One week after Philip Nelson left the Gophers in search of a more pass-friendly offense, a new quarterback arrived on campus Tuesday who believes the team’s offense suits him perfectly.
Dimonic Roden-McKinzy, a dual-threat quarterback from Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, Kan., graduated early so he could begin classes this week and take part in spring practice.
Mitch Leidner is Minnesota’s probable starter at quarterback this fall, but Roden-McKinzy will be battling redshirt freshmen Chris Streveler and Conor Rhoda for the backup job.
Roden-McKinzy faces a steep learning curve, like any first-year college player, but from all accounts, his skill set should suit the Gophers well.
He said he likes the offense because it puts the quarterback in multiple formations — pistol, shotgun or under center.
“All of that is combined in the NFL, and that is part of my goal,” Roden-McKinzy said last week. “So yeah, it’s the right offense for me.”
The NFL might be Roden- McKinzy’s eventual goal, but he knows he has a long way to go to become an effective college quarterback.
“I just want to come in and learn,” he said. “I don’t want to have that big head. I’m going to work hard and learn the offense and just elevate my IQ for the game.”
The 6-2, 214-pound Roden-McKinzy had offers from Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas but stuck with the Gophers after giving a verbal commitment last April.
He has spent years working with Skip Stitzell, a quarterback instructor who also has tutored Josh Freeman, Blaine Gabbert, Nathan Scheelhaase and Max Shortell.
“He can be as good as any of the guys I’ve worked with,” Stitzell said. “He’s a very, very good athlete. And he’s one of those guys who has learned how to throw the ball well.”
He also lettered in basketball and track and field in high school.
Last season Roden-McKinzy completed 53 percent of his passes, threw 26 touchdown passes and rushed for nine touchdowns.
He was intercepted 12 times. Stitzell said the misfires often were the result of trying to do too much on a 5-5 team.
“When he’s really on top of his mechanics, he can be very accurate,” Stitzell said.
Asked why Roden-McKinzy will be a good fit for the Gophers, Stitzell said, “Because he can run and throw. It seems like Jerry Kill has always liked the Jordan Lynch-type guy at Northern Illinois, who can run if he has to and also throw the ball accurately.”
Three other newcomers
Roden-McKinzy is one of four Gophers football newcomers who began classes Tuesday. The other three are junior-college transfers: linebacker Cody Poock and fullbacks Miles Thomas and Riley Oharah.
The 6-2, 230-pound Poock didn’t have many Division-I offers coming out of Spirit Lake (Iowa) High School last year, so he went to Iowa Western Community College, where he had 80 tackles in 12 games.
That led to more scholarship offers, and he wound up picking the Gophers over TCU. With three years of eligibility left, he hopes to follow in the footsteps of Damien Wilson and De’Vondre Campbell, two linebackers who saw extensive playing time last year after transferring from junior college.
“A lot of guys coming from junior college will come in and play with a chip on their shoulder,” Poock said. “You’ve just got to stay hungry.”
Thomas and Oharah should have plenty of motivation because Minnesota’s fullback job is wide open. The Gophers are trying to replace outgoing senior Mike Henry, who quietly played a critical role in the team’s offense.
Gabe Mezzenga was next on the depth chart at fullback until the finance major took a job in the corporate world.
So the Gophers convinced the 5-11, 236-pound Thomas and 6-foot, 244-pound Oharah to join the team as preferred walk-ons.
Both come from Butler Community College in Eldorado, Kan. They actually squared off against Poock’s Iowa Western squad in the Dec. 9 Graphic Edge Bowl in Cedar Falls, Iowa, losing 6-0.
“It was probably one of the most physical games I’ve ever played in because they run downhill behind their fullback,” Poock said.
When spring practice begins March 4, these players will be waging similar physical battles as they look to establish themselves with the Gophers.