As the 9-1 Gophers prepare for their final regular season road game Saturday at Northwestern, it’s a reminder this fall’s drive for a Big Ten West Division championship has been led by many contributors, including seniors like defensive end Carter Coughlin, who are nearing the end of their careers.
Winston DeLattiboudere, a senior who is Minnesota’s other starting defensive end, singled out Coughlin for his leadership, referring to the former Eden Prairie all-stater as the “glue” helping to bond the team. Coughlin took a leadership role early in his career at Minnesota including taking teammates to the family cabin, a new experience for DeLattiboudere, who is from Baltimore.
DeLattiboudere calls Coughlin “Mr. Minnesota” because his teammate is knowledgeable about football, the Gophers and how things work in the state. “You can always go to Carter, and Carter will always help you out,” DeLattiboudere said.
Coughlin’s leadership is so fitting given his family legacy at the University of Minnesota. His father Robert Coughlin played football for the Gophers, as did his uncle Mike Moe and grandfather Tom Moe, who also was interim athletic director of the University of Minnesota’s Athletic Department from 1999-2002. Coughlin’s mom, Jennie (Moe) Coughlin, was a three-time all-conference tennis player for Minnesota.
That family history certainly played a role in Coughlin’s decision to turn down offers from other schools including powerhouse Ohio State to play at the U. As a high school junior Coughlin told Sports Headliners, “I am going to help build the (Gophers) program brick by brick,” Coughlin said. “I am completely invested in Minnesota and that’s my final decision.”
The “bricks” have been fitting nicely into place during Coughlin’s senior season with the program doing things that haven’t been accomplished for decades. Although injuries have been a problem this season, Coughlin was at his best in the November 9 upset win over No. 5 ranked Penn State. He had a career high eight tackles, with three tackles for loss and one sack.
Coming into the season Coughlin was a Phil Steele fourth team preseason All-American. After the season, there will liklely be Big Ten recognition, if not national honors. He has NFL potential and has been invited to the Senior Bowl in January as a possible next step to a pro career.
With starting quarterback Tanner Morgan in concussion protocol, it raises the possibility Minnesota will have a new No. 1 Saturday against Northwestern. Head coach P.J. Fleck said the Gophers will prepare true freshmen backups Cole Kramer and Jacob Clark. He also said both could play Saturday.
Fleck will not be able to use Zack Annexstad, a starter part of last season who injured his foot in August and is still recovering. “He’s got about three to four weeks left, somewhere around there, and then he will be back,” Fleck said on his KFAN Radio show Tuesday.
It’s not known whether starting guard Curtis Dunlap, who didn’t play in last Saturday’s Iowa game, will return to the starting lineup for Northwestern.
When Badgers fans come to Minneapolis for the much anticipated Wisconsin-Minnesota football game November 30, some will head for the popular new Kollege Klub bar in Dinkytown. The KK Club opened earlier this year and is an expansion of the longtime KK venue in Madison.
No doubt ESPN College GameDay organizers have Minneapolis near or at the top of their potential destination list for November 30, with the Gophers and Badgers possibly playing for the Big Ten West Division title that day.
As of Tuesday afternoon, only several hundred tickets remained before the game sells out.
If Minnesota earns its way to the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis December 7, Gophers fans may travel in large numbers. A source at last Saturday’s Minnesota-Iowa game in Iowa City estimated 6,000 or more Gophers fans in attendance.
Most likely bowl invites in play for Minnesota with two games remaining on the regular season schedule are the Rose, Citrus and Orange.
The Gophers athletic department is aggressively promoting men’s single game hockey tickets, with online advertising referencing $10 tickets.
Twins president Dave St. Peter speaks to the CORES lunch group Thursday, January 9 at the Bloomington Event Center, 1114 American Blvd. More information is available by contacting Jim Dotseth, firstname.lastname@example.org. CORES is an acronym for coaches, officials, reporters, educators and sports fans.
The Twin Cities-based WCHA office is proud of the latest USCHO rankings with the Minnesota State men No. 1, and the Gophers No. 1 among women’s teams. The rankings by USA Today/USA Hockey magazine have the same teams in the No. 1 spots. This is the second consecutive week the Mavericks and Gophers have topped the rankings, per WCHA men’s commissioner Bill Robertson.
Minnesota State’s 28-man roster is a mature group, with 21 players who are 22 years of age or older.
The Minnesota Wild, at home tonight against the Colorado Avalanche, are unlikely to ever again see a schedule that will find them in St. Paul for just eight games prior to Thanksgiving.
Legendary Minnesota emcee Dick Jonckowski is in his second week of recovering from surgery on his left toe, but he will be able to work the Old Timers Hockey Association luncheon Monday at Mancini’s.
Jonckowski’s 76th birthday was October 22 and he received a telephone call from basketball Hall of Famer Rick Barry. The two have exchanged birthday wishes by phone every year since 1998.
Canyon Barry, Rick’s son, plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves development team in Des Moines, the Iowa Wolves.
It was a classic Ben Leber tweet, talking about how the Chicago Bears need to move on from third-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky. “He should’ve never been drafted that high and put in this position,” Leber tweeted recently. “This is the Bears fault. #SNF”
Leber retired in 2012 from his 10-year linebacker career in the NFL but remains close to football. Living with his wife and children in suburban Minneapolis, the 40-year-old Leber has made a post-football career for himself as a Fox TV college gameday analyst, Minnesota Vikings sideline radio reporter, and motivational speaker.
Unlike many former jocks, Leber’s approach in talking about both his life and analysis of football is candid. That openness was evident last week when Leber spoke at a luncheon in Bloomington to a group of mostly former high school coaches from various sports including football. “I am basically an open book,” he told the audience.
Leber is often asked about the key to success. He finds the question difficult to answer because people are all different with their abilities, education, experiences and emotions. “For me it (the key to success) was overcoming self-doubt,” he said.
Lack of confidence and self-esteem showed up when he transitioned to a media career after playing pro football for the Vikings, San Diego Chargers and St. Louis Rams. He had no training as a broadcaster. He got a call 10 days prior to his first assignment and had to learn a lot on the fly.
But Leber had experience in developing self-confidence. He overcame self-doubt in football, dating back to his days growing up in the town of Vermillion, South Dakota—population about 11,000. “I am a small town kid through and through,” he said while recalling his youth. His peers there told him that despite his success as a running back he wasn’t that good.
“You think you’re better than us” was the message he heard, although history now says he was one of the greatest ball carriers in South Dakota schoolboy history and he made prep All-American. Despite a scholarship offer to play football at Kansas State, doubts nagged at Leber.
Early on in Manhattan, Kansas, Leber almost quit the team, but he persevered and became an all-conference linebacker for the Wildcats. He also learned winning was serious business in college football, and that mission could be carried to extremes. How extreme? Well, with amusement he recalled that at halftime of home games, a Kansas State staffer spied on the opposing team by listening to locker room strategies and adjustments.
The Chargers drafted Leber in the third round and he was a starter almost from the beginning, even if he was in a daze playing as an NFL rookie. Reality hit home in the early weeks when the Chargers were playing the San Francisco 49ers, a team he and his family followed passionately back in Vermillion. “I said, holy (blank), that’s Jerry Rice,” Leber recalled in lining up against the 49ers legendary receiver.
Leber’s confidence grew as he found success in the NFL, playing four seasons with the Chargers, five with the Vikings and one with the Rams. As he thinks about overcoming self-doubt, he shares advice he offers his own children, “I tell my kids, just improve every day.”
Of course believing in yourself doesn’t mean worry won’t surface, and even sleep can be lost. That’s what Leber shared at the luncheon when talking about the week he prepared to face running back Jerome Bettis of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The man nicknamed “The Bus” was listed at about 250 pounds but Leber suspects that was about 20 pounds too low.
There was a play where Leber took on “The Bus” but he still bulled his way for a first down. “I gave that dude everything I had,” said the 6-foot-3 Leber who played at about 240 pounds and regards “The Bus” as the most physical runner he had to tackle.
It’s a safe bet these days that when a former pro football player speaks at an event there will be at least one question regarding concussions. Leber told his audience last Thursday he had “one registered concussion” in his career, with that occurring in high school. But he added there probably have been hundreds of times he’s “seen stars” playing the collision sport of American football.
The studies and media stories linking football to brain damage in the last several years is prevalent and ongoing. Leber, of course, is well aware of the publicity and warnings, and the stories of retired players who lose their memories. “Am I worried about it?” Leber asked. “Yes. Do I think about it everyday? No.”
There is arguably hysteria in America about concussions and football, with parents unwilling to allow their kids to participate. This is happening despite studies showing concussions for youth are more numerous in other activities including cheerleading than football.
Leber is an advocate for the game, and for playing it on the youth level where he says the violence of football isn’t comparable to the college and professional levels. He believes kids are being “over-educated” about head injuries and football. The game provides life lessons, including learning toughness that young people lose out on if they don’t play his sport. “There’s no better sport to teach you about yourself, and prepare you for life than football,” he said.
Leber said there are no studies that show high school football later changes what he refers to as the “quality of life” of its participants. “To have kids miss out (playing football), kind of angers me,” he said.
At the lunch Leber told the group that soccer causes the most youth concussions but parents are taking their sons out of football to play that sport. “Football is not the enemy,” said Leber who laments his game isn’t judged more fairly.
After Leber’s talk a reporter asked him about his old team, the Vikings. What concerns him the most? How much can Minnesota achieve this season and into the playoffs?
In critical situations, Leber said, the Vikings are vulnerable on offense when the interior line sags against pressure and makes quarterback Kirk Cousins uncomfortable. Defensively, he expressed concern about the cornerbacks needing to play at a higher level, including disrupting routes.
Leber, though, thinks the Vikings have the pieces to make a Super Bowl run. He sees a great running game, a quarterback who could receive NFL MVP consideration, and superb outside receivers. The defense he characterizes as “Super Bowl level” because it is usually difficult to score against. “Teams are getting some yards on us, but when it comes to actually putting points on the board, our defense is pretty damn good,” he said.
Leber, by the way, showed those doubters back in Vermillion a final time when in 2016 he was inducted into the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame.
A Sunday Golden Gophers football notes column:
Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck was unsure this morning about the status of quarterback Tanner Morgan while speaking on WCCO Radio. Media reports had Morgan in concussion protocol after last night’s Iowa game. His availability for Saturday’s game at Northwestern appears unknown.
Fleck said he hadn’t seen his star quarterback yet this morning. Morgan was wobbly before he was removed from the game. “I hope he is okay. We just gotta make sure that we take all the proper protocol…as he continues to move forward,” Fleck said
Morgan was sacked six times in the 23-19 loss to Iowa. He took a pounding in a physical game and missed the last two snaps when the Gophers were trying to rally for a win and improve their record to 10-0.
When Morgan, who is among the Big Ten passing leaders, was unable to finish the game he was replaced by true freshman Cole Kramer from Eden Prairie. If Morgan can’t play Saturday against Northwestern it’s unclear whether he will be replaced by Kramer, or Texas native Jacob Clark, another true freshman.
Kramer and Clark have played minimal minutes this season. Kramer has played in three games, Clark in one. Freshmen can play in up to four games and still retain redshirt status.
“I think it’s a little too early to jump to conclusions,” Fleck said in regard to whether there will be any changes at quarterback for Northwestern.
Quarterback depth became precarious before the season started when Zack Annexstad, expected to compete for the starting job with Morgan, injured his foot and appeared lost for the season. Fleck said awhile ago Annexstad might return late this year, but he was indefinite on a timeline.
The coaches have protected Morgan by seldom asking him to run, and he avoided significant injury through almost 10 games. Iowa, though, had an intense pass rush led by future pro lineman A.J. Epenesa who often had his way with Minnesota offensive left tackle Sam Schleuter.
Minnesota is 6-1 and can win the Big Ten West Division outright with victories in its remaining games but the Gophers have questions to answer including field goal and extra point kicking. Redshirt freshman Brock Walker, playing in his second consecutive game against Iowa, missed an extra point and bounced a field goal inside the upright yesterday. Freshman Michael Lantz has been injured after making five of eight field goals earlier this season.
The Gophers missed a major promotional opportunity in losing a fifth consecutive game to Iowa and not reclaiming Floyd of Rosedale. Minnesota already has the Governor’s Bell from its November 9 win over Penn State and hopes to hold on to Paul Bunyan’s Axe when the Gophers close the season against Wisconsin. “Three Wins, Three Trophies” could have headlined an offseason marketing campaign.
The Gophers were penalized in the Iowa game when Fleck sprinted on the field to check on wide receiver Tyler Johnson, who appeared injured. Speaking on KFAN Radio after the game the coach defended himself, stressing the welfare of his players is always a top priority. He accepted responsibility for the penalty even though he would do it again. “I am sorry. I am 38 years old and I can run,” he said.
When the College Football Playoff Rankings come out Tuesday night the Gophers, ranked No. 8 last week, could land in the No. 14 to 18 range.
The Minnesota-Wisconsin game in Minneapolis November 30 was nearly sold out as of late last week.
Fleck’s 39th birthday will be the day prior to the game.
The Gophers have yet to do it this season, but if they switched their bench and sideline from the south side of their home field to the north they more likely will be situated in sunshine and feel warmer November 30. The change requires notifying the Big Ten office in advance.
Yesterday morning there was TV hype about the 9-0 Gophers. On ESPN GameDay David Pollack referred to Minnesota as the biggest story of the college football season. BTN’s morning show ranked Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield Jr. the best defensive back in the Big Ten.