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Minny recruits from Ohio update



Good news at 'U'

The University of Minnesota football staff isn't going to be able to recruit a lot of blue-chip players out of Ohio most of the time. So at times the Gophers take chances that a player the Buckeyes will bypass because of questionable grades will find a way to qualify scholastically.

And the Gophers staff has a good record when it comes to these young men doing well in class once they qualify for a scholarship, and most go on to graduate.

Well, the Gophers football staff got really good news the other day when it learned that freshman-to-be Gary Russell of Columbus (Ohio) Walnut Ridge High School, who was named to the Super Prep Midwest team, will be eligible to compete this fall.

Russell, who was all-state as a senior and was a three-time all-conference performer and a two-time all-county and all-area choice, gained 2,136 yards and scored 29 touchdowns in his senior year.

Russell was a two-way performer, also playing on the defensive line.

Russell was a high school teammate of Gophers wide receiver Ernest Wheelwright IV, who also became eligible this year after sitting out his freshman year. Wheelwright was named the MVP in three Ohio all-star games during his senior year in high school.

"He was the best back in our conference," Wheelwright said of Russell.

Justin Kucek, an outstanding punter from Canfield, Ohio, and Jason Giannini, a kicker from Canton, Ohio, also made grades.

However, Dave Wess, a quarterback from Whitehill, Ohio, plans to enroll at Minnesota this fall even though he will have to improve his grades to be eligible.

Paris Hamilton and Ernie Wheelwright arrived on campus last year armed with résumés crammed full of accolades. Hamilton was a highly ranked junior college prospect from Texas, while Wheelwright's combination of size (6-5, 210 pounds), skills and athletic ability made Gophers faithful salivate in anticipation.

Their careers -- and hype -- were put on hold, however, when Hamilton suffered a season-ending knee injury in a summer workout and Wheelwright, a true freshman, failed to qualify academically. Both players spent the 2003 season out of football, mostly in solitude.

They said their experiences humbled them and made them appreciate football even more. But time for reflection is over, and both are determined to show they were worthy of the advance billing.

"I wasn't bitter [sitting out]," Wheelwright said. "I was just anxious to get started. I did what I had to do, and now I'm ready to go."

Mason said the competition at receiver is among the best in camp. Ellerson already has established himself as a premier threat. Others in the mix for playing time include Jakari Wallace, Logan Payne, Micah Rucker and Mark Jundt. But Hamilton and Wheelwright are expected to make the biggest impact.

Mason offered only a brief synopsis last week when asked for his initial impression of Wheelwright, a two-time all-state selection from Columbus, Ohio.

"Ernie will play for us," he said, smiling.

Wheelwright's ability to make difficult catches look routine has impressed coaches, although his talent never has been in question. Wheelwright admits he didn't work hard enough in the classroom in high school, and it cost him a year of football. He wasn't cleared to join the team until this summer.

"It was real tough obviously because I've never been out of football," he said. "I had to buckle down and do my academics. Sitting out a year humbled me, but it also motivated me to do what I had to do in the classroom. I'm very proud because in high school I was never on top of my game in the classroom. Now, I feel like I'm on top of my game."
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