PJ Fleck shares powerful message on Sept. 11 with Gophers at night practice

PJ Fleck holds a night practice every Sunday with the University of Minnesota football team, largely for players who didn’t see the field on Saturday.

This week’s practice had a little extra meaning, and Fleck shared a very powerful message when it was over as the Gophers marked the 22-year anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York. Two planes flew into the towers of the World Trade Center, and nearly 3,000 people died that day.

Fleck and the Gophers visited the Sept. 11 memorial in New York last December, when they were there to face Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. Sunday night, he shared a message for about 10 minutes based around a piece on the show "60 minutes." It featured firefighters putting on 75 pounds of gear, going into the Twin Towers to save as many lives as they could.

Fleck shared the message he told his team at his Monday news conference.

"It was a very powerful story because as a leader, this is not life and death, this is football. They had to give the command to actually go up into the buildings with 75 pounds apiece on their backs going up 90 floors. Carrying that 90 floors up knowing that’s probably going to be the last time you’re going to see your family, last time you’re going to see your kids, last time you’re going to hug your wife. That was the last time that morning to a lot of people and their families. Not one firefighter asked why, not one firefighter said no, what a story," Fleck said. "It’s the individual stories of that heroic effort that day of our country, it’s just powerful so I wanted to make sure I shared that with them."

Fleck had his players put on 75-pound backpacks to get an idea what it felt like. His message? Be grateful for each other, and do what you do for the teammate next to you.

"We play a game and we got a little tired here and there. What floor do you stay on in that beautiful new field house? Oh I stay on Floor 4. Do you go on the stairs or take the elevator? Well I take the elevator. Here’s 75 pounds on your pack and go 90 to go save people knowing you’re never going to come back, would you do it? They all did it for the people that told them to go do it, that’s leadership at its finest," Fleck said. "Just a really powerful day for us to just remember how grateful we should be for all the things we do have. I’m grateful for this football team, I’m grateful to be the head coach here, on days like today it really brings that full circle. I want our team to be a really grateful football team and do it for each other, never do it in fear of each other."

Many of the current players on the Gophers were either toddlers on Sept. 11, some weren't born yet. For those of us alive on the day, we all remember where we were and what we were doing as it unfolded.


Gophers running back Darius Taylor was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week. Taylor, in just his second college game, had 33 carries for 193 yards and a touchdown in Saturday's 25-6 win over Eastern Michigan. He had 35 total touches for 206 yards.

Taylor saw extended time with Bryce Williams out to due injury.