Coach P.J. Fleck and his Gophers football program will find out at 6 p.m. Friday if they've landed their top target in their 2023 recruiting class, when Robbinsdale Cooper's Jaxon Howard announces his collegiate choice at the Cooper High School auditorium.
Howard, a four-star recruit, plays tight end and defensive end for the Hawks and is projected as an edge rusher in college. He's the top-ranked recruit in Minnesota in his class and the 11th-ranked edge rusher nationally in the 247Sports composite of major recruiting services.
The Gophers' competition for Howard is formidable. This spring he named Minnesota as one of his four finalists, along with LSU, Miami (Fla.) and Michigan. His announcement will be carried on the CBS Sports HQ website.
Howard started his official visits on June 10 with the Gophers, then made stops at Michigan (June 17), LSU (June 21) and Miami (June 24). He has been complimentary of each school but hasn't tipped his hand regarding his decision.
"He won't even tell me where he's leaning,'' Phoenix Sproles, Jaxon's brother who's a North Dakota State senior wide receiver, told WDAY Radio in Fargo on Tuesday. "I asked him [Monday] what he was thinking. He said, 'Get back to me in two business days.' ''
Allen Trieu, a national recruiting analyst for 247Sports, credited Fleck and his staff for their work in recruiting Howard but wasn't optimistic that he would choose Minnesota.
"Down the stretch, they have put themselves in position to be one of his top schools, and I feel like they were in true consideration," Trieu said. "... At this time I do not see them as the leader heading into the decision. But they've done extremely well to get into his final four.''
Analysts at both 247Sports and Rivals.com have projected LSU as the program Howard will pick.
Among the tasks on Fleck's to-do list for June was building the 2023 class, an endeavor that already had persuaded eight high school seniors-to-be to verbally commit to the program before the month began.
Thirty days later, Fleck and his coaching staff have an 18-player 2023 class after 10 more prospects verbally committed when official visits began in early June. It's a group that was ranked 16th nationally and fourth among Big Ten teams in the 247Sports composite as of Thursday.
Even if Howard goes elsewhere, the Gophers have the makings of a solid class, one that could improve when others make their decisions as early as this weekend.
Phillip Daniels, a three-star offensive lineman from Princeton High School in Cincinnati, will announce his choice on Saturday afternoon. The 6-5, 285-pounder visited the Gophers on June 10 and has them as a finalist, along with Pittsburgh and Boston College.
Another player to watch is three-star defensive lineman Elinneus Davis of Moorhead, Minn. Davis, 6-3 and 295 pounds, visited the Gophers on June 10 and followed that with trips to Iowa State and Washington. He's the fourth-ranked recruit in Minnesota and the No. 99 defensive line prospect in the nation, according to the 247Sports composite. If Davis chooses the Gophers, it will give Fleck commitments from six of the top seven recruits in the state.
The class that Fleck has assembled so far impresses Trieu.
"I do think it is a good class,'' he said, pointing to the top-20 ranking. "I don't know if I can say it is a huge step forward though because I think they've recruited well under Coach Fleck. Those first classes [under Fleck] in 2017 and 2018 produced a lot of difference-makers, for instance. But this class, talent-wise, can be similar to those two, which really set the bar for recent Minnesota classes.''