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The lifeblood of any college football program is recruiting. Historically, coaches have scoured the country in search of the best high school players to restock their shelves, with fruits of their labor usually emerging later rather than sooner.

Since the summer of 2021, however, the NCAA's loosening of transfer rules, in which players no longer have to sit out a year if they switch schools, has changed the way many teams approach roster development.

That's true for Gophers coach P.J. Fleck, whose 2022 recruiting class included 18 players right out of high school and eight players who've transferred from other colleges.

"It used to be: Take guys, bring him in, and two, three years, four years down the road, they develop and play,'' Fleck said. "We still have that. But now there's this one-year plan that college football's changing into. So, it's a combination of that.''

Through the first three weeks of training camp, Fleck and his staff have worked at developing their freshmen while filling starting spots and depth roles with transfers. Both youngsters and veterans have made an impression during camp, and here are some of the newcomers who have stood out:

Beefing up the offensive line

The Gophers lost four starting offensive linemen from last year's team that finished 9-4 and regularly mauled opponents up front with the likes of Daniel Faalele and Blaise Andries. Holdovers in left tackle Aireontae Ersery, left guard Axel Ruschmeyer and center John Michael Schmitz will start, and a couple of transfers will try to join them.

Chuck Filiaga, a graduate transfer from Michigan, appears to have locked down the starting right guard role. The 6-6, 330-pound Texan has been solid during camp, and his experience with the Wolverines certainly helps. He started 11 games at either guard spot over the past two seasons, and he looks to be a plug-and-play performer for the Gophers.

Another transfer, former Notre Dame lineman Quinn Carroll from Edina, is in a battle with Martes Lewis for the right tackle spot, with JJ Guedet also seeing some practice reps. Judging by camp, Lewis is slightly ahead of Carroll, who missed spring practice while finishing his Notre Dame education. Fleck indicated the job could end up being a rotation.

Quinn Carroll, a Notre Dame transfer, is battling for the Gophers’ starting right tackle spot during training camp.
Quinn Carroll, a Notre Dame transfer, is battling for the Gophers’ starting right tackle spot during training camp.

Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

True freshmen make a mark

If Zach Evans plays a lot this season, that's an indication he's either blossomed quickly or things have gone terribly wrong in the Gophers backfield. The true freshman from Rockwall-Heath (Texas) High School received extended play during spring practice while Mohamed Ibrahim and Trey Potts eased their way back from season-ending injuries. Now that Ibrahim and Potts are carrying the bulk of the load during training camp, Evans has seen fewer reps. But in the small sample size in which media members could watch camp, he was impressive. The Gophers likely want to redshirt Evans, but they should feel confident in his abilities in case they have to use him.

"We had nine playmakers out on offense [last year], and we still found a way to win nine games,'' Fleck said. "But [depth] can be a lot better, and we never know when we're going to be put in that role.''

Gophers freshman Zach Evans made a strong impression during spring practice.
Gophers freshman Zach Evans made a strong impression during spring practice.

Anthony Souffle, Star Tribune

On defense, Fleck sees a bright future, maybe even this season, for true freshman safety Coleman Bryson.

"When the offensive coordinator at some point looks up and comes back to you and says, 'That kid's going to be a hell of a player,' that's when you know that kid is opening a lot of eyes,'' Fleck said.

A boost for the defensive line

The Gophers defensive line lost a lot from the 2021 team — ends Boye Mafe and Esezi Otomewo and tackles Micah Dew-Treadway and Nyles Pinckney being the most glaring. Defensive coordinator Joe Rossi relies heavily on a rotation that uses eight to 10 linemen, so shoring up the depth was an offseason priority.

Filling one of those spots is interior lineman Kyler Baugh, a 6-2, 300-pound transfer from Houston Baptist who has 104 tackles over the past two seasons. Baugh has stood out during training camp.

Fleck loves Baugh's motor and shared a story of how Baugh chased down an opposing running back for roughly 80 yards for a touchdown-saving tackle while at Houston Baptist.

"That's what this program is all about — the How,'' Fleck said. "He has it. He's not the biggest, the longest, but he's incredibly strong, loves his teammates and he plays his tail end off.''

Veteran duo strengthens secondary

The Gophers have one of the deepest secondaries in the Big Ten, and two transfers are a reason why.

Ryan Stapp, formerly of Abilene Christian, and Beanie Bishop, who played for Western Kentucky, are in line to see regular action at cornerback. They've combined to play in 63 career games, and each has two years of eligibility remaining.

"For us, it's about playing really hard, being smart and being good people,'' Rossi said. "Those two guys — they're smart, they play really hard and they're tremendous people. They were Gophers, but they just didn't know it until they got here.''

Beanie Bishop, a transfer from Western Kentucky, has bolstered the Gophers’ depth in the defensive backfield.
Beanie Bishop, a transfer from Western Kentucky, has bolstered the Gophers’ depth in the defensive backfield.

Aaron Lavinsky, Star Tribune