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History Making Awaits U WR & QB

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June 16, 2020

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With a 2020 college football season looking more probable by the week, University of Minnesota fans can anticipate potential history making firsts for a pair of Golden Gopher juniors—wide receiver Rashod Bateman and quarterback Tanner Morgan.

Both are being mentioned as potential 2021 first round NFL Draft choices. Minnesota’s program has never had a wide receiver or quarterback taken in the first round. The best for a wide receiver was Eric Decker going to Denver in the third round of the 2010 draft. John Hankinson to the Vikings in 1965 and Craig Curry to Miami in 1972, both drafted in the eighth round, are tops in program history for quarterbacks. Minnesota hasn’t had a player drafted in the first round since running back Laurence Maroney was chosen at 21 by New England in the 2006 draft.

Bateman, who appears all but certain to be drafted in the first round next spring, is already the first wide receiver in school history to be named All-American. He was Associated Press third-team All-American in 2019, plus being named the Big Ten’s best wide receiver.

Bateman is a Walter Camp Football Foundation 2020 preseason All-American. He was placed on the second team, and he will be a focus of attention for NFL scouts who might evaluate him as a top 15 pick. The Gophers haven’t had a top 15 first round player in more than 50 years.

Bateman, from Tifton, Ga., has caught at least one pass in all 26 games of his Gopher career (tied for seventh in school history). The elusive and sure-handed Bateman has 111 career receptions for 1,923 yards and 17 touchdowns. Those totals rank 12th, seventh and fifth respectively in Gopher history. He has seven 100-yard receiving games, including the top two for a Gopher in TCF Bank Stadium history (2019 Penn State with 203 yards and 2019 Wisconsin with 147 yards).

Morgan is a potential first or second round draft choice. There is consensus he is the Big Ten’s second best returning quarterback after Ohio State’s Justin Fields. A 247Sports April 12 story projecting the nation’s top 25 college quarterbacks had Morgan No. 7 and Fields No. 1.

Morgan was named second team All-Big Ten in 2019. In the last 30-plus years only two other Minnesota quarterbacks (Adam Weber in 2008 and Rickey Foggie 1987) have earned that distinction. The Gophers haven’t had an All-American QB since Sandy Stephens in 1961.

Tanner Morgan

The Union, Kentucky native is 15-4 as Minnesota’s starting quarterback and is praised for both his leadership and passing. A precision passer, Morgan set school season records in 2019 for his 66 percent completion mark, 3,253 passing yards and 30 touchdowns.

Looks like Bateman and Morgan, already history makers at the U after last season, are positioned to add more to their Gopher legacies this fall.

Worth Noting

In a 247Sports story last Friday Athlon magazine named Bateman first team preseason All-Big Ten and Morgan second team. Athlon referred to Bateman as a “potential top-10 prospect in the NFL Draft.”

Gopher junior running back Mohamed Ibrahim made the Athlon second team offense, as did junior guard-tackle Blaise Andries. Senior corner Coney Durr was selected for the third team defense.

Minnesota, 11-2 last season, is seen by multiple sources as a top-25 team entering the 2020 season. In a May 23, 247Sports online story Athlon ranked the Gophers No. 20 nationally. Big Ten West Division rivals Wisconsin and Iowa ranked No. 12 and No. 25.

Michele Tafoya, the Minnesota resident and prominent longtime national sports reporter on television, talked about her career experiences, COVID-19 and social justice on the Twin Cities cable TV program “Behind the Game.” Tafoya told host Patrick Klinger: “It’s really a soul-searching time.”

Tafoya, seen by millions in the fall as the sideline reporter on NBC Sunday Night Football, was supposed to cover the summer Olympics before they were postponed until 2021. One of the most successful female sports broadcasters in American history, Tafoya has been impersonated on television’s “Saturday Night Live.”

Although she has experienced several roles in her broadcast career, Tafoya said an NBA play-by-play assignment is something she would enjoy if the timing is right.Tafoya grew up in southern California and when she was young wanted to be “the next Meryl Streep.”

“Behind the Game” can also be seen on YouTube.

Speaking of COVID-19, top leaders from the Timberwolves, Twins, United, Vikings and Wild have been sharing ideas weekly this spring as professional teams here and across the country shape policies to start up again.

It’s believed the NCAA will vote Wednesday on whether to approve the University of St. Thomas’ request to participate in Division I sports starting with the 2021-2022 school year. That vote was to have happened in April but got postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Tommies are requesting a transition from Division III status to Division I after involuntarily being removed from the D-3 MIAC starting in 2021-2022.

The two Minnesota-bred thoroughbreds with the highest career earnings, Mr. Jagermeister and Hot Shot Kid, face off in the 10,000 Lakes Stakes Wednesday at Canterbury Park. The Lakes Stakes is six furlongs for a purse of $50,000.

Running Aces starts its live harness racing season Saturday.

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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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