PJ Fleck, players speak at Big Ten Media Days

Fleck said this team is his “most committed” team he has ever had.

Head coach P.J. Fleck fields questions from the media during the Big Ten Media Days event Tuesday at the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago.

Chris Dang

Head coach P.J. Fleck fields questions from the media during the Big Ten Media Days event Tuesday at the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago.

by Matthew Kennedy

On Tuesday, Gophers head coach PJ Fleck and four Gophers players spoke at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for Big Ten Media Days. The four players accompanying Fleck were QB Tanner Morgan, OL John Michael Schmitz, LB Mariano Sori-Marin and DB Tyler Nubin.

The glaring topic at Big Ten Media Days was the addition of two PAC-12 goliaths (USC and UCLA) to the conference, stretching its influence from the east coast to the west. Fleck, from a football standpoint, welcomes the Trojans and Bruins with open arms.

“If you look at the major media markets now, that’s incredibly positive,” Fleck said on the impact of the Big Ten’s decision to move west. “We have a ton of living alumni on the west coast…about travel…I was a part of MACtion. You know, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday nights on nine-hour bus rides. There’s people way smarter than me that will figure all that (travel) out. It’s a big change and we’re excited about having the LA market in the Big Ten.”

Talking about his own team, Fleck mentioned that this group of Gophers is the “most committed” squad he has ever coached.

“The committed part has to do with have-to versus want-to,” said Fleck. “There’s a decision to be made: ‘here’s what I have to do, here’s what’s on the schedule and do I really want to do that have-to part. After that then what’s the unrequired work that I’m going to do on my own that’s going to make me a better football team and a better football player.’”

Fleck said the leaders on his team, mostly made of sixth-year graduates, fully embrace the “want-to” mentality.

Kirk Ciarrocca has returned as offensive coordinator for the Gophers after leaving his post in 2019 to join the Penn State coaching staff. Morgan is excited to reunite with his old play caller.

“It’s awesome to have him back leading the charge of our offense. He’s gonna coach our guys really hard and put us in chances to be successful everyday,” Morgan said. “We’ve got a long way to go in training camp but I’m really excited to continue to learn from him and be coached by him every day.”

Schmitz commented on why he and other six-year players, like Tanner Morgan, decided to come back for a sixth year instead of graduating and taking a chance on the NFL Draft.

“Just the people that I came in with, talking about Tanner, Mo (Ibrahim), and CRAB (Chris Autman-Bell). Coach Fleck likes to call it the ‘Encore Four’ that came back,” Schmitz said. “I wanted to leave this program with the vision we had when we first got here and that is to win a championship.”

Last season, the Gophers were third in the nation in total defense after having major problems during the 2020 COVID-19 shortened season. Nubin said they were able to make such a ginormous leap in 2021 by “paying attention to the details”.

“We focus on preparing for our opponent every single week. Whether we have a bye week or a quick turnaround…we’re always looking to out-prepare our opponent,” Nugin said.

Nubin also mentioned that DL Austin Booker, DL Jalen Logan-Redding, LB Devon Williams and DB Michael Dixon are some relatively unknown faces that will break out and make huge splashes this year on defense.