'The sky is the limit for me': Gophers OL Daniel Faalele talks at NFL Combine

Offensive lineman Daniel Faalele #78 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers reacts after scoring on a two-yard rushing touchdown against the West Virginia Mountaineers during the first half of the Guaranteed Rate Bowl at Chase Field on December 28, 2021 in ((Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images))

The University of Minnesota football team is well-represented at this year’s NFL Combine in Indianapolis, with four players participating from the Gophers’ 2021 squad that finished 9-4 in PJ Fleck’s fifth season as head coach.

The Gophers have Daniel Faalele, Boye Mafe, Blaise Andries and Esezi Otomewo participating, and all four could hear their named called in the NFL Draft in late April. One big emphasis for Fleck and the Gophers has been getting an offensive lineman selected in the draft. It’s something that hasn’t happened since Greg Eslinger and Mark Setterstrom were both selected in 2006.

That will change this year, starting with Faalele. Andries, Conner Olson and Sam Schlueter are all testing the process, with Faalele and Andries the most likely to be selected. Faalele, all 6-9, 380-plus pounds of him, could hear his name chosen in the first round.

So what does he think his biggest strengths are?

"I would say just how athletic I am for my size, and how powerful I am. Just how strong I am and the bigger body I have. Just using those intangibles to my advantage," Faalele said Thursday.

He was a First Team All-Big Ten pick and started 12 games for the Gophers, which finished third in the league in rushing. Minnesota, despite being down to its No. 4 and No. 5 running backs at the end of the season, had running backs go for at least 100 yards 13 times in the 2021 season. Faalele capped his final Gophers’ season off with a rushing touchdown against West Virginia in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl after having rushing and passing touchdowns in the last two Gophers’ Spring Games.

Faalele didn’t start playing football until his senior year of high school, and the Australia native relied on a background in rugby for his strength. From there, it was about learning the technique of playing on the offensive line.

"I feel like the sky is the limit for me. I feel like going to the next level, the NFL, is there for me and I’m just excited to see how far it can go," Faalele said.

Mafe was also a First Team All-Big Ten pick and made a splash at the Senior Bowl with two sacks and a forced fumble. In 42 career games, the former Hopkins star had 87 tackles, 19.5 tackles for a loss, 15 sacks and three forced fumbles.