College football’s three-day early national signing period opens Wednesday. Here's a look at who the Star Tribune puts at the top of the class of football players going on to play at the highest levels next year.
Bryce Benhart, Lakeville North offensive lineman. Star Tribune photo by Aaron Lavinsky
Bryce Benhart, Lakeville North
Offensive line • 6-9, 305 • College: Nebraska
Benhart, a tackle, measured success less in numbers of pancake blocks and more by frequency of defenders moved. Which occurred on virtually every down this past fall.
“He dominated every person we played against,” Lakeville North coach Brian Vossen said. “He’s probably got a good shot at playing on Sundays.”
High-level football is in Benhart’s blood. His father, Gene, was a quarterback for the Colts. Athletic abilities, not just overwhelming size, set the younger apart. The Class 3A state wrestling tournament runner-up at heavyweight last year, Benhart “can backward somersault and pop to his feet,” Vossen said. “He’s a giant, but his balance is ridiculous.”
Lakeville North ran to its first Class 6A Prep Bowl title this fall, an undefeated season fueled by superior line play. Benhart and company made holes through which runners gained a combined 3,000-plus yards.
“The only question I get is, ‘Does he have the gear where he turns into a maniac?’ ” Vossen said. “He doesn’t need to. He’s a technician. He always takes the correct steps, and he uses his hands so well. He doesn’t need to murder you. He just needs to move you.”
David La Vaque
Quinn Carroll, Edina offensive lineman. SportsEngine photo by Mark Hvidsten
Quinn Carroll, Edina
Offensive line • 6-6, 280 • College: Notre Dame
Carroll walked off the field at Augsburg University, where he practiced with the South team for last Saturday’s Minnesota High School All-Star Game, sweat dripping off his bright red hair.
Tough and strong and playing with a nasty bent, he’s touted as the state’s best college prospect in the class of 2019. But on this day he wore a disarmingly pleasant smile.
Why not? Carroll, the son of former University of Minnesota tight end Jay Carroll, has a scholarship offer from one of college football’s most hallowed institutions. At Edina, he had a large hand in giving the Hornets a reputation for grittiness that didn’t exist before.
“We had a couple of tough losses, but we kept fighting, kept grinding, kept wanting to win,” Carroll said. “My past two years as captain, I hope that everyone around me felt my vibe and picked up on that. I’m sure I was positive influence.”
He’ll graduate Jan. 13, then head for South Bend, Ind., to get a jump on a football future he hopes includes multiple chances at a national championship.
Notre Dame is one of four teams in the NCAA Division I FBS Championship playoffs, along with Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma.
“It’s crazy to think that I’m going to be in college in one month,” he said. “I couldn’t be more excited about Notre Dame and their future. Hopefully, I can play for a national title four, five times in the coming years.”
Cole Kramer, Eden Prairie quarterback. Star Tribune photo by Aaron Lavinsky
Cole Kramer, Eden Prairie
Quarterback • 6-1, 185 • College: Minnesota
Kramer plans to head across town to the University of Minnesota as soon his high school classes conclude in mid-January.
But before the fleet-footed, strong-armed signal caller — whom Mike Grant has touted as the best passer he’s coached — can embark on the next stage of his football career, he has some learning to do.
“I’ve got a couple of tests to take,” Kramer said. “I’ve got to learn three chapters of physics by myself, so I’ve got some work to do.”
Kramer played in three consecutive Prep Bowls, defeating Minnetonka to win the Class 6A state championship in 2017. The biggest thing he took from his days under Grant was the importance of preparation.
“It’s cool to see how Coach Grant does things,” Kramer said. “It could be third-and-20, but he’ll call a 52 trap [running play] and we’ll get [the first down]. He’s always knows what will work.”
He knows he’ll have competition at the U. Freshman quarterbacks Zack Annexstad and Tanner Morgan already are on the Gophers roster, and Jacob Clark, a highly regarded 6-5 quarterback from Rockwall, Texas, is also expected to sign.
But he’s looking forward to the challenge.
“Tanner and Zack, I love both of them,” he said. “It’s going to be fun to work with them every day, and they’ll help me get better.”
Peter Udoibok, Cretin-Derham Hall receiver. Star Tribune photo by Aaron Lavinsky
Peter Udoibok, Cretin-Derham Hall
Receiver • 6-4, 205 • College: Minnesota
Udoibok committed to the Gophers in July, and the countdown to joining the program, once measured in months and then weeks, is down to days. He will enroll in January to get a head start on his college football career.
“I want to clean up my routes and perfect my craft,” said Udoibok, who arrived on the recruiting scene after a strong summer camp performance after his sophomore season. “I was told I could be the next Michael Floyd so I work at it.”
Udoibok said receivers coach Matt Simon likes “my height and my speed and how I stretched the field this season.”
Udoibok caught 41 balls for 688 yards (16.8 yards per catch) and eight touchdowns. Arriving on campus and beginning college workouts alongside receivers he admires such as Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson has Udoibok “excited but nervous,’’ he said.
“Mental toughness will be important,” he said. “Instead of taking a nap between classes, that’s when I need to be working on ball drills, routes and stretching. It’s like Coach Simon told me, it’s all on me and I only have myself to blame if things don’t work. That struck me.”
David La Vaque
Jason Williamson, Owatonna running back. Star Tribune photo by Shari L. Gross
Jason Williamson, Owatonna
Running back • 6-2, 205 • College: Minnesota
The state’s most dominating running back, with 3,012 yards and 46 touchdowns this season, will get a chance to test his skills at the next level.
“Coach [Matt] Simon and Coach [P.J.] Fleck visited last week and said Jason will start at running back in spring ball to see what he’s capable of doing,” Owatonna coach Jeff Williams said. “They said, ‘We’ll have him run three inside and three outside zones and that’ll tell us if he has what it takes.’ ”
While Williamson stands a little taller and runs a step or two slower (4.65 seconds in the 40-yard dash) than prototypical Division I running backs, his vision and ability to change direction at full speed might surprise his college coaches, Williams said.
“And if running back doesn’t pan out, he’ll be a whale of a safety,” Williams said. “He’s got a nose for the ball. He had 10 interceptions during his time here, and he hits like a truck. He could put on weight and play outside linebacker. He’s a football player.”
Williamson, who was named Mr. Football as the state’s outstanding senior on Sunday, is on a family vacation in Jamaica. He will sign his letter of intent Wednesday and send it electronically to Minnesota.
David La Vaque