U linebacker breaks leg, out for season

Jeff Sherry

Just more than a week ago, Luke Braaten made his first career start for the Gophers football team. On Monday he underwent surgery that should sideline him for the rest of the season.
Braaten, a redshirt freshman from Litchfield, Minn., broke the fibula in his lower right leg during Minnesota’s 26-24 loss at Northwestern on Saturday. He broke it while tackling Wildcats running back Darnell Autry in the second quarter.
The injury was corrected in surgery Monday afternoon, and head team trainer Doug Locy said the procedure went well. Doctors placed a plate in Braaten’s leg, along with about six screws.
Locy said he expected the injury to take two to three months to heal.
“If we were fortunate enough to go to a bowl game, we’d probably have him ready for that,” Locy said.
Braaten led the Gophers with seven tackles and one sack in his first start at outside linebacker against Purdue. He had one tackle and an assist before being injured Saturday.
Barnett supports Wacker
Gophers coach Jim Wacker was as upset after Saturday’s loss as many people have ever seen him. He needed several minutes to gather himself before holding a brief postgame press conference. At times tears welled up in his eyes.
“It was just such a hard loss — two in a row like that for Pete’s sake,” Wacker said Monday. “It’ll get to anybody. All the work, all the time, all the effort … when you come down to the last seconds and you have a shot, those are hard.”
About 40 minutes after the game, when nearly everyone had left the Gophers locker room, Northwestern coach Gary Barnett came over to see Wacker and gave him a long hug. The two talked a while, and a few minutes later Barnett shared his high opinion of Wacker and his program.
“If my son was good enough to play Division I, I’d send him to Jim Wacker,” Barnett said. “That’s how strong I feel about Jim Wacker. I’ve known him for years, I know what kind of man he is, and I know that’s the kind of man I want coaching my son.
“I want him coming out of a program that breeds that kind of enthusiasm and optimism and the right things about sport. Too many people are caught up in the wrong things.”
Among those wrong things, Barnett said, is a win-before-everything attitude. He doesn’t agree with the stipulation in Wacker’s contract that requires him to win five games this season or resign.
“The magic number of five is unfair,” Barnett said. “If his kids don’t play well, if his kids don’t graduate, then that’s fair. But not putting five on him — this is the hardest conference in the country. Look how close they came to beating a pretty good team today. That shows you the signs that things are getting to where you want them to be.”
Hamner still the man
When junior running back Javon Jackson returned from a hamstring injury two weekends ago at Purdue, there was some speculation that freshman starter Thomas Hamner would begin seeing less of the football. That speculation was proved false Saturday.
Jackson moved past Byron Evans and into the No. 2 spot on the depth chart for Northwestern, but Hamner is still clearly No. 1. He had 26 carries for 128 yards and a touchdown. Jackson, the only other running back to carry the ball, ran twice for two yards.
“Hamner is going to get the majority of the carries,” Wacker said. “And he’ll continue to as long as he keeps getting 100 yards a game. He’s the guy.”
Two-minute drill
ù Terrance Blayne, projected as the first back-up for cornerback Rodney Heath on Saturday, was bothered by effects of last year’s knee surgery and didn’t travel to Northwestern.
ù Tight end Paul Kratochvil led the team with five catches Saturday.
ù Lee Hutton, who scored on Jimmy Wyrick’s blocked punt in the third quarter, said the team knew it would block a punt during the game. The players tried to exploit the wide stance of Northwestern’s long snapper Paul Janus and were able to get by him.
ù Autry’s 189 yards rushing marked the 19th-straight game he’s gained at least 100 yards.