Cashman’s walk on journey comes down to final game

Blake Cashman was named co-Big Ten defensive player of the week for his 20-tackle game last week.

Linebacker Blake Cashman calls to his teammates on Saturday, Oct. 20 at Memorial Stadium. Nebraska defeated the Gophers with a final score of 53-28.

Jack Rodgers

Linebacker Blake Cashman calls to his teammates on Saturday, Oct. 20 at Memorial Stadium. Nebraska defeated the Gophers with a final score of 53-28.

Jack Warrick

The Gophers’ leading tackler started his first two years with the team as a walk-on.

Without a scholarship and with a chip on his shoulder, he worked his way up in five years. He now has the ability to make 20 tackles in a single game, like he did last week when he broke the TCF Bank Stadium record for a Gophers’ player.

“It’s been a fun ride. Never look back. There’s always, of course, been the ups and downs and the adversity of being a walk on that you face, but I got nothing but great memories here,” Blake Cashman said about his journey.

Cashman, an Eden Prairie, Minnesota native, heads into his final regular season game after two individual performances that stunted opposing offenses. Cashman strip sacked Purdue quarterback David Blough and returned the ball 40 yards for a touchdown to contribute to the 41-10 victory over the Boilermakers two games ago. He also led the team with nine tackles. Then last week, he had a career-best 20 tackles to let him walk on into the record books.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” said former Gophers’ linebacker Jack Lynn, who played with Cashman during his two walk-on years. “He was making plays in practice all the time when I was there, and we finally got him on the field my senior year, and he was making plays then.”

Cashman played mostly on special teams before last season, but even last season he played mostly on third down packages with then-senior Jonathan Celestin. During the Holiday Bowl in the 2016-17 season, he crashed onto the scene after leading the team with 12 tackles and two tackles for loss. He had 45 tackles that season before taking a hit in playing time with Celestin leading the way playing alongside last season’s top tackler Thomas Barber.

Cashman overtook Barber this season in tackles with 101, while Jacob Huff is second with 75, and Barber is third with 69.

“I was thrilled, very excited to be getting more snaps this year,” Cashman said about his bigger role this season. “But it wasn’t too bad because we spent a lot of time in the off-season working on run fits and first and second down schematics that really helped me get prepared for fall camp and then this season.”

Cashman was one of 10 semifinalists in the running for the Burlsworth Trophy, given to the best college football player who started his career as a walk-on. He didn’t make the cutoff for top three but had his best statistical two games since. He was named co-Big Ten defensive player of the week for his 20-tackle game.

Head coach P.J. Fleck gave Cashman a scholarship in the summer of Fleck’s first season. Cashman was recruited by Jerry Kill and played under him and his successor, Tracy Claeys, before Fleck offered the scholarship in the spring of 2017.

“Coach Kill, he did a great job at recruiting walk-ons and finding those guys with a chip on their shoulder that just wanted to play at 100 miles-per-hour all of the time,” Lynn said. “Minnesota’s not a really big state when it comes to high school football, but they find those guys in the rough and you get them to college, you get them developed, and they become Cashmans.”

Cashman was a defensive back in high school and listed as a defensive back his freshman year of college before moving to linebacker. 

Cashman went to high school with defensive end Carter Coughlin who leads the Gophers with nine sacks for a total loss of 48 yards. The duo from Eden Prairie heads to Wisconsin for the final game of the season. Cashman went to high school with the Badgers’ second top tackler linebacker Ryan Connelly.

Cashman and the Gophers need to beat the Badgers in Camp Randall Stadium Saturday to guarantee a bowl game.

“We put him on scholarship for a reason,” Fleck said. “The minute I got here I was like, ‘this guy’s going to be really, really special,’ you could tell.”