Mason searching for diamonds in the rough

Some schools throw the doors open and blue chip recruits flood the campus. At Minnesota, Glen Mason knows he needs to turn good kids into great players. At least he's got a track record for doing that. Check out what Mason had to say about his team, his recruiting philosophy and the state of the program on National Signing Day.

On Wednesday, the Gophers unveiled the Class of 2004, the next group of players to don the Maroon and Gold this fall. And while Glen Mason was all smiles in talking about his prize recruits, he also said his staff needs to take kids that few other schools wanted and turn them into quality Big Ten players.

Players such as all-Big Ten center Greg Eslinger or Heisman Trophy candidate Marion Barber III were virtually unknown when they arrived in Dinkytown. Now they're on the fast track to stardom. That's what Mason says programs like Minnesota need to have happen in order to compete in the Big Ten.

"We took Greg Eslinger because of how he performed in our summer football camp," Mason said. "He weighs about 280 now and he looks like he's about 15 years old. He doesn't look like a Big Ten center. But we really recruited him because he understood leverage and was a hustle player."

Although the Gophers' class was graded near the bottom of the Big Ten by most recruiting services, Mason said he's not bothered by the lack of respect his program receives.

"Every year we're projected eighth, ninth, tenth … that's where we are," he said. "That's OK, as long as we don't end up there when we're counting wins and losses."

Again, the key comes a few years down the road, he said, when you can truly judge how strong a class is by its performance on the field. "You've got to evaluate them and develop them," Mason said. "A couple of years ago, I stood here and probably didn't even mention Greg Eslinger's name. Nobody asked a question about him. Now, there's not a better center in college football. We've got a whole history of guys like that."

Mason emphasized the importance of the Gophers' walk-on program, saying that four to five kids each year earn scholarships after walking on at the U.

One player who clearly has Mason's attention is Armstrong HS defensive end Everette Pedescleaux. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Pedescleaux has said he'd like to try to play basketball as well, and that's a decision Mason fully supports.

My philosophy is probably atypical to most college coaches. If they're able to play more than one sport and can stay academically eligible, I'm 100 percent for it," Mason said. "Everette brought that up and I have no problem with it. I talked with Dan Monson about it, and why wouldn't he want him? If he can play defensive end he can probably rebound in the Big Ten – and they call less fouls in basketball than they do in football in the Big Ten."

This year's class includes six quarterbacks but no wide receivers or offensive linemen. However, the Gophers return their entire O-line and have a number of talented receivers coming back, as well as the addition of WR Paris Hamilton, who sat out last year with a knee injury suffered in preseason drills.

Mason also noted that some position switches down the road could help fill holes in the offensive line. The most likely candidates would be surplus defensive linemen. "Sometimes guys outgrow that position," Mason said. "We need size and strength, but we put a big emphasis on their ability to run."

The Gophers signed seven in-state players, which Mason hopes is a reflection of his relationship with Minnesota's high school football coaches. "From my perspective, I've thought we always had a good relationship with the high school coaches in Minnesota," he said. "I couldn't be happier with the cooperation we've received. I've said it many times – what's good for Minnesota high school football is good for the University of Minnesota. We work very hard. Our first commitment is to recruit the state of Minnesota better than anybody."

Minnesota also signed a prep kicker and punter, but Mason said fans can look for senior Rhys Lloyd to continue to handle both duties next year. In fact, fans shouldn't look to see any of this year's recruiting crop on the field next fall.

"I'm one of those guys who never expects any freshmen to play," Mason said. "I tell them to anticipate not playing, and if they do it's a bonus."

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