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Western Michigan losing recruits to P.J. Fleck, Minnesota

By Tony Paul and David Goricki
The Detroit News
Kyle Sassack

It's been fewer than 48 hours since Western Michigan lost its football coach.

Since, it's lost a flurry of recruits, too, with several commitments either re-opening the process, or flipping to P.J. Fleck and Minnesota.

Before Fleck accepted the Minnesota job Friday, Western Michigan had 25 commitments for the class of 2017, including 20 three-stars, according to Rivals.com.

As of around noon Sunday, that list was down to 15, with 10 listed as three stars in the composite rankings. Western Michigan's national ranking has plummeted to No. 79 on Rivals.

The next Western Michigan head coach will have a lot of work to do in a short amount of time to salvage a respectable class. National Signing Day is Feb. 1.

Eight players have decommitted from Western Michigan to join Minnesota since Fleck signed his five-year, $17.5-million deal Friday.

Those include three from the state of Michigan -- defensive end/tight end Nate Umlor of Allendale, offensive tackle Kyle Sassack of Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, and outside linebacker Trenton Guthrie of Northville. The others are receiver Chris Autman-Bell, quarterback Tanner Morgan, offensive guard John Schmitz, defensive tackle Noah Hickcox and defensive end Esezi Otomewo.

Guthrie called Fleck Friday night and decided to join him at Minnesota when Fleck offered him -- for a second time.

“I got a text from some of the assistant coaches, letting me know Coach Fleck was leaving before it became official,” Guthrie said. “(Fleck) explained the situation to me, offered me over the phone, then started talking about Gopher football and why it was a place he picked. I didn’t need to hear about the culture that he was starting at Minnesota because I knew the culture from being committed to Western Michigan.”

Henning: Broncos take stock of post-Fleck candidates

Guthrie committed to Fleck and the Gophers without having visited the Minneapolis campus.

“It is far from home, but I talked to my uncle and cousin, who do business in the Twin Cities a lot,” Guthrie said. “They told me about the Twin Cities and what it had to offer, about how the campus was and how the community supported the program, and that helped me with my decision.

“I plan to enroll early and I’ll get there the 17th.”

Guthrie said he will be roommates with Morgan, who is a three-star quarterback from Union, Kentucky. Morgan is ranked the No. 3 quarterback in Kentucky for 2017 by Scout.com.

“Tanner Morgan will be my roommate and I’m excited about that,” said Guthrie. “I’ve talked to some of the Minnesota recruits too, and they're all excited about Coach Fleck being a part of the program, and so am I.”

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s two-star defensive tackle Ralph Holley, a WMU commit, said he expects to get a call from Fleck in the next couple of days and would also follow him to Minnesota if offered the opportunity.

“Right now I’ve opened my recruitment back up and I’m willing to follow Coach Fleck if he offers me because I believe he’ll change the culture there,” said Holley, who found out Fleck was leaving for Minnesota from WMU defensive line coach Jimmy Williams Thursday night. “He just told me Coach Fleck made the decision to leave for Minnesota. The staff’s not sure what’s happening with him, but I think he’ll take the staff with him.”

P.J. Fleck vows to lift fortunes of Minnesota football

Fleck told reporters in Minneapolis on Friday that he plans the same recruiting process he found so successful in Kalamazoo -- setting up a six- to seven-hour radius around campus, and focusing hard on that, especially the state of Minnesota, before expanding into other regions to round out the class.

"We're also going to recruit the finest student-athletes in the country," Fleck said.

Fleck also has to recruit many of the current players on Minnesota's roster, with several threatening to transfer following Tracy Claeys' firing on Tuesday.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

dgoricki@detroitnews.com