The highlight of Minnesota's latest recruiting class is a hometown kid: running back Jeff Jones.
Jones upheld his verbal commitment to the program by announcing his decision Wednesday on national signing day to join the Gophers over his other finalist, Iowa State. Jones held a news conference at Minneapolis Washburn, the same high school that produced standout defensive tackle and potential NFL first-round draft pick Ra'Shede Hageman, whose relationship with coach Jerry Kill and his staff helped sway Jones to stay home.
"I believe strongly in loyalty," Jones told reporters. "As a Minnesota kid that has grown up here, I wouldn't feel right putting up stats for Michigan with Michigan across my chest."
Jones was ranked as the seventh-best running back in the nation by Rivals.com and 12th by Scout.com. Those analysts had Jones 44th and 78th overall and both services rated him as a four-star prospect. His addition was a big boost to the best class Kill has had here. Jones has yet to qualify academically, the coach said he wasn't worried.
"It's hard when you got that many people coming at you when you're young but we maintained the relationship," Kill said, adding: "That's great for our state."
Rankings are meaningless, of course, before these players ever suit up for a game, but Rivals put Minnesota eighth in the soon-to-be-14-team Big Ten and 53rd nationally and Scout had the Gophers ninth and 51st, respectively. Last year's class was ranked last in the conference by both of those services.
Two offensive linemen joined Jones as the top recruits the state produced this year, and they both bolted for the Southeastern Conference. Frank Ragnow of Chanhassen picked Arkansas, and J.C. Hassenauer of East Ridge went with Alabama.
But the Gophers added plenty of offensive skill. Another Minnesota player, Brandon Lingen from Wayzata, is one of three well-regarded tight ends in the class. And wide receiver, the thinnest position on the 8-5 team last season, got a boost, too, with Isaiah Gentry and Conner Krizancic of Ohio and Melvin Holland from Virginia.
National rankings: Rivals 53, Scout 51.
Best in class: Jeff Jones, RB, Minneapolis Washburn HS.
Best of the rest: Isaiah Gentry, WR, Cincinnati Moeller HS; Melvin Holland, WR, Ashburn (Va.) Briar Woods HS; Conner Krizancic, WR, Mentor (Ohio) HS; Brandon Lingen, TE, Wayzata (Minn.) HS; Connor Mayes, OL, Van Alstyne (Texas) HS; Gary Moore, DT, Mobile (Ala.) Murphy HS; Dimonic Roden-McKinzy, QB, Kansas City (Kan.) Wyandotte HS; Andrew Stelter, DE, Owatonna (Minn.) HS.
Late additions: Moore reneged on his verbal commitment to Southern Mississippi and Krizancic did the same to Cincinnati.
One that got away: Frank Ragnow, OL, Chanhassen (Minn.) HS. Signed with Arkansas.
NOTE: Julien Kafo, a defensive end from Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, has an atypical background as a Canadian prospect. He speaks four languages: English, French, German and Spanish.