Carter Coughlin wants to 'make the U of M great'

In what might be one of the fastest careers for a University of Minnesota athlete, Gophers' senior Carter Coughlin admits it's difficult to realize it's his final year of college football. He's got about five months left, and then it's some to pursue either an NFL career or life elsewhere.

He's had four different defensive coordinators. He's on his third head coach. One thing that has never changed is his commitment to the University of Minnesota, his love for the Gophers. Coughlin, a prep star at Eden Prairie, took time after a recent fall practice to talk about his experience at Minnesota.

The Gophers open the 2019 regular season against South Dakota State Thursday night at TCF Bank Stadium.

Take us back to the day you came to Gophers football practice as a high school recruit and committed to Jerry Kill. What was that moment like?

I mean shoot, I wanted to tell everybody. It was something that I was like, I felt so sure about when it happened. It was like surreal for me, you know? The coaches all freaked out, and I just couldn't take the smile off my face. I was like man this is where I belong. I've got it in my bloodline, all that kind of stuff. This is home for me.

What was your first game day experience like as a freshman? What's the moment like going out of the tunnel at TCF Bank Stadium?

Man, I remember it like it was yesterday. Blake Cashman told me, he said ‘Soak all this in because you're never going to be able to forget it' right before we ran out there. Run out there, and like I can still picture it. You just get chills and goosebumps the first time you run out there. Everybody is screaming, it's pitch black with the light shining down, a bunch of Gopher fans everywhere, crazy loud. The band, the smoke, all that kind of stuff. It was surreal, seriously.

When coach Kill had to medically retire and coach Fleck was brought in after the year with Tracy Claeys, you had a decision to make. You didn't have to stay, others didn't. What was it about Coach Fleck that sold you about staying with the Gophers?

Yeah I mean I just recognized Coach Fleck's passion for being great. That's ultimately why I committed to the University of Minnesota, I wanted to make the University of Minnesota great. I listened to what Coach Fleck had to say, I was like this dude is the real deal. So I wanted to be a part of this.

When Jerry Kill took over as athletic director at Southern Illinois, he said some controversial things about PJ. Gophers players immediately came out in support of Coach Fleck. You were one of the first and most vocal on social media. What was your motivation or your purpose there?

You know I just heard stuff being said online. I just wanted everybody to understand that as a player who's been through a lot, all that kind of stuff, as a senior, I love playing for Coach Fleck. Coach Fleck and I have gotten super close over the last couple years. I love playing for him. It was a tough situation or whatever, but the reality is Coach Fleck is my coach and I just wanted to make it clear for everybody that I really enjoy playing for him.

Take us back to winning the Axe at Wisconsin. What was the moment like, everybody rushes to grab it, to celebrate with it. What was it like in the locker room after? What was that whole experience like?

Man it was like an hour-long party. We were going crazy on the field, we stayed on the field for an hour, hugging everybody, just crazy excited. All the Gopher fans came around as the Wisconsin fans filed out of the stadium. It was like man, that's part one of leaving our legacy here, and this senior year is going to be Part II.

What did not only winning that game, but beating Georgia Tech in the bowl game, how can that serve as your momentum heading into this season?

Yeah I think that just showed us how important the details are. I mean shoot I was playing post safety against Georgia Tech. We had a bunch of guys doing roles that we haven't done before, but the details were so stressed over the course of that month preparing, but we were ready to play. So I think that just showed the entire defense that when we play detailed like this, there's nobody that can play with us.

Tyler Johnson could have left school to pursue to the NFL. What does it mean to your team to have him back?

Man, Ty is in the same boat. He just wants to see Minnesota be great. We still got some stuff to do. You know what kind of playmaker he is. I was pumped that he was coming back.

Has it hit you yet that you're a senior in your last college season?

It's kind of hit me. It's one of those things where I'm sitting in my apartment after practice and I'm like ‘Man, we just finished our last first practice of fall camp.' It's crazy, I'm trying not to think about that too much, I want to just focus on the football aspect of it. But I mean it's crazy that I've got 5 months left here and then it's all going to be over with. It feels like yesterday I was committing as a junior in high school. It's pretty wild, but it's been an awesome ride.

How did you see the team rally around Zack after the severity of his foot injury was known?

Any time there's an injury like that, you're devastated as a player. That's where we come in as teammates, as brothers. Everybody went up and hugged him, he was in tears just because he was so upset that he was injured. We all went in and hugged him, I've talked to him pretty much every single day since then, checking in on him, seeing what's next, all that kind of stuff. Telling him that I'm praying for him, but that's what's special about football. You've got 120 dudes that are your brothers that can rally around you when stuff happens.

How far can this team go this year? You suffered a setback with Zack's injury, but you still have Tanner Morgan. You still have tons of play-makers on defense. How far can this team go this year?

I think we've got a lot of dynamic play-makers everywhere. I think the only thing that's going to hold us back is ourselves. That's one of those things we always talk about. We've got to just change our best every single week, and continue that. Shoot at the end of the year we're going to be able to look at the result, but for us it's all about the process.

The Gophers have the talent, now it's about proof and showing it on the field.