Minnesota is compiling its most highly regarded recruiting class since hiring Jerry Kill as head coach in December 2010. Among the class's 16 commitments are many standard targets, including a few standouts. There’s Sean Foster, a four-star offensive lineman from Illinois, and Carter Coughlin, the No. 1 recruit from the state of Minnesota. Yet the crown jewel of the haul does not fit the Gophers’ recruiting profile.
Four-star wide receiver Dredrick Snelson, from sunny South Florida, verbally committed to Minnesota in August.
Though Snelson says his friends and family supported his decision, he knows there are doubts over whether he’ll sign to move nearly 2,000 miles northwest. According to Snelson, he’s “100 percent” committed to Minnesota, and his mother, Kamilah, says she thinks he’ll stick to his pledge. People have asked Snelson—who plans to take his official visit to the Twin Cities the weekend of Oct. 31, when Minnesota hosts Michigan—how he’ll deal with the cold weather. “It’s cold in the NFL. That’s all I say.”
Snelson originally pledged to a more logical choice, Miami—where his uncle, Joseph Yearby, plays—in July 2014 but opted to reopen his recruitment in December because “I felt like I did it too early. I wanted to give everybody the opportunity.”
He continued to garner interest from other programs while performing well at events, and he released a list of 10 in April. The Gophers didn’t make the cut, but Snelson says he “knew Minnesota was already in it” and that the schools he did include (Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Louisville, Miami, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Virginia Tech and West Virginia) were those to which he was “giving a chance.” Snelson had known about Minnesota, but when asked about what drew him to the program, he’s quick to credit two fellow Gophers commits, cornerbacks Elijah and Elisha Daniels.
Snelson says the Daniels twins—who attend Cardinal Gibbons High in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and whom Snelson says he has known since ninth grade—discussed with him the possibility of “coming up to make history up there.” After hearing what they had to say, Snelson says he began researching Minnesota online, which only increased his interest in the program. But the Daniels twins, according to Snelson, “sealed the deal” on his decision to commit.
This is hardly the first time Minnesota has reached outside of Big Ten country for a recruit during the Kill era. The Gophers have landed players from Texas, Virginia, Louisiana, Georgia, California and Tennessee, among other states. Minnesota has plucked 14 prospects from Florida alone since 2011, the first class the Gophers signed under Kill. Yet Snelson, the class of 2016’s No. 29 receiver, is by far the most highly regarded of the Sunshine State group.
At 6’0”, 190 pounds, Snelson is renowned for his combination of explosiveness, strength and agility. He could be a short-range terror for opposing Big Ten defenses, catching passes underneath and galloping for big chunks of yards. “Very athletic, separates, he’s strong, he runs great patterns, he’s quick,” says Larry Blustein, who has been scouting players in Florida for more than 40 years. “Very tough to bring down, he gets in open space and he shows off his athleticism.”
Says Rob Cassidy, a Rivals.com analyst who covers the Southeast: “He doesn’t really have the size that other guys have, but he kind of makes up for that with explosiveness. He comes off the line quick—I think that’s kind of what sets him apart. It’s almost like he’s shot out of a cannon a little bit. It doesn’t take him long to get up to top speed because he is so compact.” Cassidy adds, “He’s a hard guy to jam at the line of scrimmage because he is so strong despite being short.”
As a junior last season, Snelson caught 35 passes for 727 yards and three touchdowns while helping American Heritage School win its second consecutive state championship before transferring to Flanagan High this summer.
Snelson says Minnesota envisions him lining up in the slot and as an H-Back and thinks he could make an impact as a ballcarrier on screen plays and jet sweeps. Deploying Snelson on run plays could make him more valuable in their offense, as the Gophers' recent track record does not inspire optimism that they’ll throw the ball often. In four seasons under Kill, Minnesota has ranked no higher than ninth in the Big Ten in passing attempts per game and last in the conference in 2013 and 2014.
Snelson counters that Kill “told me they were going to spread the ball out this year.” (Through three games in 2015, the Gophers check in at No. 4 in the Big Ten with 35.7 passing attempts per game.)
Snelson’s commitment has not stopped other programs from trying to steer him closer to home. Snelson says he’s still hearing from Louisville, Florida, Central Florida and Miami, and that he’s trying to arrange visits with the Gators and the Cardinals. Those programs and others will likely ramp up their pursuits leading into National Signing Day on Feb. 3, which will test Snelson’s resolve. (He described an August article indicating there was a 40% chance he’d end up at Miami as “false information.”)
A lot can change in the more than four months before signing day, but for now, Snelson represents a huge recruiting victory for Minnesota, a program that has made strides since the beginning of Kill’s tenure but nonetheless doesn’t strike most blue-chip prospects as a desirable destination.
“Most people think I’m not going to sign with Minnesota,” Snelson says. “But they can think what they want to think.”