Gophers fall camp intensifies as 2023 opener against Nebraska nears

The University of Minnesota football team is still 22 days away from opening the 2023 season against Nebraska at Huntington Bank Stadium, but it’s already starting to feel like game week over at Athletes Village.

The Gophers practiced in front of media on Tuesday, and it was one of the more intense workouts P.J. Fleck has shown publicly. At one point, defensive lineman Anthony Smith had to be restrained after getting physical with an offensive lineman.

"You get to the second week of camp and you’ve got a lot of the playbook installed and you’ve been repping it for a while. They’re demanding a lot out of you, and you should be demanding a lot out of yourself. It’s getting to the point in the camp where guys know what they’re doing, so you’ve got to go out and do it," edge rusher Danny Striggow said.

The highlight of the day came from presumptive starting quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis. He hit Daniel Jackson early in practice for a 50-plus yard touchdown in a team drill. Near the end of practice, he hit Le’Meke Brockington on virtually the same play in stride for another touchdown.

The entire offense went nuts in celebration after both plays.

"We got playmakers throughout the whole room and at any given point, whoever’s number is called upon, the play is going to be made. We trust in the room that’s going to get done," Jackson said.

It just happened to come on the same day a 247Sports survey ranked Kaliakmanis was ranked 67th out of 69 starting quarterbacks in the Power Five, and last in the Big Ten. He threw for 946 yards and three touchdowns in five starts and 11 games last season.

"He’s commanding the offense and really leading as a solidified guy who can start in the Big Ten and be a hell of a player," offensive lineman Quinn Carroll said.

Defensive back Justin Walley was beaten in coverage on one of those deep throws. He was asked Tuesday what makes Kaliakmanis tough to defend.

"His ability to place balls where a corner can’t touch it. We talk about it every day, you might have perfect coverage and he still puts the ball in there somewhere. You can’t defend every pass, so he’s making us better every day," Walley said.


Minnesota’s offensive line has just two starters back from last season in Carroll and Aireontae Ersery. Nathan Boe is the presumed center, but jobs at guard and tackle are still up for grabs. Martes Lewis, Karter Shaw, J.J. Guedet and Tyler Cooper are among the names battling for those spots.

Ersery recalled coming to Minnesota as a wide-eyed freshman in 2020 and talked about how he’s grown since making his first start against Nebraska. He started all 13 games at left tackle last season.

"Tremendously. I didn’t know my head from my butt. Man I came a long way," Ersery said.

He’s been lauded by teammates and coaches for his footwork on the offensive line. Where does that come from?

"I used to be a dancer when I was little. I had dance moves, I can’t dance like I used to but I think that’s where it came from when I was child, I used to dance in front of the family," Ersery said.

What did he dance to?

"Party in the USA, that was a good one."

He’s also one of the best basketball players on the football team. So who does he compare his game to at 6-6 and 325 pounds?

"You know Shaq? Yeah that’s me," Ersery said. "Diesel, throw the ball to me and I'll back you down."


After Tyler Nubin and Justin Walley, there were plenty of questions about the Gophers’ secondary entering the season. Who might play alongside them is starting to figure itself out. Tyler Bride got an interception on Tuesday, as did Tariq Watson.

"I think the whole group is working their butts off. I know every day they’re striving to get better, the whole group and each day we’re making improvements," Walley said.

The Gophers have one more practice open to fans and media next Tuesday, Aug. 15, before the Aug. 31 season-opener against Nebraska at Huntington Bank Stadium.