(FOX 9) - The Minnesota Gophers took to the field on Friday missing a key piece. Star wide receiver Rashod Bateman will miss the year, choosing to opt out to focus on the 2021 NFL Draft amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a tweet this week, Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck supported Bateman's decision, simply writing "Love ya @R_bateman2" while sharing a statement on the decision.
On Friday, speaking with media after practice, Fleck reiterated his support for Bateman. Fleck says the safety and health of his players is priority number one.
"This year, when you look at it," Fleck said. "My job is going to be able to make our team the healthiest team on the field, the safest team on the field, and the most prepared team on the field. But football is going to come backseat to safety. Period."
"If we can do both and combine that, but if I have to err on the side of the safety part way more, that's what I'm going to do," Fleck says.
Fleck says he is also encouraging players to make the decision whether or not to play on their own. He says he doesn't want to influence that decision nor does he want other players to make the decision for their teammates.
"It's not for me to judge whether you should play or not. And we're going to support you no matter what decision you make," he explained. "I might have said that a 1,000 times but it's real and it's true. If a player decides not to play, he's going to have support for me. If a player decides he's going to play, he's going to have support from me."
"We all have our own circumstances and we all have our own families and we all have our own choices to make," he added.