Sori-Marin to lead Gophers’ defense in 2020

The junior linebacker is ready to step up as the Gophers’ next staple at the position.

Gophers+Linebacker+Mariano+Sori-Marin+makes+a+tackle+on+Thursday%2C+Sept.+12%2C+2019.

Kamaan Richards

Gophers Linebacker Mariano Sori-Marin makes a tackle on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019.

Brendan O'Brien, Sports Reporter

Over the years, Minnesota has had linebackers who were staples at the position for the program.

Thomas Barber amassed 274 tackles as a Gopher. Kamal Martin logged 177. But now that both are gone, questions have arisen regarding who will take over as the Gophers’ next primary linebacker.

Head coach P.J. Fleck already appears to have the answer: Mariano Sori-Marin. Entering his third season, Sori-Marin is expected to be the linebacker to keep an eye on during the season.

“He’s one of the most intelligent, if not the most intelligent, players we have on this football team,” Fleck said. “Not only that, I would probably rank him in the top three of who loves football the most. You take a really smart player and you match that love for football, that’s what you see in his style of play.”

Sori-Marin was considering playing football at some Ivy League universities before being recruited by Fleck at Minnesota. The junior said his enjoyment for studying in school has translated well when learning more about football, whether it has been opening up the playbook or watching film.

He credits his development of the mental side of the game to 2019 when he had to study and know all three primary linebacker positions in defensive coordinator Joe Rossi’s scheme. Fleck said this season Sori-Marin will primarily play as the middle linebacker and act as the “Joe Rossi, Jr.” on the field.

On top of sharpening his mental game, Sori-Marin has the physical gifts to play the position well. As Fleck described him, Sori-Marin is everything a coach would want in a Big Ten linebacker: physical, fast and tough, and Sori-Marin is up to the challenge.

“Sometimes you’re going to line up against guys that are bigger, faster and stronger than you,” Sori-Marin said. “But if you know what your responsibility is and can play at an elite speed and have that mental intuition of what’s going to come next, it’s only going to propel you in your game.”

Despite playing in significant contests last season while Martin was injured, Sori-Marin knows he needs to step up and be a leader for the Gophers. He said quarantine and the chaos of COVID-19 over the summer helped him develop his leadership skills, whether it was setting up Zoom calls with his position group or scheduling safe player-led workouts.

“If there’s one guy who’s played enough football to lead the football team, everybody knows it’s Mariano,” Fleck said. “We are so thankful to have him. He’s one of the best people on our football team — one of the best students on our football team on and off the field, and we expect big things out of him.”