Celebration aimed to keep students part of ‘Gopher Nation’

Coach Tim Brewster is adamant about keeping students involved and excited.

Brian Deutsch

The Minnesota football team will open up the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex tonight to University students for the “Gopher Nation Football Celebration.”

The event, which is sponsored by TCF Bank, offers free pizza and drinks to students as well as a chance to win prizes in competitions that will test football skills.

What kind of prizes? The winners will compete on the field during this weekend’s Ohio State game at the Metrodome.

Among other things, the Gophers are giving away on-field game passes and a trip to one of the team’s road games.

Students will also have a chance to meet coach Tim Brewster and members of the Minnesota team at Thursday’s party.

Since taking over the job last winter Brewster has been trying to stir up pride in the football program across the state, and now he’s bringing that mentality back to campus.

“I can’t tell you how fired up I’ve been the past couple home games with the number of the students that have shown up,” Brewster said. “I just want more and more students to feel like a part of the Gopher Nation and come early, be loud and stay late.”

And after watching the student section dissipate after halftime in Minnesota’s last game against Purdue, the University will have to do more than hand out free food if they truly want fans to stay loyal to a team that hasn’t won a Big Ten title in 40 years.

“You can’t build it overnight, you are what you are,” director of football operations Randy Taylor said. “Our goal is to make sure people feel that they are important to us. We want to be important to them, and you get that sense of community and pride, and whether it’s going good or bad, you’re going to stand side-by-side.”

Keeping fans on your side isn’t easy after a 1-3 start, but both Brewster and quarterback Adam Weber stressed the importance fans play on game day.

“There are fans out there that are true Gophers fans, and they want to see us play well. They’re there an hour before the game, cheering us on,” Weber said. “They’re the type of people that help us get through a tough time and I think it’s going to help us push through to the next level where we start playing well.”

Getting the team to the next level is something Taylor knows all about. As director of football operations, he helps the team in any way he can – which sometimes means pumping up the crowd from the sidelines.

“We love hearing that noise when it’s a big play on third and short and the crowd gets up and starts going,” he said. “We feed off of that. It’s part of the emotion of the game, and you can’t go play in an atmosphere without that. You just lose some of your energy.”

Energy is something Brewster more than likely won’t run out of anytime soon though. And with events like tonight’s celebration and the game day “Gopher March,” the team is trying to make sure fans don’t either.

“Our kids are playing their hearts out; they’re playing with tremendous passion,” Brewster said. “We haven’t always played well, but our kids are spilling their guts out for each other and for this University. I hope that the students can see that and appreciate that.”