Gophers hope Bateman can return this fall

The team’s star receiver Rashod Bateman has shown interest in returning to the team after he opted-out of the season due to health concerns regarding COVID-19.

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Kamaan Richards

Gophers Wide Receiver Rashod Bateman carries the ball at the 2020 Outback Bowl on Wednesday, Jan. 1. The Gophers went on to take the game 31-24 over the Auburn Tigers.

AJ Condon

On Aug. 4, Gophers’ star receiver Rashod Bateman announced he would be opting out of the 2020 college football season. He intended to start preparing for the 2021 NFL draft and cited health concerns as his reason for opting out.

That was just a week before the Big Ten announced it intended to pursue a spring season. But, on Sept. 16, the uncertainty of the Big Ten season came to an end, as the schools’ presidents reversed action and voted to start the season.

However, it still seemed Minnesota would go into its season without Bateman. But shortly after the announcement, Bateman was back on campus and practicing with the team.

“When you ask where is [Bateman] at, it’s not like he ever lost that. He came back the first day, took some reps and you could see that Rashod is back,” head coach P.J. Fleck said. “All we can do today is prepare him the best we can for his future.”

Fleck said he had no impact on Bateman’s original decision nor his desire to come back. But Bateman was the first person he called when he heard the season was back on.

“This was strictly his decision. This was all Rashod — he didn’t need much convincing … I said ‘Rashod, whatever you decide, I support you 100%,’” Fleck said.

It isn’t going to be easy for Bateman to return, and there are hurdles he must overcome. Between his opt out and wanting to come back, Bateman signed with agent Blake Baratz of IFA. Bateman will have to go through the Student-Athlete Reinstatement Process to play this season.

“If [Bateman] decides to come back, it’s not guaranteed that [he’s] going to come back,” Fleck said, adding that he told Bateman the athlete could go five weeks without playing. “Without hesitation he said, ‘It’s worth it, I really wanna come back,’” Fleck said.

The team knew Bateman’s original decision wasn’t selfish. Bateman has asthma and noted health concerns as the reason for his opt out.

“When he made that decision, every single person knew why … and it was strictly based on the health concerns and his future,” Fleck said. “He didn’t come back for Rashod Bateman, he came back for his teammates too. I think that’s really exciting about him ’cause he made that comment. When you have a team player like that, that’s what you feel on the field.”

Redshirt junior quarterback Tanner Morgan talked to Bateman on Sunday. Morgan was taken aback when Bateman told him he wanted to return to the Gophers this fall.

“He told me right away, ‘Hey, I think I’m gonna be able to come back.’ I thought he was joking at first,” Morgan said. “It’s something that we’re really excited about because he wanted to do it for the team, not for Rashod.”

Redshirt junior running back Mohamed Ibrahim had a similar reaction to hearing his teammate’s desire to come back this fall.

“When Rashod opted out, he was never really gone. He was always around the team, so I’ve seen [Bateman] very often. And that Sunday I talked to him, and he told me he wanted to come back. I thought he was joking, I didn’t think it was a possibility,” Ibrahim said.

Bateman has stayed involved with the team since he opted out. He has been granted a waiver to practice with the team, keeping the connection with his fellow teammates.

“He’s done everything the right way: he’s come to work every single day ready to be better and be a good leader. It’s great to have him back in the locker room, see his face, see him smile. It’s really exciting — we really hope that he is able to come back,” Morgan said.

The energy Bateman brings back is contagious, and the team has felt his presence on and off the field.

“Just understanding that he can come back was a big boost to the whole team. Just him being in the locker room now, everybody is happy to see him, his smile. When you get out on the field, you can just feel the energy come back,” Ibrahim said.