Brinkhauses: a football family

Tyler Rushmeyer

Standing a combined 12-and-a-half feet tall and weighing nearly 600 pounds, two members of the Minnesota football team are more than just a pair of offensive linemen.

They are brothers Tony and Andy Brinkhaus. And while the former continues to solidify his spot as one of Minnesota’s top performers, the latter continues to work to prepare for next season.

Both graduates of Bloomington Jefferson High School, the sons of Richard and Mary Brinkhaus find themselves playing together for the first time.

“In high school, we went to the same school, but we never had that opportunity to play on the same team,” said junior center Tony, “So it has definitely been a special experience down here.”

For the Brinkhaus brothers, football is something that runs in the family. Their uncles John Ruud (1978-1979) and Tom Ruud (1972-1974) both played football at the University of Nebraska, with Tom going on to play five seasons with the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals.

Their mother’s side also boasts two more Cornhuskers: Bo Ruud, currently a junior linebacker, and Barrett Ruud (2001-2003), who now suits up for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Cornhuskers pride is something that ranks just below Gophers pride for the younger Brinkhaus.

“I haven’t seen the old footage, but I’ve heard people say they saw my uncle John hit someone so hard on special teams, it’s now known as ‘The Hit’ in Nebraska,” he said. “If it wasn’t Minnesota, it would be Nebraska.”

But Andy has strongly committed himself to the Gophers program, motivated by his brother’s leadership and play.

“When I started summer workouts I always saw (Tony) getting people up, keeping them up and leading the pack,” he said. “When I saw him working that hard, it really gave me an idea of what it would take to be successful here.”

As a three-year veteran of the program, it might be assumed that Tony is now playing the mentor’s role.

“You think that would happen,” he said. “But it’s at the point where if he ever needs anything, he knows he can ask me. He’s getting to be a big guy himself, so I think he’s just trying to take everything in stride on his own rather than always turning to me.”

Andy, a lifelong Gophers fan, said his brother’s experience at Minnesota helped make his commitment to the program a bit easier.

“Everything he was telling me made Minnesota sound like a good fit,” he said. “Just seeing what he went through really helped my decision.”

When asked about his influence on his younger brother’s decision, the elder Brinkhaus didn’t think it played too big a factor, saying he didn’t try to push him either way.

Andy will redshirt this season and said it has not been easy transitioning from his prominent role at Bloomington Jefferson, where he earned a spot on the 2005 Associated Press All-State team, to Division I football.

Sometimes the thought of wanting to go back to high school to get playing time crosses his mind, he said. But he realizes the value in a redshirt season, a time to learn the system and earn the coaches’ respect.

Tony, who redshirted his freshman season in 2003, knows what it’s like to be in his younger brother’s situation.

“Being a redshirt freshman, it’s tough,” Tony said. “It’s not easy to practice every day and not play, but he’s got a good attitude and he’s working hard.”

The brothers might find themselves on the same team, but growing up they often found themselves on opposite sides of the ball.

“We were really competitive in anything we ever did. Whether it was video games or anything for that matter,” Tony said. “A lot of our battles were on the basketball court, where it always got a little physical. He’d come in mad after a game and that was that. I think it was just a big brother thing.”

Andy had a different version of the basketball contests.

“We battled our fair share on the basketball court, but I usually would come out on top,” he said. “You think sports would get us fighting, but it’s always been the video games.”

Andy said the college experience has been tough so far but that he’ll continue to work hard and follow his brother’s example to earn his spot next season.

Senior tackle Joe Ainslie said he knows that could be just a matter of time.

“You can definitely see the similarities between them. He plays just like his brother – you begin to wonder who’s who,” he said. “He’s got a very bright future though – I think he’s gotta wear shades.”