Roethlisberger’s name entices top recruits

Susan Filkins

For 26 years, the name Fred Roethlisberger and Gophers men’s gymnastics have been interchangeable. The guidance of Coach Roethlisberger and the presence of his son, John, are the two reasons why Minnesota brings in some of the best recruits each year.
This year was no different, as three top freshmen said it was the Roethlisbergers who drew them to Minnesota.
“There are two reasons I came to Minnesota,” said Lindsey Fang, of Allentown, Pennsylvania. “One was the snow, because I don’t mind the cold.
“But I also knew Fred would be the best coach anywhere I would go.”
Fang, who joins Chad Conner of Dallas and Russell Hopson of Richardson, Texas in becoming Gophers, was the No. 1-ranked gymnast in the nation on the junior level two years ago. When he signed with the Gophers, he was in the country’s top five.
Conner came up north because of Roethlisberger, too, despite the last-minute opportunity to do so.
After visiting Illinois on a recruiting trip, Conner was ready to sign with the Illini. But he was holding out for a chance to be in Minnesota.
“I was still interested in Minnesota,” he said. “Actually it was pretty much my top choice because of John and Fred. They run such a good program.”
Conner was going to sign with Illinois. But Minnesota’s other major recruit at the time had signed with Iowa, leaving a spot open.
The next night, Roethlisberger called Conner, informing him of the open spot and offered a scholarship. Conner signed the next day.
Hopson, a teammate of Conner’s for 12 years, heard the news.
“(Roethlisberger) came down to nationals last year and ate dinner with my parents and they talked about it,” Hopson said. “The next day before we started the meet, (Coach) said to me ‘No matter what happens today I want us to connect and John will set it up.'”
Hopson, not realizing who John was, asked the coach who he was talking about, who replied, “John Roethlisberger.” Hopson, recognizing the opportunity to train with an Olympic athlete, said he was thrilled.
Overall, Roethlisberger is pleased with his recruiting class this year, having signed three gymnasts with strong backgrounds.
Fang won the 1995 Class I Junior Olympic National Championship as a high school junior. Conner placed fifth at Nationals last year. Hopson also experienced success last year at Nationals, finishing fifth on the pommel horse.
“It’s better than the last few years, at least on paper,” Roethlisberger said. “These guys placed higher in the junior and national championships and so forth, but they seem to be farther along as freshman than some of my past guys were.”
With such overwhelming success, the freshmen had offers from several schools. However, they could not pass up an opportunity to work with the Roethlisbergers and the program at Minnesota.
Through two meets this season, the freshmen have gotten only a small taste of collegiate competition. There’s much more to learn. But they say Roethlisberger has helped them keep their confidence high.
“Some coaches could be really hard and harsh, but Fred asks us what we need to work on and helps us with that,” Conner said. “He is real supportive and backs us up. He shows he has confidence in us. I think as a coach that’s real important.”
With each recruit having such an impressive background and strong work ethic, all three freshman will compete this year for the Gophers. Where, and how often they play will be determined soon.
“They are not going to lead anything for a little while,” Roethlisberger said. “But they have the ability.