Recruiting: No better than average perception

The Gophers' recruiting Class of 2004 isn't impressing a lot of people, but there are several very solid prospects that could be pleasant surprises under Glen Mason.

The Gophers had the kind of recruiting class that might be expected from a mid-level Big Ten team — just fine but not spectacular.

The recruiting class took a hit early on when offensive lineman Lydon Murtha, a top-50 national prospect, withdrew his verbal commitment to eventually sign with Nebraska. Murtha played his high school football in Minnesota.

That loss might have hurt the perception of Minnesota's signing class. Some of the analysts thought the Gophers had a deep class, even if it lacked star power. At the top of the list is Atlanta linebacker Leland Jones (6-2, 215), who is rated the nation's 24th-best outside linebacker by one major rating service. Jones, recruited by a number of southern schools, including Clemson, was chosen all-state after recording 153 tackles and 11 sacks as a senior.

The Gophers also added depth and talent along the defensive line, in particular Nhemie Theodore of New Jersey and Everette Pedescleaux, a Minnesota native. Pedescleaux is a great athlete who also plays basketball.

Mason, however, has a history of finding excellent players even though they may not have been highly rated by recruiting services. Among them is RB Marion Barber, who was basically thought of as just another guy when the Gophers brought him in three years ago. Along with Laurence Maroney, he gave the Gophers the most explosive running attack in the Big Ten last season.

"I wish I could stand up here and say, 'You know what, I knew all those other guys are wrong,' " head coach Glen Mason said of Barber.

"But we took him as the last guy. And to be quite honest with you, if he was not an in-state kid, we would not have offered him a scholarship. And I told him he's not good enough to be running back. I was dead wrong and I freely admit it."

Mason is hoping his unheralded class can exceed expectations.

LB Leland Jones, Atlanta — One of the most sought after players at his position. Jones has the kind of size and athleticism that head coach Glen Mason wants. Jones has great speed and is a big hitter, although he may need to add a few pounds to his 6-3, 215-pound frame.

DT Nhemie Theodore, Irvington, N.J. — The Gophers want to beef up their defensive line and Theodore can go along way toward helping them. He's already powerful at 6-3 and 285 pounds, and he has the frame to add more weight as well.

DL Everette Pedescleaux, Robbinsdale, Minn. — A superb athlete who should be able to get after the passer. Pedescleaux has the look of a great athlete as he checks in at 6-6 and 240 pounds. He has a quick first step and can also put a solid power move on opposing offensive tackles.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Sometimes the guy that has the biggest bang on signing day isn't the best player. You see that time and time again." — Head coach Glen Mason on Minnesota's recruiting class, which failed to impress the ranking services.

GLANCE AT 2004: The Gophers have a powerful running attack with Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney. That duo was extremely powerful last year and should be able to get the job done once again. However, they need to find a replacement for QB Asad Abdul-Khaliq, who was an outstanding leader and an underrated passer. The defensive front returns three of four starters, but they need some help at linebacker.

PRO POTENTIAL: TE Ben Utecht — He has fine hands and tremendous size at 6-6 and 250 pounds. He should be very effective in the red zone because he is so big and strong.

OLB Ben West — A big hitter with solid range. He is an especially good tackler and that ability should allow him to make a roster if he can play special teams.

WR Aaron Hosack — He has possession receiver stamped all over him. While the 6-5 Hosack is not fast, he is quicker than you would expect. He also can make the leaping catch over smaller defensive backs.

INJURY IMPACT: The Gophers should be healthy heading into spring practice.

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