Ibrahim ready to lead Gophers’ backfield

Ibrahim is embracing the leadership role of taking what he learned and passing it on to younger backs, whether it is protecting the ball or working on vision.

Gophers+Runningback+Mohamed+Ibrahim+carries+the+ball+for+a+touchdown+at+Raymond+James+Stadium+in+Tampa%2C+Florida+on+Wednesday%2C+Jan.+1.

Kamaan Richards

Gophers Runningback Mohamed Ibrahim carries the ball for a touchdown at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Wednesday, Jan. 1.

Brendan O'Brien

Three-hundred and one. That’s how many carries running backs Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks had for the Gophers last season.

But now that the two elder statesmen of the Minnesota backfield are gone, the Gophers will look to see who can step up and be the new rushing leader. A prime candidate for the job? Look no further than a back who has already had a significant share of the workload: Mohamed Ibrahim.

The redshirt junior was a relative surprise for fans in 2018, but Ibrahim’s success did not shock players and coaches who saw him in practice every day. Ibrahim won the Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year in 2017 for how well he played in practice, while learning from older runners like Smith, Brooks and Kobe McCrary.

Fast forward three seasons and Ibrahim is the back with the most experience on Minnesota’s roster. With this experience, he is embracing the leadership role of taking what he learned and passing it on to younger backs, whether it is protecting the ball or working on vision.

“It’s really good to have Mo teaching those young guys how it should look,” head coach P.J. Fleck said. “I’m really proud of him. He’s not only one of the best football players we have, he’s also one of the best people.”

Ibrahim’s impact has been felt throughout the program since he became a part of the Gophers’ rushing attack in 2018. As a redshirt freshman, his role expanded once Smith was lost for the season with an injury. Despite his 5-foot-10-inch, 210-pound frame, Ibrahim showed his success as a physical runner who takes defenders head on.

When the Gophers have needed him, Ibrahim has also stepped up in big moments. He first came onto the scene after running for 157 yards and two touchdowns in a close loss at Ohio State and helped bring Paul Bunyan’s Axe back to Minnesota with 121 yards and one touchdown in a win at Wisconsin in 2018. And it’s difficult to forget his two bowl game performances, combining for 364 total rushing yards in wins against Georgia Tech and Auburn.

While Ibrahim is expected to be the focal point of Minnesota’s rushing attack, he will not be doing the work by himself. If fans learned anything from the Gophers’ approach in 2019, they are going to have multiple players involved. Fleck noted that Ibrahim is the leader in the running back room, but there are plenty of younger players who could also get some more carries.

Nevertheless, Ibrahim has a chance to catapult himself from 24th into the top-10 all-time leading rushers list at Minnesota, as he needs only 676 yards to do so. Most importantly to Ibrahim, however, is that he and his teammates get to have a season in 2020.

“We are just happy that we got a schedule out right now, and we got something to look forward to, but we still have to prepare every day,” Ibrahim said. “It starts with today, it continues tomorrow, that’s our standard. We always have to worry about right now.”