No. 22 in the nation in the 247Sports-Scout composite rankings and No. 23 in the ESPN Recruiting Nation Rankings.
The class includes 15 offensive players and 11 defensive players, with seven who will enroll in January.
Fox 9 will have a live special broadcast of the P.J. Fleck Show on Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m. to recap National Signing Day, including a one-on-one interview with Coach Fleck and analysis from Fox 9’s Hobie Artigue, former Gophers wide receiver Ron Johnson and KFAN’s Justin Gaard.
NO. 1 IN THE BIG TEN WEST: This is the first time in program history the Gophers have secured a Top 25 class, and the first time they have been ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten West, over division rivals Wisconsin and Iowa.
“I think that’s really important because that’s the side of the division we focus on,” Fleck said. “That’s the side of the division we have to win to get the Big Ten Championship."
FLORIDA MOVING COMPANY: The 2018 commits, confirmed Wednesday morning on National Signing Day, are led by massive offensive linemen Curtis Dunlap (6’4, 368 lbs) and Daniel Faalele (6’8, 400 lbs) from IMG Academy in Florida. Dunlap is the No. 6 ranked guard in the nation, choosing the Gophers after decommitting from the Florida Gators. Faalele is a raw talent – originally from Australia – who didn’t play football until this year.
“This is a young man who stated to me that he wanted to be here,” Fleck said on Dunlap. “Without seeing it, I commit. But then he said, you know what coach, I commit. You’ve got to believe me, you’ve got to trust me. After he said that, this is what made him special – he goes, ‘My mom is my heart, and she has to see. She’s everything to me.’ This is a young man who lost his father a few months ago and his dad was a major part of his life, and I know that hurt the family a lot. But this is a special young man who’s going to live his father’s legacy. That’s what makes this class special. I know he’s big, I know he’s strong, I know he’s four stars. This kid’s a five-star person, he’s got a five-star heart.”
THE CALIFORNIA QB: The Gophers hope they have found their quarterback of the very-near future in Vic Viramontes, a dual-threat quarterback regarded as one of the best JUCO players in the nation.
“This guy is unbelievable, Fleck said. “I’m going to read off his high school stats: He had over 4,500 pass yards and over 4,500 rushing yards. He accounted for over 95 touchdowns. You talk about a leader who commands the huddle, who commands his team – this guy is exactly that...His film makes your say, ‘Wow!’”
THE WR WHO STARTED IT ALL: Fleck said four-star wide receiver Rashod Bateman is “where the whole class started.”
“We went down to west Georgia, had a camp, he had no offers at the time. And he runs for us, he performs for us, and I said hey, I’m offering you a scholarship. He goes, ‘Perfect, I want to commit.’
Fleck said there’s one piece of unfinished business with Bateman – that Minnesota needs to get a Zaxby’s chicken restaurant.
“Now, we’re going to have to be able to get a Zaxby’s here. His favorite food is Zaxby’s. I know we have a lot of places – Buffalo Wild Wings, Raising Cane’s – but we need to get a Zaxby’s up here. He eats every single meal right now at Zaxby’s.”
DREAM COME TRUE: The Gophers signed five Minnesotans to the 2018 class, including Joshua Aune or Highland Park High School in St. Paul, Nathan Boe of Lakeville North, Brevyn Spann-Ford of St. Cloud Tech, Benjamin Sapp of Eden Prairie and Zack Annexstad of IMG Academy in Florida (originally from Norseland, Minnesota).
Aune will be the first St. Paul public school student to commit the Gophers in 15 years. In his Signing Day press conference, Fleck talked about how Aune never came off the field – playing offense, defense and punting on special teams. Aune will play defensive back for the Gophers.
Spann-Ford will play tight end for the Gophers. Fleck said that as an in-state player, “being a Gopher means everything to him."
For Nathan Boe, National Signing Day is a dream come true. Fleck said "he dreamed his entire life about being a Gopher and now he is."
When introducing Benjamin Sapp to the media, Fleck said he’s one of the first players to believe in the program’s vision, and called him an example of what “Row the Boat” is all about.