Andy Greder / St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS—In a showcase for little-used Loons to audition for more playing time, Frantz Pangop had one of the most impressive outings during Minnesota United's international friendly with Deportivo Saprissa on Wednesday at TCF Bank Stadium. The Cameroonian midfielder, who has only 74 minutes across six Major League Soccer games in 2018, scored in the first half of the exhibition against the Costa Rican champions. The performance, which included nifty footwork to beat multiple defenders on the goal, could help him break through more often in MLS play.
MINNEAPOLIS—The Gophers are one of only two Big Ten programs that don't have a player participating in the NFL scouting combine that starts Tuesday in Indianapolis. Minnesota, which went 5-7 in 2017, and Illinois have been shut out, while Ohio State will have 11 players tested, second nationally only to Alabama's 14. The Gophers' biggest rivals are also well represented; Wisconsin has six invitees and Iowa five. Even Rutgers and Purdue will have a player to be poked, prodded and run through drills ahead of the April 26-28 NFL draft.
EAGAN, Minn.—Tabitha Peterson didn't have Olympic dreams when she rode in the car from her Eagan home to the St. Paul Curling Club on Saturday mornings about 20 years ago. When Peterson started curling at age 10, she was more interested in the postgame snacks, mainly those warm barbecue smokies in the slow cooker.
MINNEAPOLIS—Kobe McCrary doesn't listen to Earth Wind & Fire, but he giggled when the name of the soul group was offered as a possible nickname for him and fellow Gophers running backs Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith. Smith's mom, Essie, proposed it as the Gophers incorporated the trio before the 17-10 loss to Iowa last week and likely will continue to play all three against Michigan on Saturday night in Ann Arbor.
MINNEAPOLIS—Nate Stanley didn't treat the recruiting process like a contest. The Menomonie, Wis., native declined to attend regional quarterback camps to see how he measured up against others in the 2016 class. He didn't flirt with college coaches to accumulate the most scholarship offers. Iowa got a jump on recruiting Stanley as a sophomore while Minnesota, a school 70 miles to the west of his hometown, remained mostly on the sidelines during the process.
MINNEAPOLIS—The Gophers' live scrimmage on Saturday will be the latest test for quarterbacks Demry Croft and Conor Rhoda in their battle for the starting spot. They're used to it. They've felt the microscope overhead ever since training camp opened Aug. 1 and have been linked in a battle dating back two years to when they vied to be Mitch Leidner's backup. "Whether it's me pushing him or him pushing me, it keeps you on your toes," said Rhoda, who was Minnesota's No. 2 a year ago. "It doesn't allow you to be comfortable."
MINNEAPOLIS—Last August, incoming freshman wide receiver Tyler Johnson made a strong first impression on Gophers coaches during his first fall camp. This year, Johnson continues to turn heads with the new staff. The sophomore from Minneapolis North was the first player Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck mentioned Tuesday when assessing a key position in transition. It's a trio of starting spots to be intertwined with the influx quarterback competition between Demry Croft and Conor Rhoda.
MINNEAPOLIS—About 25 NFL teams traveled to southern Minnesota last year to watch Winona State quarterback Jack Nelson practice. They were intrigued by the 6-foot-4 product from Byron, Minn., who racked up Division II Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference passing records of 12,007 yards and 102 touchdowns across four seasons.
MINNEAPOLIS—P.J. Fleck and Richard Pitino sat in adjoining seats on a coach bus for hours at a time during the Gophers Road Trip across Minnesota. "That should be a reality show in itself," Fleck said during the tour's last stop Wednesday afternoon in Sartell. During a jaunt Tuesday to Itasca State Park, Fleck and Pitino walked across rocks at the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Fleck eagerly grabbed an oar to match his "Row the Boat" mantra, and Pitino was coaxed into joining his new friend.
MINNEAPOLIS—Before sunrise Thursday, the Gophers' Leadership Council had filled the first two rows in the team's meeting room at the Gibson Nagurski Football Complex. As they drank orange juice and ate donuts, new head coach P.J. Fleck faced the quorum of 36 mostly player-selected representatives and asked about issues requiring his attention. Senior linebacker Jon Celestin requested plastic cutlery in the player's lounge — not exactly a deep issue, but they would cut into heavier topics later on.