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P.J. Fleck Talks QB, Team Record

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August 1, 2017

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A Tuesday notes column kicking off with Gophers football.

The Gophers start practices today without a No. 1 quarterback but redshirt senior Conor Rhoda and junior Demry Croft are the presumed leading candidates to win the job sometime before Minnesota’s opening game August 31.  A quarterback question was the first one asked during a media Q&A session with head coach P.J. Fleck yesterday.

“The quarterback question is one I’m sure you all have on your minds,” Fleck said.  “I have it on my mind—I’ll be honest with you—every single day, every single night.

“What I’m looking for is somebody to take ownership of our football team. (Florida State coach) Jimbo Fisher had a question from ACC Media Days, (and said) you have a tough quarterback, you have a tough team.

“We have to find out how tough the quarterbacks are. They both played minimum snaps, the minimum of one game. So you have to put them through rigorous, high-stress, high-pressure—(and also) easy, relaxed, type of situations—all  throughout the spectrum to see how they respond to that. Decisive decision-making in everything that they do.”

Fleck won’t put a deadline on naming a quarterback this month.  He said “…eventually we have to make a decision and be able to train that quarterback, so he gets a little bit more reps than everybody else.”

The Gophers were 9-4 last season but most media don’t see that many wins for Minnesota this fall.  The team not only has uncertainty at quarterback but in the offensive line and other areas including lack of depth at key spots on defense.  The program’s strongest unit on either side of the ball is the linebackers.

Fleck isn’t predicting the team’s final record this season.  “I think we have 42, 43 lettermen coming back, which makes us one of the least experienced teams in the country,” he said. “We have a new offense, new defense, new special teams, completely new culture, new way of doing things. Twenty-two (injured) guys who (can) have an impact that are out and we still haven’t seen what they can do, or how they implement with our system.

“Those aren’t excuses, those are just facts. We could go 12-0, or 0-12. I’m not worried about the ‘W’ or the ‘L’—what that looks like.  I’m worried about this team doing everything they can to become their best and reach their maximum potential.”

Fleck and the staff take a comprehensive approach to educating their players in subjects that go far beyond the fundamentals of football.  Those topics range from dating to yoga to Pilates.

Tracy Claeys

True to his energetic style, Fleck stood at a podium when he talked to the media yesterday.  Former Gophers head coaches Jerry Kill and Tracy Claeys sat at a table as they made remarks and answered questions.

Fans can attend six practices scheduled at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex: August 4, 6 p.m.; August 5, 3:30 p.m.; August 8, 3:30 p.m.; August 11, 4:15 p.m.; August 15, 3:30 p.m.; August 17, 3:30 p.m.  (Practice dates, times and locations are subject to change).

Jeff Jones, the 2013 prep Mr. Football in Minnesota and ex-Gopher running back and wide receiver, is headed to Fullerton College, a California community college, according to Giovan Jenkins who was his head coach at Washburn High School.  Jenkins told Sports Headliners he spoke to Jones recently about his plan.

Casey O’Brien, son of former Gophers defensive backfield coach and athletic department administrator Dan O’Brien, is a freshman walk-on holder for Minnesota. Casey, who beat cancer twice in his teen years, was a holder and golfer at Cretin-Derham Hall, and won the 2016 Minnesota Football Honors Courage Award.

The Twin Cities Pro Am basketball league has four teams remaining in the playoffs.  Tonight’s games at DeLaSalle High School include Team Jones against Diggs Team starting at 5:45 p.m.  The Team Jones roster features Jones brothers Tyus, Tre and Jadee.  Finer Way Inc. plays EC Playaz at 7 p.m.

Gophers sophomore forward Michael Hurt will play overseas this month on a amateur team for legendary coach Larry Brown.  Hurt will be one of 12 players, mostly from Power Five conferences, who will play for the East Coast Team against squads from Japan, Mexico, Senegal and Venezuela in Madrid, Spain.  The American team will have games against those countries on August 8, 9, 10 and 11.

The Twins acquired relief pitcher Gabriel Moya from the Diamondbacks last week and he could be a name to watch for in 2018. Twins president Dave St. Peter told Sports Headliners Moya is expected to go with the big league club to spring training, with an opportunity to make the team.

At the time of the trade, Moya had pitched in 34 games for Double-A Jackson, with a 4-1 record and 0.82 ERA.  He was 17-for-17 in save opportunities.  With the Twins Double-A Chattanooga team he is 1-0, pitching 2.1 innings and allowing one hit and no runs.

The Twins gave up minor league catcher John Ryan Murphy who had been a disappointment offensively since the Twins acquired him from the Yankees in 2015 for centerfielder Aaron Hicks. Murphy is exceptional defensively.

VSAauctions.com is offering sports memorabilia including a Ted Harris-signed early 1970s era North Stars jersey, and a team signed 1980 U.S. Olympic jersey.

The late Herb Brooks, who coached that Olympic team to the gold medal and won three national titles leading the Gophers, would have turned 80 this Saturday.

The “Breakfast with Leroy” group will have former Gophers All-American basketball player and now Minneapolis Director of Athletics Trent Tucker as its speaker September 9 at the Bloomington Knights of Columbus, 1114 American Blvd. West.  The public is welcome, with more information available by contacting Pat Rickert at 612-861-3981.

The local Wood Bat Little League Baseball Tournament is August 3-6 and will raise funds to assist youth baseball in Benin, a small and impoverished nation in West Africa.  More at Baseballinbenin.org.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers.

Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section.

A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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