Archer hauls down opposing ball carriers at furious pace

Brian Stensaas

During Minnesota’s football game at Illinois last Saturday, a member of the Illini media relations department approached a colleague from the Gophers staff in the Memorial Stadium press box.

“What’s No. 31’s career-high in tackles?” she asked.

“Eighteen,” he responded. “He set it last week against Purdue.”

Such conversations are normal during a Big Ten football game, but this time around, the circumstances were a little different.

On this day the question came in the first quarter, which would mean No. 31, otherwise known as Minnesota’s Phil Archer, was having one hell of a game.

He sure was.

Archer, a sophomore middle linebacker from St. Paul, made nine stops on Illinois’ first drive. He ended the day with 20 – good for his career high.

But when evaluating his performance against the Illini, the 6-foot-2, 233-pound linebacker thought he had a merely average game.

“I played all right, I had some mistakes,” Archer said. “I lost my gap responsibility (a few times).

“In the second half I missed one or two tackles I should have made.”

Quite modest for a man who personally ended over 25 percent of Illinois’ offensive plays.

Hometown boy

Growing up in St. Paul, Archer began playing football in the fifth grade at Jimmy Lee Park near Lexington and I-94. He enjoyed suiting up game after game but hated the off-field routines.

“The biggest thing I remember about grade-school football was my dad making me sit down to watch film,” Archer said. “He used to videotape games and we would watch it. I used to complain and whine about it all the time.”

The time spent in front of the tube paid off. Through the help of a family friend Archer was given the opportunity to attend Cretin-Derham Hall High School.

When he arrived at Cretin, Archer had no idea what kind of football program he was getting himself into. He had no clue the Raiders were consistently in the running for a state championship.

Two all-state selections and 203 career tackles later, Archer graduated from Cretin and made the step from high school football to the Big Ten.

Crossing the river

Archer made his way from Cretin to the University in 1999. He was redshirted his first season before getting off to a rocky start in his second.

A wrist injury limited Archer to special teams during the regular season, while a case of mononucleosis kept him out of the Bowl. After recording just two tackles in 2000, Archer earned a starting role at linebacker in spring practice last April.

In four games this season Archer already has 53 tackles, which leads the team and ranks him third in the Big Ten. In fact, Archer is the only underclassman ranked among the top 10 in the conference.

“Phil is really like a freshman linebacker,” Gophers coach Glen Mason said. “He hasn’t played much football. In fact, in some ways he’s played less football than a guy coming right out of high school because he’s had an injury or an illness.

“But he’ll be around a long time. Phil is the type of guy, the more he plays, the better he’s going to get.”

Archer is determined to improve, and never miss anymore time at Minnesota because of injury.

“I don’t like wearing the red jersey in practice or anything,” Archer said. “That ain’t happening again.”

The next TC?

A 20-tackle game is an impressive feat for the sophomore, but Archer is a long way from reaching Tyrone Carter’s all-time school record of 528 tackles. To eclipse the milestone Carter set will require an additional 24 games with 20 tackles from Archer.

While Carter’s record is in the distance, Archer was mentioned in the same sentence as the Gophers great safety, at least for one day.

Archer’s performance against Illinois marked the most tackles by Minnesota player since Carter had 23 against Iowa in 1997.

As for a Gophers linebacker, Archer’s total was the highest since Jon Leverenz tallied 22 stops against Ohio State in 1987.

Linebacker coach Greg Hudson said Archer’s football mentality is perfect – he’s coachable, fundamentally sound, smart, hardworking and has definite upside.

“He’s the first at the office and the last to leave,” Hudson said. “He’s totally a blue-caller worker.

“He doesn’t shy away from contact. He’s not an exceptional hitter, but he is very fundamental in the way he tackles – that’s all you can ask a kid.”

Hittin’ hard

Archer’s tough attitude comes from his days at Cretin where the expectations are similar to those of Florida State, Notre Dame and Nebraska.

Just win.

“There is a standard there,” Hudson said. “You play hard and you better win. That’s what you have to have. He brings that attitude with the way he practices and how he plays.”

As evidenced from his first four games this season, Archer loves to tackle. He strives to be around the ball on every play – and make the opponent feel his hits.

“A tackle is a tackle. Anytime you can get somebody on the ground it’s great,” Archer said. “But if you can get a shot at him, it’s great.”

Archer has truly been a success on defense for the Gophers this season, yet he hasn’t surrendered his role on special teams a year ago.

“You don’t see that sucker coming off the field,” Hudson said. “He’ll play 90-100 repetitions. For some guys that’s two games. That is a lot – I get tired coaching 100 plays.”

Maybe. But if Archer keeps this up, Hudson will never get tired of coaching No. 31.