East St. Louis senior Reyondous Estes was never really sold on Western Michigan or Missouri, even though he gave both his verbal commitment to be their quarterback of the future.
But he was all in on coach P.J. Fleck from the start.
When Fleck announced Jan. 6 that he accepted the position of head coach at Minnesota, Estes knew that’s where he wanted to be.
“I felt like he was the coach that stuck it out with me from the beginning and was the one that fell in love with me first,” said Estes. “The feelings were mutual from the beginning.”
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Estes joined six of his teammates on stage at the East St. Louis Senior High School auditorium Tuesday to make his college choice official. Wide receiver Jeff Thomas signed his national letter of intent to the University of Miami on a live broadcast by ESPN. Linebacker James Knight, who will attend Illinois, was the other Division I signing.
It was Fleck who lured Estes’ verbal commitment to Western Michigan in the first place. And it was Fleck’s departure that gave Estes second thoughts.
Missouri? That was Estes’ standby until he knew for sure that Fleck wanted him in Minneapolis.
“Coach Fleck has a hold on me. He brings energy and I bring energy,” said Estes. “As long as we’re clicking and he keeps the bond that we have ... it’s been tremendous.”
Fleck spent four years at Western Michigan, turning the program around from a 1-11 record his first season to 13-1, a No. 12 ranking, Mid-American Conference championship and a Cotton Bowl berth. He was one of five finalists for the Eddie Robinson College Coach of the Year Award.
The Flyers won their eighth state championship behind Estes in 2016. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound quarterback completed 56 percent of his 244 pass attempts for 2,464 yards, 26 touchdowns and just five interceptions.
Three things stand out to Fleck when it comes to Estes —his arm, his speed and his status as a multi-sport athlete, an important criteria among all of the coach’s recruits. Estes is averaging 9 points and 4.6 assists per game as point guard for the basketball Flyers.
“This kid is explosive,” Fleck said in a press conference live streams on the Big 10 web site. “He’s in a phone booth with speed — you can’t catch him in the phone booth, you’ll never catch him outside it. He’s 4.4 (seconds in the 40 yard dash) type talent.”
Fleck also appreciates Estes’ loyalty.
“He’s the first one in his family to go to college,” Fleck said of Estes. “His mom was so excited he was coming to Minnesota that she dyed her hair maroon, even before signing day.”
Scouting website 247Sports rates Estes as a three-star recruit ranked 80th at his position nationally and 34th overall in Illinois. Scout.com rates him 71st nationally and the second-best quarterback in the state.
Estes said it was watching Broncos’ quarterback Zach Terrell that convinced him the Fleck’s offense was a good match for his skills. Terrell has a break-out season, completing 72 percent of his passes for more than 3,000 yards, while using his legs to turn losses into big plays.
“Last year Zach Terrell slung the ball around, made plays with his feet, and I feel like that’s my caliber; that’s what I bring to the team,” he said. “I can make plays with me feet and people sleep on my arm. I feel like (Fleck will) put me an an position where I can do that.”
Estes isn’t the only quarterback who followed Fleck from Western Michigan to Minnesota. Three-star recruit Tanner Morgan, a 6-1, 203-pound product of Ryle High School in Union, Ky. also signed his national letter to play with the Golden Gophers on Tuesday.