Super Preps standout Blaise Andries of Marshall sought out his perfect fit of athletics and academics. He found it at Minnesota. (Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune)
The top-ranked player in the University of Minnesota’s football recruiting Class of 2017 walked into the school’s College of Science and Engineering Building on an academic tour and was immediately put to the test.
“I was taking calculus at the time, and there was a bunch of equations up on the wall,” said Marshall senior Blaise Andries, a 6-6, 310-pound offensive lineman. “I looked at them and said, ‘I know what that one is, I know what that one is. I don’t know that one yet. I’ll learn it, though.’ ”
An academic adviser laid an entire four-year plan for Andries’ course of study in front of him. Andries, who will graduate with a GPA over 4.0 with the goal of becoming an actuary, was hooked.
“You could tell [the adviser] really cared,” said Helen Andries, Blaise’s mother.
That’s only one of the many stories Andries and his family cite to illustrate a point: He and the Minnesota football program go together as perfectly as a gopher and buck teeth.
It’s not unusual for homegrown linemen to stay in the North Star State. Generally, the biggest group of Minnesotans to play at the state’s only Division I program have been offensive lineman. A year such as 2016, when most of the state’s best players had a game based on speed and athleticism instead of bulk, was something of an anomaly.
Andries heads the Star Tribune’s 19th Super Preps class, an annual look at the state’s top college football prospects. He is different from your run-of-the-mill lineman.
There’s no fudging in his height and weight. Andries has the ability to dominate defensive linemen and wields an above-average intellect, making him prime national recruiting fodder. In addition to Big Ten programs, schools such as Oklahoma, Florida, Oregon, Miami, TCU, Arkansas and Arizona were hot on his trail. He’s listed as a three-star prospect, but had he been from a recruiting hotbed such as Texas or Florida, he’d likely have been solidly in the four-star range.
“We had a long talk about him,” said Kyle Goblirsch, a recruiting analyst for 247 Sports, a national recruiting website. “He was graded out at [a score of] 89, the highest three-star possible. I vouched for him, said maybe he should be a four-star. Eventually, the thought was that 89 is right where he should be. But if he came from another region of the country, does that bump him up? There’s an argument to be made for that.”
Goblirsch, who specializes in Minnesota recruits, said Andries’ ability to overwhelm defensive linemen yet maintain his agility is his biggest strength.
“He just clobbers people,” Goblirsch said. “What pops for me is his mobility combined with his size. He can get his hands free, get out into space and get to the next level.”
Over the past decade, college football recruiting has become a complex industry, with a player rarely recruited solely on what a coach sees on game video. It’s about exposure, with a trinity of websites, national combines and myriad camps combining to give even the most obscure players a chance at a higher national profile.
That shift has resulted in Minnesota standout linemen landing at schools that would not have known much about them before, such as Seantrel Henderson (Miami), J.C. Hassenauer (Alabama) and Frank Ragnow (Arkansas).
Andries, however, is a throwback. His love for his home-state team can be traced to his parents, both lifelong Gophers supporters despite neither having matriculated at Minnesota.
“We’ve always just had a passion for the Gophers,” said Blaise’s father, Joe.
Andries’ reputation grew after his performances on the combine-and-camp circuit, save for an initial misstep at his first camp at Nebraska. “I was so nervous, I didn’t eat any breakfast,” he recalled. “I was dead halfway through. I didn’t have any food in me.”
After that, he stood out to nearly every scout who saw him. The offers began to pile up.
Yet it only took his first official visit to Minnesota to convince him to join the Gophers. He was wowed by the entire experience: facilities, gameday festivities, TCF Bank Stadium, the coaches and especially the players.
“Every Division I school has amazing facilities and they’re going to try to sell you on that,” Andries said. “You can’t make your decision on that. You have to get to know the people.”
Andries spent time with Gophers linebacker Carter Coughlin and his family, and a few other players. When he returned to Marshall the next day, he informed his parents of his maroon-and-gold intentions.
“We were sitting on the couch and he came home and sat down and said he knew he wanted to go to Minnesota,” Joe Andries said. “I said, ‘No, we’ve still got recruiting trips to take and you’re going to take them.’ ”
But a trip to Northwestern the following weekend proved fruitless. He canceled future visits to Oklahoma and Florida and committed to Minnesota in April.
It hasn’t been all Gophers and good feelings since then, however. The dismissal of head coach Tracy Claeys and subsequent hiring of P.J. Fleck caused a few anxious moments.
“There was some uncertainty, but my parents reassured me,” Andries said. “They said you have to look at the positive things — all the academics and the players that were still there.”
Any lingering doubts were erased at a recent meeting with Fleck.
“He has a plan, and the way he talks about it, you feel like he’s going to achieve it,” he said. “He knows what he’s doing.”
It’s a plan appearing to merge with Andries’ wide-ranging skills and interests.
“The combination of Coach Fleck, players who have the desire to win and the academics, it all fits pretty well,” he said. “You have to go to the place that fits the best for you.”