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Jacob Knuth decided Minnesota was the college program for him back in February, giving a verbal commitment to Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck.

And when the quarterback from Harrisburg, S.D., made an unofficial visit to campus on June 1 and followed up with his official visit last weekend, he wanted to do more than just check out the facilities. He figured he had a job to do, too.

"Ever since I committed, I've put my recruiting hat on and started building relationships with other recruits that the Gophers were interested in and worked hard to get them in the boat as well," Knuth said.

As a QB, Knuth is tapping his leadership skills, and he has help in that task from future teammates, too. Wide receiver Kristen Hoskins of Alexandria, Minn., and Knuth met at a camp in Florida in December, and both three-star recruits committed to Minnesota around the same time. They've been spreading the Minnesota gridiron gospel since, and they helped the Gophers land running back Zach Evans of Rockwall-Heath (Texas) High School.

"They were both telling me about what the program offers, what they felt about their experiences in recruiting with coach Fleck," said Evans, a three-star recruit who made his official visit to Minnesota from June 11-13. "That had a big influence, too."

Over the past two weekends, Fleck and his staff have been host to 18 players on official visits, according to Gopher Illustrated, including six who previously committed to Minnesota and 12 who hadn't. So far, eight of the latter 12 have pledged to Minnesota, two are going elsewhere and two have yet to decide.

Unlike his first four recruiting classes that averaged nearly 24 players, Fleck is being more selective this year and expects to have roughly 13 to 15 in this class, which can sign its national letters of intent during the early signing period from Dec. 15-17. That approach is needed because of the "super seniors" who opted to return for an extra season of eligibility the NCAA granted in the wake of COVID-19, plus the changing landscape brought on by the transfer portal. This winter, the Gophers added seven transfers.

"It makes you feel a little bit more like a GM in the recruiting process than just the head coach," Fleck said.

Following last weekend's official visits, the Gophers had a flurry of pledges — five scholarship players and a preferred walk-on — giving them 13 scholarship commitments for the Class of 2022. As of Tuesday evening, they ranked 17th nationally and fourth in the Big Ten behind Ohio State (1), Rutgers (7) and Penn State (8) in the 247Sports composite of major recruiting services.

The state of the state

Persuading the top in-state players to join the program remains a work in progress for Fleck and his staff. Of the top 14 Minnesota players in the 247Sports composite ratings, the Gophers have extended offers to seven and received commitments from three: Hoskins (No. 8), Tracy offensive tackle Tony Nelson (No. 9) and Columbia Heights tight end Spencer Alvarez (No. 14).

The state's top-rated player, Hill-Murray offensive tackle Lucas Heyer, received a Gophers offer but has not made an official visit to Minnesota. Michigan, Northwestern and Stanford are the top contenders to land the 6-5, 307-pounder. No. 2-rated Eli King of Caledonia has accepted a basketball offer from Iowa State, and No. 3 Tre Holloman of Cretin-Derham Hall is expected to choose basketball, too.

Marshall offensive lineman Deylin Hasert, rated No. 4 in Minnesota, visited campus June 11-13. On Friday, Hasert gave a verbal commitment to Iowa State, where he made his first official visit on June 4.

An emerging leader

Knuth, 6-4 and 207 pounds, zeroed in on the Gophers during the winter after leading Harrisburg to a runner-up finish in the Class 11AAA state tournament, South Dakota's largest football class.

"Schools were starting to offer me, and with the COVID year, a lot of quarterbacks at the time were making decisions," Knuth said. "I didn't want to be left out, and at the time I didn't have any other big spots."

Knuth has followed the Gophers closely from Harrisburg, a fast-growing suburb of Sioux Falls, and became intrigued with his future coach upon watching the 2017 ESPN series, "Being P.J. Fleck." "That's when the interest was real for me," Knuth said. "Then they had that great season [11-2 in 2019]."

In Knuth, the Gophers will get a dual-threat QB who passed for 2,403 yards and 28 touchdowns last year and rushed for 463 yards and four TDs. With 16 other returning starters, he's aiming for a state title.

The Gophers also are getting a leader, who can envision himself in the future making an impact with classmates Evans in the backfield and Hoskins at wideout.

"That should be a fun test for defenses to try to stop us," Knuth said.