Gophers look to grow in second year of PJ Fleck era

A solid start book-ended by a sour finish - that is how chapter one of the PJ Fleck era at Minnesota was written in 2017.

“We have to be able to have that refuse to lose mentality rather than, ‘Oh I hope we win this. I really want to win’ – we got to get that out of our system,” said Coach Fleck at a press conference Tuesday.

Now in year two of this football system, players’ early season nerves from a year ago are being replaced by a confident poise heading into Wednesday’s first fall practice.

“Coming around and knowing what’s going on, the excitement level has definitely picked up,” said Thomas Barber, Gophers linebacker. “Guys are excited, we’re all excited to be here.”

“I mean, we’re going into fall camp with way more knowledge than we had last year,” said Carter Coughlin, Gophers linebacker.

The Gophers also know that this will be a growing process as they go into the year as a very young football team. 

“That’s not where you want to be, but that’s exciting when you’re in Year 2/Year 1 and you have this influx of youth and that’s fun to do that and build that,” said Fleck.

Fleck’s biggest building project will be at quarterback. Freshmen QB contenders Zack Annexstad and Tanner Morgan will each continue their quest to win that starting job in fall camp. That competition could last into the season according to Fleck. 

“Just because you’ve won the job maybe at the end of training camp doesn’t mean that you’re going to keep that job as you continue to go, you still have to perform at a high level and as the other person grows – do they grow ahead of you?” said Fleck. “So this is going to be a neck and neck battle.”

Success though will rely on more than one guy as they attempt to rebound from a sub-500 campaign. With a 5-7 year in the past, the Gophers are going into this camp with higher expectations in their 2018 season. 

“I’m really excited for this season because I think we’re going to shock some people - wake some people up,” said Coughlin. 

Some will determine success this season for the Gophers by wins and losses, but Fleck is refusing to do so. He’s choosing to measure growth in his own Gopher way. 

“I measure it by having peace knowing our team did everything they could to be the best they could be,” said Fleck. “We all have expectations, we all have disappointments, but when you sit there, you measure a group of 17 to 22-year-old young men – how they did – a number will never measure that. Not as long as I’m head coach.”