Sauter keeps level attitude in spotlight

Todd Zolecki

It’s Tuesday afternoon, and Cory Sauter just finished Gophers football practice with a series of wind sprints up and down the Bierman practice field with his teammates.
Catching his breath, he takes a seat on a high-jump mat. Sweat covers his face.
“Practice is a lot easier when you’re 3-0,” he said. “The coaches can tell you to do anything and the players will do it.”
Minnesota players haven’t felt that way about practice since 1987, when they had their last 3-0 start. The Gophers upset No. 23 Syracuse 35-33 last Saturday and are idle this weekend.
Now Sauter has extra time to prepare for the Big Ten opener Oct. 5 against Purdue. And he’ll do anything quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn asks of him.
The two have a solid working relationship. Zorn teaches and Sauter learns. Sauter performs and Zorn critiques.
“I just try to get as much information from him as I can,” Sauter said. “He’s put me in a good position to succeed.”
Zorn, who played with the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers, has taught Sauter for the past two years. In that span he has seen Sauter improve tremendously. Sauter is now considered one of the nation’s top passers. Preseason publications regarded Sauter as one of the better returning quarterbacks in college football.
Both Zorn and Sauter will admit the Gophers quarterback from a year ago and the one today are two very different players.
“I think there’s much more maturity,” Zorn said. “The other thing is his knowledge of what we expect from him. Last year he was learning the offense, but this year he knows the offense and is executing the offense.”
Sauter’s statistics show that. He has completed 62 percent of his passes for 741 yards with four touchdown passes and only one interception.
He already ranks among the top 10 in several all-time offensive categories for Minnesota, including career yards and touchdown passes — and he still has another year and a half to play.
The junior from Hutchinson, Minn., credits his coach for much of his success. But Zorn has helped him with much more than just his on-the-field performance.
Sauter is arguably the most recognizable player on the Gophers roster. And with that comes constant scrutiny from media and fans. He deals with this pressure on a daily basis.
But Sauter keeps it in perspective.
“I don’t think he looks at it as, `Boy, look at me guys,'” Zorn said. “I don’t think he’s prideful that everybody wants to talk to him. He just answers the questions. If you talk to him, he’ll talk to you. If you don’t talk to him, he doesn’t feel bad.”
On the high-jump mat he did just that, answer the questions. No sign of an ego. No evidence of cockiness.
Sauter tries to stay away from watching TV and reading newspapers.
It’s probably a good thing.
“They can say some bad things about you and it can make you feel bad,” he said. “They can also say some good things and you might think, `I’m really awesome,’ when you’re really not there yet.
“I’m really focused on what I have to do. I’m just trying to do my job and not make it bigger than what it is.”
With that understanding, Zorn believes Sauter can still improve before his career is over.
“There are quarterbacks that try to look at the game as a whole instead of trying to execute one play,” Zorn said. “And if you do that as a QB, you’re in and out of focus and you become an inconsistent QB.
“Cory does that well. This is the series. This is what you need to be looking for. Don’t worry about last series and don’t look forward to the next series.”
Right now it’s hard not to look forward to the Big Ten season. Sauter and his teammates are confident and playing with poise.
And Sauter, with a level head, gives much of the credit to the other 10 players on the field.
“I have some great teammates around me,” Sauter said. “(Ryan) Thelwell and (Tutu) Atwell are two great receivers. We’re having a lot of fun right now.”