Some Gopher football players remain undecided about 2020 return

Head coach P.J. Fleck has not said who is still contemplating whether to return to the team.

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Daily File Photo

Gophers football players sit on the sidelines during a game at TCF Bank Stadium on Oct. 3, 2015.

Brendan O'Brien, Sports Reporter

As the Big Ten football season approaches, Minnesota is still waiting for some players to decide whether they will play in 2020.

Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck recently has been asked about the status of some offensive and defensive players. Fleck has said he will not discuss the topic or name players until the players decide what their individual plans are for the upcoming season.

“I’m going to wait to be specific on who we talk about — whether opt in or opt out — to give people the proper time and not having names out there for people who have or haven’t so they can make the decision for themselves and not have the added pressure from their name being out there,” Fleck said.

Despite the remaining uncertainty, Fleck has voiced his support of each player no matter the decision. Fleck said the team is always excited to have players return to the program but added that the team’s culture encourages players to make the best decisions for themselves — even if that does not involve football.

“Just like any of our student-athletes, whatever dreams, hopes [and] aspirations they all have, we support them in that,” Fleck said. “And if football is not a part of that, we support them 100% in that too.”

Players deciding whether to return to the Gophers this fall has been a common theme throughout the past few months, including for wide receivers Rashod Bateman and Demetrius Douglas.

In early August, Bateman announced his decision to leave the program due to health concerns with COVID-19. But once the Big Ten announced a new schedule beginning in October with expanded testing, Bateman felt comfortable and was excited to return. Last week, the NCAA restored Bateman’s eligibility allowing him to play.

Douglas, on the other hand, announced earlier this week that he will not play this season and is ending his collegiate career. Douglas is set to graduate this December after going through school in three and a half years. When the Big Ten originally canceled its season in August, Douglas reflected on whether he would play or transition into his next phase of life. He was projected to be in the mix for the third wide receiver position on the team, behind Bateman and Chris Autman-Bell, as well as a returner on special teams.

“Demetrius did a lot for our program, did a lot for our student-athletes here,” Fleck said. “He’s an unbelievable advocate of the University of Minnesota, a wonderful human being.”

Bateman and Douglas are the only Gophers who have made their decisions publicly thus far. If undecided, other players will most likely need to make their decisions soon, as the Gophers are set to kick off the season on Oct. 24 at home against No. 20 Michigan.