One sibling a star, another finds his spot

Brothers and Gopher football players Matt, left, and Mitch Leidner pose at the Gibson Nagurski Football Complex on Friday.

Holly Peterson

Brothers and Gopher football players Matt, left, and Mitch Leidner pose at the Gibson Nagurski Football Complex on Friday.

Grant Donald

After falling to rival Lakeville North to end his illustrious high school career at Lakeville South, future University of Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner didn’t know if his brother Matt, a center, would ever block for him again.
 
But as the two boys crossed the football field after the game to meet family, their father, Jeff, had a hunch that they would call each other teammates once more.
 
“We had hoped that [Matt] would make the decision to go play with Mitchell at Minnesota,” Jeff Leidner said. “If I could pick any place to send my boys to college, it would be there.”
 
Matt Leidner, now a redshirt freshman, didn’t make his college decision without sacrifices. While his brother landed a scholarship, Matt needed to earn his spot with the Gophers as a walk-on.
 
The center has yet to see any game action under the direction of head coach Jerry Kill. But Matt Leidner said his coach liked the way he performed during April’s spring game. 
 
And he was eventually named this year’s Offensive Work Team Player of the Year for his efforts on the Gophers’ practice team.
 
So, considering his improving performance, the younger brother may have an opportunity to block for his older brother in the future.
 
Matt Leidner passed up opportunities to play at Division II powerhouses that wanted his services. He said the lure of playing Division I football with his brother and under “the greatest coach in America” was too appealing to pass up.
 
“Kill called me and said, ‘I’ve seen your brother work hard. I know you can do the same, and I’m going to give you the opportunity to come here and play,’” Matt
Leidner said. “I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
 
Not only do the brothers share team alliances, but they also live together.
 
“Mitch is my best friend, so it’s great living with him all the time,” Matt Leidner said. “But it also helped me get to know more of the guys on the team better.”
 
While their relationship is close, there’s still room for occasional arguments.
 
“We don’t fight as much on campus as we do back home, especially with our youngest brother [Jake],” Mitch Leidner said. “But in the end, we are brothers, and I’m lucky to be able to share my college experience with him on and off the field.”  
 
On the right path
 
After accepting Kill’s preferred walk-on offer, Matt Leidner received advice on how to overcome his obstacles and earn playing time with the Gophers.
 
“Coach Kill was a walk-on when he played, too, so he told me right away that it is all about what you make of the opportunity,” Matt Leidner said. “If you beat out other guys, you have a chance at earning a scholarship.”
 
And while he hasn’t received a scholarship with Minnesota — unlike his brother — Matt Leidner is on the right path toward the goal.
 
“I thought I did some good things [in the spring game], and Coach thought so too, which is nice,” Matt Leidner said. “It just shows that I continue to take steps to get better and be where I want to be to help this team.”
 
Walk-ons don’t usually help out the football team on Saturdays. But if one day those walk-ons are chosen to contribute, they’re going to need to show a strong work ethic.
 
And that’s what separates Matt Leidner from the rest of the pack, Lakeville South head coach Larry Thompson said.
 
“Mitch definitely had more natural athleticism and talent than Matt,” Thompson said. “But for what Matt lacks in natural ability, he makes up for [in] his passion and work ethic toward football.”
 
A family affair
 
For the Leidner family, weekends during September and October have changed significantly over the course of the last couple of years.
 
On Fridays the family’s youngest Leidner brother, Jake, hits the high school gridiron for Lakeville South.
 
From there, if the Gophers are on the road for that week, the Leidner family packs up its motorhome and travels to each game — no matter the distance.
 
Regardless of the venue, the family tailgates before each game with extended family and friends.
 
“Football is kind of our thing in the fall. It’s what we do,” Jeff Leidner said.
 
At those tailgates, Jeff Leidner said most of his relatives wear No. 7 Gophers uniforms — Mitch’s number. 
 
Matt Leidner said he is fine with his older brother receiving all the accolades. And he’ll keep working until, one day, he represents the Leidner family on the field.
 
“[My family] is always asking, ‘When are you going to get in there?’” Matt Leidner said. “I’m just like, ‘You [have] to be patient with it. There [are] a lot of guys older than me that aren’t playing. They are all grateful to be here, and so am I.’”