Togetherness. Grateful. Identity. Focus. That, according to head coach P.J. Fleck, is the Golden Gophers’ 2021 identity. Speaking at Big Ten Media Day in Indianapolis, Fleck spoke primarily about his returning starters, team leaders, NIL, and the team’s academic successes.
The Gophers only lost one player on each side of the ball this off-season. 11 players are returning for their fifth, sixth, or seventh seasons. Leadership should not be an issue on the team. Among the returning players are quarterback Tanner Morgan, described by his coach as “the ultimate leader”. Running back Mohamed Ibrahim, expected by many to depart for the NFL, is also back. Fleck’s description of him? “A bowling ball rolling down a hill covered in razor blades”.
There was also excellent news about someone who won’t return to the University this season. Coach Fleck said he spoke with Casey O’Brien this past week; the five-time cancer survivor is working for RBC, and his most recent scans came back clean. If you don’t remember Casey, here’s his story on College Gameday from 2019:
Fleck is proud of his team’s success in the classroom, and rightly so. Last year’s team had a cumulative GPA of 3.3, the highest in program history. He singled out two offensive linemen as particularly noteworthy: junior Blaise Andries, who’s an academic All-American as well as an actual actuary, and Connor Olson, who scored in the 96th percentile on the MCAT. Olson could also set the school record for starts this season.
Fleck says he’s excited about the opportunities his players have under the new Name Image and Likeness rules. He pointed out that being in a major market like the Twin Cities, with several major corporations having local offices, means major potential for his players to benefit. Additionally, he pointed out the need to educate players on the issues that will accompany the new rules, namely avoiding potential scams and being sure they pay required taxes.
Among the things that everyone hopes are NOT a part of the Golden Gophers’ 2021 identity are the Covid-19 cases they suffered from last season. Fleck mentioned that against Nebraska the team was down 35 players. (I’d mention the score of that game, but there’s probably no reason to pile on Husker fans at this point). I think we could all do without the two heartbreaking overtime losses as well.