MINNEAPOLIS - University of Minnesota football coach PJ Fleck went to bed Tuesday night feeling as good as he possibly could about National Signing Day.
The coaching staff put in the hours, at least 19 prospects had given verbal commitments and all that was left to make it official was putting pen to paper on a National Letter of Intent. Fleck was one of the first to arrive at the Gophers’ football complex Wednesday morning, and was ready as those letters came in.
By about 10 a.m., the Gophers had 22 players signed to the Class of 2022. They'll have 18 incoming freshmen, three prep school players and one transfer.
Best of all for Fleck, he didn’t have any Signing Day surprises. Essentially every committed player sent in a letter. Fleck introduced his latest recruiting class at a Signing Day Social luncheon at Huntington Bank Stadium.
"As a leader you don’t like surprises, period, one way or another. I hate surprises. When you’re not surprised, it’s a good thing," Fleck said Wednesday afternoon. "We knew exactly what we were going into, we knew exactly who was going to. We put them to bed. Our staff does an amazing job of building those relationships, and I think that paid off at the end of why there’s no surprises."
Fleck’s 2022 recruiting class is highlighted by four-star defensive linemen Trey Bixby of Eden Prairie, and Anthony Smith, who had offers from all over the country. The other standout recruits are three-star quarterback Jacob Knuth, and three-star running back Zach Evans.
The class ranks in the top-40 in the country, No. 7 in the Big Ten and is currently No. 1 in the Big Ten West. Ten of the 22 signed players will report to campus in January.
The 2022 class includes six players from Minnesota, including three of the top five in the state. The five include Bixby of Eden Prairie, Spencer Alvarez of Columbia Heights, Kristen Hoskins of Alexandria, Tony Nelson of Tracy, Joey Gerlach of Woodbury and Cade Conzemius of Minnetonka.
Fleck said recruiting Minnesota is one of his top priorities, but it has to be the right fit, and the recruits have to want to be Gophers. Ever since Fleck arrived in 2017, he’s stressed a complete college experience academically, athletically, socially and spiritually.
"I think it’s huge to be able to keep Minnesota kids here in Minnesota. But again, the right Minnesota kids that fit us, and want to come here," Fleck said. "That’s why fit is everything. Of course we’re going to start with Minnesota high school student athletes, period. That’s where everything we do starts with. We want to make sure it’s right for everybody."
Fleck added 12 offensive players, and 10 defensive players. That list includes three offensive linemen, four wide receivers, five defensive backs, three defensive linemen and two linebackers. He’s not necessarily done, as he could add more through the NCAA transfer portal.
The Gophers are coming off an 8-4 season under Fleck, and head to the Guaranteed Rate Bowl after beating Wisconsin 23-13 to end the season. In his last three seasons, Fleck is 16-9 in Big Ten play.
Fleck said his newest recruiting class is as much about who the athletes are away from football as it is what they do on the field.
"There are a lot of guys on this sheet that have a full-ride scholarship to the University of Minnesota to play in the Big Ten because of how they play the game, and how they live their life, and how they respond to adversity," Fleck said. "That’s why they’re coming here, and they’re also really good football players on top of that."
Here is a look at the 22-player class for 2022.
Jacob Knuth, Harrisburg, S.D., Harrisburg High School
Running Back (2)
Zach Evans, Heath, Texas, Rockwall-Heath High School
Max Grand, Ellsworth, Wis., Ellsworth High School
Tight End (2)
Spencer Alvarez, Columbia Heights, Minn., Columbia Heights High School
Nathan Jones, Brock Texas, Brock High School
Wide Receiver (4)
Kristen Hoskins, Alexandria, Minn., Alexandria High School
Ike White, Philadelphia, Pa., St. Frances Academy (Maryland)
Cade Conzemius, Minnetonka, Minn., Minnetonka High School
Evan Redding, Menomonee Falls, Wis., Menomonee Falls High School
Offensive Line (3)
Tony Nelson, Tracy, Minn., Tracy-Milroy-Balaton High School
Ashton Beers, Slinger, Wis., Slinger High School
Cade McConnell, Choctaw, Okla., Choctaw High School
Defensive Back (5)
Aidan Gousby, Lehigh Acres, Fla., Lehigh Senior High School
Rhyland Kelly, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Clearway Academy (Florida)
Coleman Bryson, Waynesville, N.C., Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School (Georgia)
Tariq Watson, Gretna, La., Helen Cox High School
Ryan Stapp, College Station, Texas, College Station High School, Abilene Christian University
Maverick Baranowski, Ponce Inlet, Fla., Spruce Creek High School
Joey Gerlach, Woodbury, Minn., Woodbury High School
Defensive Line (3)
Trey Bixby, Eden Prairie, Minn., Eden Prairie High School
Anthony Smith, Shippensburg, Pa., Shippensburg High School
Hayden Schwartz, Jacksonville, Fla., The Bolles School