Football: Connelly commits to Golden Gophers
In eighth grade, Nick Connelly started hitting the weights. At that point, he didn’t have dreams of becoming a Division I athlete; he just wanted to reach his potential.
"My dad was just like, 'You should go work out. You could be a really big dude,’” Connelly said. "He always told me that if God gives you something, use it to your full potential. He gave me size, so use it to go as far as I can.”
Now, the 6-foot-7, 265-pound lineman has seen where that potential will take him: to the University of Minnesota.
After receiving an offer for a full scholarship last Wednesday, Connelly gave a verbal commitment to the Golden Gophers late Tuesday morning. Heading into his senior season with the Wingers, Connelly will join Minnesota in the 2015 season.
Connelly, a three-star recruit according to Scout and a two-star recruit according to Rivals.com, has had four Division I offers at this point: Minnesota, Wyoming, Montana State and Illinois State. The opportunity to play an hour away from home for the Maroon and Gold was too good to pass up.
"That’s where I always wanted to play. That’s where I always wanted to be,” Connelly said. "To play for Red Wing, Minnesota, to go to Minneapolis to play for the Gophers, it’s a great feeling. My whole family’s excited for me. My grandma was going crazy once I told her. It seems like everyone’s happy for me and happy I’m staying in Minnesota.”
A standout offensive tackle and defensive end for the Wingers, Connelly will head to the U of M as an offensive lineman prospect. He will have to wait until February to sign his National Letter of Intent, which bounds Connelly to the school.
"They said that I can play defense right now, but they think that I’ll end up putting on so much weight and muscle in my redshirt freshman year that I’ll turn into a better offensive tackle than a defensive end,” Connelly said.
Being around the team and coaches several times during the recruiting process, Connelly said that when the coaches called him for a visit last week, he expected just another routine trip. Turns out, the Gopher coaches didn’t want him to leave empty-handed.
"I went up there and talked to (Minnesota offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Matt Limegrover) for close to four hours,” Connelly said. "(Head) coach (Jerry) Kill had a little-kid camp that day, but after the camp, Coach Kill came in and Limegrover and Kill together offered me a scholarship.
Connelly continued, "That was the last thing I was expecting going up there. I expected that (a scholarship offer) would be coming eventually, but on that visit, I wasn’t expecting it at all. They really surprised me with it.”
While making the offer, the coaches wanted a decision within a week, but Connelly had no problem with the deadline.
"It’s where I always wanted to go,” Connelly said. "It wasn’t that big of a deal for me, because I wanted to play there.”
Since last year’s high-school football season ended, Connelly, an All-Missota Conference honorable mention and Red Wing Lineman of the Year, has been a regular in the weight room. This spring at a football camp at the U of M, Connelly saw how much that work paid off.
"They do measurable (tests) there, like the 40(-yard dash), vertical jump, broad jump, stuff like that. They told me I weighed 28 pounds more than I did (at the camp) last year,” said Connelly, who played at 235 pounds last year, "and I was faster, stronger and my vertical and broad jump were further.”
It was enough to help convince the Gophers that Connelly could be a future building block on the offensive line. And now that Connelly is set on playing for Minnesota, he’s motivated to push himself through his senior season of high school and beyond.
"I’m going in this season just hoping to do the best I can for Red Wing,” Connelly said. "Play hard, maybe get to state, then next year go to the Gophers and work my tail off and try to win a Big Ten championship or something, you know?”
Connelly continued, "I’ll be redshirted my first year, and my goal is to start the next year. That’s what I’m striving towards and that’s my motivation now.”