Kyle Sassack, a 6-foot-7, 285-pound offensive tackle from Pontiac (MI) Notre Dame Prep, switched his commitment last Sunday from Western Michigan to Minnesota to follow head coach P.J. Fleck.
Sassack helped lead the Fighting Irish to a 4-5 record this season after finishing 8-3 in his junior year.
Gopher Hole caught up with him to learn the latest on his decision.
Gopher Hole: What was the reaction today after committing over the weekend to Minnesota?
Kyle Sassack: It was exciting. There was a lot of people coming up and congratulating me and asking me how I made my decision and everything like that. It was definitely very exciting.
Gopher Hole: What was the initial reaction when you heard that Coach Fleck was leaving Western Michigan?
Kyle Sassack: I can't say that I was shocked because I figured it would happen sooner or later, but right when he told me that he was leaving, he told me that he wanted me to join him and I was very excited about that and I also had a lot of thinking to do about that decision, because this was a lot further away than Western Michigan was to me.
Gopher Hole: Obviously, Minnesota is a new decision. What do you know about Minnesota?
Kyle Sassack: Over the last couple of days, I've learned a lot about Minnesota as far as everything on the campus. The academics. The city and Minnesota in general. I learned about the culture and the history of the University of Minnesota and from that time, I have learned that it is the right place for me.
Gopher Hole: Is it weird though? You have been committed to Western Michigan for awhile now. I talked to Nate Ulmor last night and you two were going to be rooming together at Western Michigan and now it sounds like you are going to be rooming together at Minnesota. You had had everything planned and all of a sudden, everything gets upheaved. Was that tough to deal with at first?
Kyle Sassack: Yes. That is what made my decision more difficult as well because I have both of my brothers live pretty close to Western Michigan. At Western Michigan, a lot of my family would have been able to go to my games and I already had my roommate, which would have been Nate. I found out that Nate was thinking about going to Minnesota as well and we were basically in the same boat. We talked a lot about it with each other and the morning that I was going to commit to Minnesota, he texted me and told me that he had just committed and I said that I have a phone call with Coach Fleck in 15 minutes and I am going to do the same and we'll be rooming together there.
Gopher Hole: Was that nice that you knew him well and it seems like you had a good relationship with several of the other players? Did that make it easier, knowing other players were also making the switch from Western Michigan to Minnesota?
Kyle Sassack: Yes, it definitely was. I have gotten pretty close to Nate over the last several months ever since I committed to Western. We text and we snapchat pretty often. I was pretty close with all the Western Michigan commits and all the guys who transferred over like I did, they are all elite guys and I can't wait to be teammates with them.
Gopher Hole: What was it about Western Michigan and coach Fleck, especially, that made you want to commit back in March to Western Michigan initially?
Kyle Sassack: It was definitely the culture that Coach Fleck had built around the program and how he had gotten the whole community to support him and the program and the elite things that he was doing with the program. It also helped with my making my decision about Minnesota because I know that he'll be able to do the same things with Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota.
Gopher Hole: You come from a football family. I know that you had two older brothers who played college football. Is that where you got the love of the game? Did your dad play as well?
Kyle Sassack: Yes, he did. He was a big influence on me. I played with my eldest brother, Evan. He played at Hillsdale College. When he signed and I was going to his games, it became a goal of mine, that I wanted to play college football just like them. When my second oldest brother committed to play at Grand Valley, I knew that it was a very possible dream of mine and if I continued to develop and grow and I was getting bigger than them, I made it a goal of mine to make it to a bigger league than that. I am pretty competitive and my goal was to play for a Division I school. I was doing it to be competitive, but it is always an elite opportunity to play college football, wherever you go.
Gopher Hole: What was your record this season? 4-5?
Kyle Sassack: Yes. We went 4-5. We lost three of our games that were pretty close up until the last couple of seconds, one of them was in overtime. We were 4-5 and did not make the playoffs.
Gopher Hole: Looking at your scores, you lost by six, one and four. I know the previous year when you were a junior, you were 8-3. What that a little disappointing, not having the same success as a senior, especially with those close games that could have gone either way?
Kyle Sassack: Yes. We came into the season and we figured that we would have a better record than we did the previous season when we were 8-3, but the things in our league changed with our school. We had played in the Catholic League and my senior year, they decided to remove us from the Catholic League because our athletic directors and administration did not want to play against the bigger schools in the Catholic League, so they decided to move us from the Catholic League, so that brought us into a lot bigger enrollments and playing a lot more Division I schools and bigger schools than we are. For the majority of the season, we figured that we would have the best chance of going the farthest in the playoffs that we ever have had. When we were playing the Division I schools, we held close to them throughout the season, but it was a different level of competition than we were used to.
Gopher Hole: Are you playing any other sports this year?
Kyle Sassack: I play basketball.
Gopher Hole: How is the basketball season going so far?
Kyle Sassack: It is going pretty well. I believe that we are 5-3 right now.
Gopher Hole: What are you averaging right now?
Kyle Sassack: I think that I am averaging between eight and ten points and probably twelve rebounds a game.
Gopher Hole: Do you think that basketball helps you a lot in terms of foot work, running and agility for football?
Kyle Sassack: Yes. It definitely helps with my foot speed and conditioning as well because not doing anything in the winter would definitely get me out of shape, if I was only lifting. Plus basketball, my coach is really cool with me.
Gopher Hole: I assume that you are visiting Minnesota on the 20th with the other previous Western commits. What are you hoping to gain from that experience?
Kyle Sassack: I am hoping to get a lot better understanding the campus and see the whole "Minnesota experience."
Gopher Hole: Have you ever been to Minnesota ever?
Kyle Sassack: No. I have not. I'm looking forward to it.
Gopher Hole: What things are you going to be doing to get ready for college football?
Kyle Sassack: Mainly, I have been just lifting almost every day, except the days that we have games for basketball. In the spring, I'll be doing a lifting program at my school run by our trainer and also doing a couple of night on my own.
Gopher Hole: You are up to 285 and put on about 15 or so pounds since last season, right?
Kyle Sassack: Yes. Last year, towards the end of the season, I was around 260 and right before basketball season, I was 290 and I lost five pounds since basketball season, but I am working to gain that back.
Gopher Hole: Have you talked to anyone about what weight you would like to when you start college?
Kyle Sassack: I am kind of shooting for the heaviest I can be. I guess you can say, I don't really have a number set for me. Coach Fleck hasn't told me a specific number to play at, but I guess you could say the bigger the better that I am.
Gopher Hole: You played tackle in high school. I don't know if it is different than what they were looking at you playing at Western Michigan, but is that where you are likely going to end up at Minnesota?
Kyle Sassack: Coach Fleck has told me that he wants me to play outside tackle.
Gopher Hole: Left or right?
Kyle Sassack: Most likely left.
Gopher Hole: Obviously, you have a great relationship with Coach Fleck. Most people wouldn't uproot everything that they had planned. What is it about Coach Fleck that made that decision a little bit easier?
Kyle Sassack: It is really the energy that he has and the passion for the game that he grows in everybody. If you are not interested in football at all and you have a conversation with him, you'll instantly like him and will want to be a part of what he is doing with the community and I want to be a part of that.
Gopher Hole: Did offensive line coach Brian Callahan recruit you a lot at Western Michigan?
Kyle Sassack: Yes, it was coach Callahan and their D line coach Jimmy Williams. He was my area recruiter and Coach Callahan was my position recruiter and I developed a really good relationship with both of them.
Gopher Hole: Have you heard if they would come to Minnesota yet?
Kyle Sassack: I haven't heard anything official, but just talking to both of them, it sounds like they would both be willing to go to Minnesota, if they had the opportunity and I think Coach Fleck will make that decision. (Note: Coach Callahan is now part of the Minnesota staff)
Gopher Hole: Is that something you would like. Obviously, you have built a relationship with them already?
Kyle Sassack: Yes. It would be a great opportunity to be coached by Coach Callahan and Coach Williams is a great guy.
Gopher Hole: It sounds you have already built a great relationship with Nate Ulmor, who said a lot of good things about you. Anyone else in that group of Western Michigan guys that you have really gotten close to?
Kyle Sassack: I'm pretty close with Nate already, like you said previously. I'm close with basically all the guys who have switch from Western to Minnesota. Trent Guthrie lives about 45 minutes away from me and we are pretty close and Tanner Morgan, the quarterback from Kentucky.
Gopher Hole: A lot of Gopher fans are excited about you guys coming here. For fans who haven't seen you play before how would you describe yourself as a football player?
Kyle Sassack: I would definitely say that I am a physical guy when I am on the football field. I always know what I am doing and I try to not make a lot of mistakes and if I did, I would want to learn everything possible from the game.
Gopher Hole: I know that Coach Fleck has told you that he didn't see you guys as "MAC-caliber players and that you guys are higher caliber players. Obviously, skeptics are going to wonder if a kid recruited at a MAC school is good enough to play in the Big Ten." What would you say to people who might question if you are good enough to play in the Big Ten?
Kyle Sassack: My opinion on all of that talk is that it doesn't really depend on how many stars you are or what schools have been recruiting you, because everyone has the same opportunity wherever they go, but it is all about the passion of the game and how much they love doing what they do. I think that everyone who has been previously committed to a MAC school and has flipped to a Big Ten school like Minnesota, they can do anything, if they put the hard work into it.