Cupito ready to make his mark on Minnesota’s offense

Dan Miller

Gophers football coach Glen Mason said the biggest question mark on Minnesota’s highly regarded football team is at quarterback.

Bryan Cupito, a 6-foot-1-inch redshirt sophomore from Cincinnati, Ohio, steps into the highest leadership position on a team ranked in The Associated Press’s top-25 teams for the first time since 1969.

His teammates have already been impressed with their new offensive leader.

“He demands a lot of respect in the huddle,” center Greg Eslinger said. “As an offensive lineman, that’s what you look for foremost in a quarterback.”

Mason said Cupito, although only a sophomore, has three years of experience in the Minnesota program and is not as new as he might appear.

“He’s been around,” Mason said. “He’s been through a lot of coaching. He’s been through a lot of meetings.”

Mason added that Cupito’s acceptance into the Gophers’ experienced team was not easy.

“You can imagine a lot of pressure when you’re the new guy in there and you got a veteran offensive line, receivers, running backs, and here you’re the young kid getting in there Ö I thought he handled that with great poise and took command of the offense,” Mason said.

Cupito said he had his learning curve during the Gophers’ annual spring game, and now feels comfortable with his offensive teammates.

“(The offensive players) seem to have confidence in me and I have confidence in myself,” he said.

Running backs galore

The Gophers’ offensive position with no question mark is tailback.

Minnesota’s combination of Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney rushed for more than 2,000 yards last season, but the Gophers have two more talented runners in Justin Valentine and Amir Pinnix.

“Everyone talks about Laurence (Maroney) and Marion (Barber III) and people forget about the other two guys, Amir Pinnix and Justin Valentine,” Darrell Reid said.

Valentine will start at fullback for the Gophers, Pinnix is behind Barber and Maroney at running back.

Valentine, who commands plenty of respect from Minnesota players and coaches, was regarded as a top tailback recruit in

the country by many publications.

Pinnix, who was voted

MVP of the Gophers spring game, is drawing attention at tailback.

He rushed for 79 yards in the spring game and had a 2-yard touchdown run.

Alexander leaves team

Maurice Alexander left the team Sunday. He was fourth on the depth chart at running back.

A highly touted recruit from Southfield, Mich., Alexander was a high school all-city and all-state selection in 2002.

Alexander, who missed last season after failing to qualify academically, might enroll closer to home at Eastern Michigan.

Two more eligible

Brandon Owens and William Van DeSteeg are now practicing with the team after becoming eligible. Mason said Owens worked out summer-school problems and Van DeSteeg became academically eligible for his freshman school year.

The two players completed the Gophers roster, which is capped at 105 players.

Lofty prediction

In its preseason analysis, SI.com ranked the Gophers at the top of the Big Ten and predicted the Gophers would go to their first Rose Bowl since 1961..