Eslinger and Setterstrom to play last home game Saturday

Matt Perkins

The seniors on Minnesota’s football team sit in the front of the team meeting room. In the back sit the freshmen.

Four years ago, as true freshmen, center Greg Eslinger and offensive tackle Mark Setterstrom were two of the rare few who scribbled playbook notes from the back row knowing they were going to start on Saturday.

But this Saturday’s senior day game against Michigan State, slated for 11 a.m. at the Metrodome, is just another game for them.

And another chance to show those back row guys what they can look forward to.

“I always tell those guys, ‘Before you know it, you’ll be sitting up here,’ ” coach Glen Mason said. “And they have doubt in their eyes and the guys in the front all nod, and they’ve been through it. It goes a lot faster than you’d think. The first year is a little slow, and then before you know it, you are walking out of here.”

But Eslinger and Setterstrom said the first year was a “flash,” and now in their last year, they are slowing things down to take it all in.

The leaders of the Gophers offensive front know they will end their final season just as they did their first – at a bowl game.

All four years the duo has been here the Gophers have made, and so far won, a bowl game.

The team has also been one of the best offensive teams in the country over the pair’s time at Minnesota and this season, the Gophers are the top rushing offense in the country.

Teams have even gone as far to try to mimic the Gophers rushing attack.

And they never succeed.

“Lot of programs come in here and try to copy it,” Mason said. “Typically they’ll call back and say we can’t get our center to do what your center does.”

Eslinger and Setterstrom had to earn the right of such praises.

Most of their first season memories consisted of lining up opposite of defensive lineman who came in with a 50-pound advantage.

Eslinger and Setterstrom said they were put on their back plenty of times, but that had to be expected.

“We kind of had the mentality that it was a learning experience, and would take time to get better,” Setterstrom said. “I know I was undersized and under-experienced; I was just thinking you would take your licks, but in a few years, you’d give some licks.”

Setterstrom added that progressing alongside Eslinger was invaluable.

“You couldn’t ask for anything better,” Setterstrom said. “A guy to bounce everything off of – our joys and our struggles. We could just feed off each other.”

They will be feeding off each other just three more times – this weekend against the Spartans, the following week at Iowa and at a bowl game destination yet to be determined.

So what will Gopher fans have to expect out of the offensive line next year, sans Setterstrom and Eslinger?

Nothing short of the same great offensive line, Eslinger said.

“I have no doubt that they won’t miss a beat when we’re gone,” Eslinger said.