Having now entered June and the ensuing summer grind that comes with the game of football we’re starting to move on from the pandemic-stricken 2021 class and the recruiting and commitment news that comes with it. It’s the nature of…
Having now entered June and the ensuing summer grind that comes with the game of football we’re starting to move on from the pandemic-stricken 2021 class and the recruiting and commitment news that comes with it. It’s the nature of the beast, but I won’t be forgetting the ’21s anytime soon, as they faced the most frustrating and uphill senior year that any graduating class has faced in the modern recruiting era. From not being able to take visits, roster numbers and available scholarships becoming limited, and a shortened season without playoffs, things were far from typical this year, and for these reasons as well as a number of others I think we saw some unique commitments and landing spots for a number of talented senior prospects throughout the state that maybe wouldn’t happen if it was a traditional high school football season. In this new PrepRedzoneMN feature, I’ll break down and detail some of my personal favorite signings from the 2021 class, which span from Power-5 commitments to D3 and JUCO pledges. A lot of programs got better thanks to the help of MN’s finest, and I hope you find some of the mentioned decisions as exciting as I do. Thanks for reading!
Signed with the University of Wisconsin Badgers as a PWO(St. Thomas Academy) LB/DL. 6’1, 220 lbs.
As I’m sure most of you have gathered by now, I’m definitely a homer, so it may come as a surprise that I selected a Badger signing to this list. However, I think this is really a testament to how big of a fan I am of Solliday, his talent, and his prep career. In my opinion, Wisconsin got an absolute STEAL of a PWO commit with the STA Cadet standout DL, LB, and wrestler, and with the Badgers tradition of developing their PWOs to an All-B1G and NFL Draft-worthy caliber – especially from Minnesota and especially at the LB position – I won’t be the least bit surprised when he starts getting playing time in Madison. He was probably the most distinguished and accomplished 2021 recruit in the entire state this past season alongside Irondale’s, and was selected First Team AP All-State this past season, Second Team AP All-State in 2019, First Team All-Metro twice, and a host of District awards along with a MN Vikings All-State team selection. In only six games in 2020 he posted 56 tackles, 16 TFLs, and 7 sacks, and also was named my “Minnesota’s Hardest Hitter” as the biggest thumper in the senior class of Minnesota. He also had an illustrious wrestling career for the Cadets and placed in AA at state multiple times on the mat. He’s a bit of an in-betweener in terms of position in college so I think it’ll take a little bit of time before he gets set and sees the field, but with how special he is at the point of contact, to go along with a great first step, lateral agility, and the strength to play at the D1 level, I think he’s going to fit in fine with the Badgers. I’ll be eagerly following his progress and career in Mad Town!
Signed with the Minnesota Golden Gophers(Shakopee) DL. 6’6, 280 lbs.
I am back with the homer takes! Much like his game on the gridion, Eastern’s recruitment exploded quickly, and it’s really hard not to be excited that our hometown Golden Gophers ended up with the signature of the 4star talent out of Shakopee. After reading a little bit about his upbringing and some of the hurdles he’s gone through in terms of emotional behavioral disorders, it’s very hard not to root for the young man who has found so much solace and opportunity from the game of football. It’s a perfect example of what the sport of football can do for kids, and all of this goes without saying that Eastern can really fricken play some football. Another finalist for the 2021 “Minnesota Hardest Hitter” award presented by PrepRedzoneMN, the Saber is scary explosive off the snap and possesses special strength as well as twitchiness for his size that proved him to be basically unblockable for most of his junior and senior seasons. He’s all still raw, which is a scary face for opposing OC’s, and he ended up ranked as the #16 SDE in the entire nation. As a junior and senior he helped lead Shakopee to a section championship, and as a senior he totaled 64 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, seven sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. As a junior in 2019 he tallied 54 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and one fumble recovery while helping the Sabers to a spot in the state quarterfinals. You could also tell that Eastern takes playing for the hometown Gophers seriously, as he jumped at the chance to play for Coach Fleck when offered, and with how talented he is there just isn’t a way he was getting left off this list. Row the Boat, baby!
Nate Becker (Maple Grove) DL. 6’4, 250 lbs. Committed to the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers as a PWO
Had one of the best individual seasons of any MN prep in 2020, Becker smashed into the recruiting scene as a senior and was also one of the hardest working and relentless players in the entire state. With a team-leading 45 tackles and 14 TFLs from the DL position, he was named First Team AP All-State, First Team StarTribune All-Metro, First Team Kare11 All-Metro, and has good bend, excellent hand usage, and some great short-area burst to go along with an excellent frame to continue adding weight. I think the Gophers got a big-time stud of a PWO here, and one of the biggest reasons he made my favorite commitments list is due to a Crimson DL PWO at the U of M that came before him: Sam Renner. With very similar builds, Renner went on to play in 37 games, started all 13 as a senior, and posted 56 tackles and 5 sacks in his career at the U of M, and I think that Becker’s game is very similar to his Maple Grove forefather and he has the potential to be another really exciting hometown, believe in himself prospect for the hometown Gophers. Keep your eye out for this kid in Maroon and Gold!
Honorable Mention: Ty Leske &from Eden Prairie betting on themselves and both walking on at Iowa State
Signed with North Dakota State as a PWO(Becker) LB. 6’2, 220 lbs.
What a ride it’s been for the Becker Bulldog two-sport star. Only two winters ago, while on a run for the state wrestling championship, Weber collapsed on the mat at the state tournament and nearly died in front of a shocked crowd at the Xcel Energy Center. Although he was revived, a significant heart issue was discovered and Weber had to fight through some challenging and scary obstacles on the road to recovery, much less get back on the gridiron. The kid is a tough one though and worked his way back to have impressive, D1 caliber seasons as a senior LB and wrestler for Becker, ultimately leading to him signing with the powerhouse Bison of NDSU. Although it is unfortunate, his injury most likely hampered his recruitment, and although he’s a FCS talent at LB the Bison snagged themselves a monster of a PWO commit. Besides the obvious testament to Weber’s love of the game and personal resilience being enough to make this list, there are a couple of other facts that made this one of my favorite signings of the year. First, the North Dakota State Bison are strengthening their pipeline from Becker, which has recently produced Bison commits Beau Pauly (LB), (OL), and recent Tennessee Titans NFL draft pick Dillon Radunz. I love me a good pipeline, and I think Weber has what it takes to continue the production the Bulldogs have been seeing as Bison. Second, as a PWO Weber will have a big chip on his shoulder, and if he continues to work hard I think that extra motivation will help him see the field in the linebacking corps of NDSU sooner rather than later. Lastly, his physical, three-down, sideline to sideline style of play meshes well with what the Bison like from their LBs, so I think the fit stylistically is a good one as well. Weber found himself some big-time fans from us at PrepRedzoneMN, and I wish him the best of luck in Fargo.
Signed with University of Northern Iowa(Rogers) DB. 6’1, 195 lbs.
One of the freakiest athletes in the state of Minnesota in the 2021 class, Olowo is a legit 6’1, 190 + pounds playing corner who ran the 100-meter dash in the 10.8s and was named All-State in track twice in his prep career and I believe fell somewhat under the radar due to his high school’s competition mostly focused on the running the rock, and of course, the pandemic halting in-person camps where he could show off his man coverage skills more closely. No matter though, as Olowo made for a big-time signing for Missouri Valley heavyweight Northern Iowa, whose DBs are coached by Tartan, Wisconsin, and UNI alum Keelon Brookins and recruit Minnesota DBs better than almost anyone. He is a major FCS signing who joins a defensive backfield loaded with MN talent who could potentially see playing time early and the thought of him playing CB alongside former MPLS North Polars standoutis almost too exciting to explain. With awesome top-end speed, advantageous length, and some clean footwork, he’s got the ability to lock down an entire side of the field and I think he’ll look great in the Panthers purple and white. There’s just too much about the match that I like, and I think Olowo found a really good home for him to find playing time and success at. Big things coming!
Gunner Martinek (Wheaton Area) FB/HB. 6’2, 229 lbs. Signed with Minnesota State University-Moorhead
There are a bunch of reasons why I love this signing, so I’ll just start by listing them and expanding on each a little bit. 1) I love fullbacks. Especially from Minnesota, and especially from Up North in MN. 2) I didn’t have Martinek on my radar going into the season and coming from a small school with excellent size these are the ones I really kick myself for not knowing of. 3) Even though I didn’t have him on my radar, I love that the MSUM staff knew and loved his talents, and they got a really great signing in their ’21 class. 4) Geography. Especially for my Minnesota boys, I love it when prospects stay close to home and represent a college in their region that is more understanding of their way of life. Wheaton is only an hour and a half south of Moorhead, so Martinek’s family is going to be able to see him play a ton, and I think the culture of the Dragons will mesh well with the small-town boy. 5) Tape. This dude’s tape is awesome, and he’s a mean and aggressive FB and a tackling machine on defense who is a legit 6’2, 225 lbs. and did not look fun to play against in the slightest. 6) Production. Martinek was a 2x All-District and 2x All-Section selection, as well as a four-year starter and 2x captain who finished his career with 190 tackles, 5 interceptions, and 1,500 yards of total offense, and 23 TDs. All in all, I think he’s going to be a perfect fit for the competitiveness of the NSIC and will be a stud for the Dragons eventually. I gotta keep my eyes on Wheaton Area more! Go Dragons.
Signed with Minnesota State University-Moorhead(Moorhead) DE. 6’2, 210 lbs.
I really like Myers as a person and was in contact with him more than most throughout his recruiting process so I was invested in him and his recruitment and was hyped UP when I saw things finally take off for him after a ton of hard work and one of the best senior seasons of any senior in the state started earning him scholarship offers. Playing against some of the best competition Northern MN has to offer while representing a top 5A program in the Moorhead Spuds Myers tallied the most TFLs in the state in 2020 (26!), and finished second in the state in sacks with 10, to go along with 76 tackles as a senior. He was a monster off the edge for the Spuds and possesses great bend and the quickness to cross the face of the tackle, and now that he’s in a college strength and conditioning program I think he’s going to see his weight shoot up significantly. The athleticism to play in the NSIC is there, but he’s got to add the size now and I think that’s something he’s easily capable of doing. Additionally, I love that he can stay in the town he grew up and play some scholarship football for the Dragons, and he chose from offers from Northern State, Quincy University, UMary, and the University of Jamestown to represent MSUM. He’s got a high ceiling and I think he can reach his potential playing for the Dragons as well, and I am just psyched about this confirming that a big-time senior season can really pay dividends to a prospect’s recruitment. Once again, Go Dragons.
University of Minnesota-Duluth OL signings from Minnesota: (Minnetonka), (Mankato East), Joey Grillo (Lakeville North), (Lakeville North), (Woodbury)
The UMD Bulldogs had a monster 2021 signing class, and I hope I’m not grasping at straws when I suggest that this kind of recruiting class could really help the Bulldogs get back in contention for that elusive national title that has evaded them since they clinched it in 2010. Where national titles are won and lost are in the trenches, and man did they get some special talent from MN on their OL this recruiting cycle. Just about every one of these guys had D1 potential and signed with UMD over a ton of other opportunities, and they also have the potential to one day become All-NSIC selections on the offensive line. If they could all start together in college that would just be almost too exciting of a thought for me to bear, as that kind of blend of MN prep talent on a collegiate OL from the Metro and Mankato East would be like a MN All-Star offensive line. I’m very excited to see how these guys develop and grow both individually and as a group.
Committed to Gustavus Adolphus College(Rosemount) LB. 6’, 210 lbs.
No exaggeration, this may be my favorite commitment of the entire year from Minnesota. A beast of a linebacker/fullback combo, Barnick is excellent at the point of contact and laid some massive hits in 2020 to go along with some good timing on his blitzes and a ton of explosive power out of his stance. He was lethal on swipe back blocks from the HB position as well as a lead blocker out of the I as a fullback, and was also productive and disruptive as a blitzer and is great at triggering to the football when he makes his reads. His awesome film and athletic abilities led to DII offers from Bemidji State, Southwest Minnesota State, and MSU-Moorhead, as well as an FCS offer from Bucknell, but he made a unique decision and committed to play DIII football in the MIAC for the Gusties of Gustavus Adolphus. Gustavus has done this before and snagged some scholarship talent – with the Jakes from Mankato West coming to mind first – but when I saw this commitment I still remember the excitement for both Barnick and the Gusties defense. I am all about getting the MIAC better, and I think this is a situation where Barnick can potentially contribute early and get a ton of reps over his career with GAC, who are really on the brink of becoming a true MIAC title contender. I’ll be seeing him play live very soon!
Johnny Devore (Mahtomedi) QB. 6’4, 210 lbs. Committed to the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
I’ve been a fan of the UWL playing style since watching film on them in college in preparation for facing the Luther Norse, but after graduation, I’ve become a really big fan of their coaching staff and how they operate as recruiters. They are traditionally one of the best teams in the best DIII football conference in the nation and do a great job of landing scholarship level studs out of Wisconsin, but historically they haven’t needed to dip into Minnesota very much to land talent. However, they got themselves a monster out of the St. Paul suburbs and the Mahtomedi Zephyr program as senior QB Johnny Devore is a legit QB prospect with great size and a cannon attached to his shoulder. He’s athletic inside and outside of the pocket, throws a great deep ball that doesn’t hang in the air too long, and has a crisp release and good accuracy to really make for an intriguing and promising DIII quarterback prospect. What really got me excited about this one was Devore’s genetics, as his older brother Graham is a beast of DE at North Dakota with a very similar build and athletic traits, so I was really expecting him to land at a FCS or DII program, so him landing at DIII was music to my ears and I think he’s got what it takes to start at QB for the Eagles someday soon. Best of luck and excited to follow your career in the WIAC, Johnny!
(Moorhead) OC. 6’2, 265 lbs.
What a commit for the Cobbers out of their own backyard. Soeth, a three-year starter on the iOL of the powerful Spuds, elected to stay in his hometown and strength Minnesota’s northern MIAC competitor Concordia-Moorhead much to my excitement and pleasure. As mentioned previously in this article, I love it when kids stay home and play for their hometown or regionally-specific college program, and Soeth playing for the Cobbers is about as hometown representing as you can get! With a ton of experience all along the OL of the Spuds, I think he’s got a great chance to start contributing early and once again earn himself a ton of reps playing football, and with a tough, hard-nosed playing style he’ll be a great addition to the Cobber OL room. Additionally, Concordia landed some talented transfers from Perham as North Dakota State wrestler Ty Moser and Minnesota State University-Moorhead QBare joining the team as well, so there’s a lot of hype going into next season up in Moorhead. Roll Cobbs, baby!
Signed with Augsburg University to both wrestle and play football(Coon Rapids) OT. 6’5, 275 lbs.
Man oh man, what a signing for the Auggies. A really talented heavyweight wrestler who finished as the 2019 AAA 285 lb. runner-up and won a state title at AAA 285 lb. in 2020, Layton was very quiet about his recruiting and to be honest didn’t seem like he was interested in playing college football at all, so when I saw that he committed to the 612’s wrestling powerhouse I was hoping and praying that he’d be continuing his football career as well. My hopes came true as the Augsburg football Twitter account confirmed he’ll play on their OL this fall, and I think he’s Day 1 starter for the Auggies who turned down scholarship offers to play both sports in college and compete for a national championship on the wrestling mat. He’s going to be a force in the MIAC on the gridiron as well and definitely has the potential to earn some All-MIAC recognition, so I will be very keen to stay updated on the Coon Rapids stud’s progress in the 612.
Augsburg University Auggies signing members of my Southwest Lakers: , , Joe Virnig (transfer from SJU), Landon Ramos
This one is pretty self-explanatory as Southwest High School in Minneapolis is my alma mater, and no matter what I’m always going to root for my fellow Lakers and help them get to the next level as well as celebrate their achievements and commitments. Augsburg University has long been a home for Laker graduates from both the football team as well as regular students and have provided an inclusive and welcoming experience to kids from all backgrounds, so to see the pipeline continuing really warms my heart. The best football player to ever come out of Southwest – QB and Mr. Football finalist Ayrton Scott – played four years for the Auggies and set multiple school and national records along with some AA nods, and in my graduating class of 2013 Augsburg signed three of my teammates. Currently, both of Augsburg’s starting CBs are freshman who graduated from Southwest, so there are deep roots from my high school and I love that all of these guys are going to keep playing with each other and lean onto each other during the struggles of getting your college degree. The Auggies signed three 2021s from Southwest this year – including DBwho held a Bemidji St offer – and landed a 2020 graduate and SJU football transfer in DE Joe Virnig, not to mention tackling machine and the versatile and athletic Landon Ramos, so Laker Nation is represented well at Augsburg. Good luck, fellas!
St. Olaf College continuing their SMB Wolfpack pipeline: (DB), Toby Jacobson (DB), (DB)
Another straightforward favorite of mine comes from my collegiate alma mater and the developing pipeline we have with 4A power SMB, particularly in the defensive backfield. With so much talent coming from SMB, it is a heckuva pipeline to build for the Oles, but when I really started thinking about it it makes a ton of sense and I can see a culture fit in my #BrotherhoodofTrust that I can see really appealing to the Blake, SPA, and Minnehaha boys. Not only that, it’s always fun to play with your former high school teammates, and the three Wolfpack DBs are joining fellow grads Deonta Thomas, Devin Casa De Valvo,III, and Andrew Mollison in Northfield so the roots are beginning to run deep in the Ole locker room. Additionally, I am a big fan of St. Olaf’s DB coach Joe Troche, who is an Ole himself and graduated with my best friend’s older brother, so I know these guys are going to get coached up well and really improve as both football players and people. Deonta Thomas, who graduated in 2020, is getting some significant tick as a freshman corner in this missing 2020-21 MIAC season, so it’s really not out of the question that in the next couple of years we may have an entire defensive backfield of SMB Wolfpack graduates. Now that’s what I’m talking about!! Um Yah Yah!
Dordt University Defenders 2021 MN signings: (Litchfield), (Litchfield), (Farmington), Brody Ash (Milaca), Jacob Rosendahl (Willmar), Nathan Warner (Glencoe Silver Lake)
This is two years in a row that the Dordt University Defenders of the Great Plains Athletic Conference in Sioux Center, Iowa have caught my attention for their lowkey great commitments out of the Land of 10,000 Lakes. This year, the signings of the two Litchfield Dragons and Farmington’s powerfully built Cochnauer really got me excited, and it’s important to note that Lecher had one of the most productive and exciting senior seasons of anyone in the state this past season. All of their signings from MN this year had DII size and potential, and I really think the Defenders landed some steals who are going to create a ton of production for Dordt in the coming years. Good luck, boys!
Committed to Ellsworth CC(Totino-Grace) DB/ATH. 5’10, 185 lbs.
Weirdly, when I checked on Cooper’s Twitter in preparation for this story he had deleted his commitment post and taken Ellsworth out of his bio, so I have a bad feeling that he isn’t taking the JUCO path anymore. I hope he finds a home to play football at next season, as he’s a natural football player who played any position asked of him as a prep at Totino Grace and plays them all with physicality, instincts, and the potential of a big play always looming. He’s a kid that could really do some good things at the JUCO level, and like I said I really hope he is playing somewhere next season.