'It was awesome': Chris Autman-Bell makes healthy return to Gophers

Wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell #7 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers is tackled by safety Mark Perry #5 of the Colorado Buffaloes in the first quarter of a game at Folsom Field on September 18, 2021 in Boulder, Colorado.  ((Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images))

There was nobody happier to be in front of a podium and microphone Tuesday than Chris Autman-Bell.

The University of Minnesota wide receiver spoke with reporters for the first time since suffering a leg injury during fall camp. It kept him out the first two games of the season, a 45-31 loss to Ohio State and a 31-26 win over Miami (Ohio) that was a tad too close for comfort.

Autman-Bell, the team’s top receiver back from a 3-4 season in 2020, made his debut on Saturday in the Gophers’ 30-0 win at Colorado in front of thousands of fans who made the trip. His first catch of the season went for over 30 yards, and it set up Minnesota’s first touchdown.

"It was awesome, it’s always a great feeling to be back, especially just being on the field with my brothers. That’s probably the biggest thing for me," Autman-Bell said Tuesday.

"You talk about a kid that loves football, and it’s just good to have him back in the rotation," Gophers’ coach PJ Fleck said Monday.

Autman-Bell finished with four catches for 79 yards in Saturday’s win. He’s thankful for every snap he gets, because he wasn’t sure how many there would be after getting hurt in fall camp. Autman-Bell went down with a leg injury during an individual drill at a fall camp practice open to fans and media at Huntington Bank Stadium.

He had to be helped off the field by teammates and trainers, and into the locker room. He had a sense of relief after finding out it was an ankle injury.

He dressed for warm-ups against the Buckeyes and Redhawks, but came out for kickoff in street clothes. He says he’s 100 percent now, and had been practicing for two weeks before facing the Buffaloes.

"I’m healthy, I feel great," Autman-Bell said.

Autman-Bell took over as the leader of Minnesota’s receiving corps last season, with Rashod Bateman preparing for the NFL. He had 22 catches for 430 yards and one score last season.

In 34 career games with the Gophers, Autman-Bell has 82 catches for 1,329 yards and six touchdowns. In his mind, there are no 50-50 balls that Tanner Morgan throws.

"My mindset is if I don’t come down with it, no one is. It’s a dawg mentality I guess. Just go make the play and make my team happy," Autman-Bell said.

Morgan feels the same way.

"With Chris, it’s not really a 50-50 ball mindset. That’s not his mentality, and that’s not my mentality when throwing it to him or any of our other receivers. He’s so talented with the ball in the air of finding a way to come down with it no matter really where the ball is at," Morgan said. "It was awesome to get him back on the field and to see him make a couple big plays was huge."