New excitement surrounds Minnesota football

Mark Remme

Senior linebacker Mike Sherels didn’t mince words when describing the Minnesota football team’s goal for the upcoming season. In fact, he put it short and sweet:

“Rose Bowl.”

It’s the type of sentiment Sherels and fellow team captain, senior center Tony Brinkhaus, share as an outlook for 2007.

And with the first spring game under new coach Tim Brewster slated for Saturday, the next generation of Gophers football appears to be just beginning.

“It’s gotten to the point where we believe (Rose Bowl aspirations) so much that if naysayers happen, we laugh at them,” Sherels said. “That’s the atmosphere that coach Brewster brought.”

Adding that Brewster brings excitement, tenacity and expectations, Sherels showed a certain swagger in his speech that Minnesota football hasn’t displayed in recent recollection.

“I’m trying to build an atmosphere that’s conducive on winning,” Brewster said. “I want everyone excited to come to work every day.”

The Gophers’ last memory on the gridiron culminated in the biggest comeback in NCAA bowl history, and they weren’t on the winning end. Minnesota blew a 38-14 third quarter lead en route to a 44-41 overtime loss to Texas Tech in the Insight Bowl.

But that was before Brewster’s arrival.

That was before past Gophers standouts like Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney, on Brewster’s request, came back to inspire their former team.

That was before Brewster’s former boss, Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan came as a motivational speaker. Heck, the bowl game meltdown was before Brewster requested a piece of the Rose Bowl’s sod be shipped from Pasadena to the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex.

And apparently, what rose from the tumultuous end of 2006 stimulated the growth of confidence and promise for 2007 among returning team members.

“There’s definitely a new attitude,” Brinkhaus said. “And I think players and fans alike have definitely bought into it.”

Whatever product makes its way onto the Metrodome’s turf for next season’s Sept. 1 season opener against Bowling Green might not exactly resemble what hits the field Saturday for the spring game.

Brinkhaus admitted the new offense under Brewster’s crew is still lagging behind the defense right now, but said that’s not unexpected considering the turnover from last year’s starters mixed with a new spread offensive scheme.

“One thing we need to do in the spring game is get more confidence in our system,” Brinkhaus said. “People need to expect a new look.”

Sherels described the new coaching staff under Brewster as a combination of young guys mixed with well-experienced, older coordinators; something he said should help the process of learning the new systems.

“I think at this point there’s so much going on that the emphasis is on continuing to get better,” Sherels said. “We want the last stamp of approval (before the end of spring practice) to be positive.”

But whatever scheme-based positives or negatives come out of the spring game, one ever-apparent thing can’t be denied. A new outlook on excellence is brewing in Gophers camp.

“(Attitude) transcends to the players,” Brewster said. “The only limitations we’ve got are on ourselves.”