Frank Ragnow, the 6-5, 315-pound Arkansas senior from Chanhassen, is a potential All-American center projected to be the highest draft pick from Minnesota since Vikings receiver Michael Floyd was a first-rounder out of Notre Dame in 2012.
But if the home state doesn’t erupt in applause on 2018’s draft night, here’s why: Not only did Ragnow not sign with the Gophers back in 2013, he announced he’d be playing for the former coach of their hated rival Wisconsin.
Bret Bielema sold Ragnow on his rich history of sending offensive lineman to the NFL — and that there was no better competition to prepare him than in the SEC.
“He kind of gets a bad rap in Minnesota,” Ragnow said. “But he’s the ultimate players’ coach. Since he started recruiting me until now, he’s been nothing but respectful and amazing to my family.”
Bielema’s promises of turning Ragnow, named a second-team Preseason All-American this week by the Associated Press, into an NFL-caliber offensive lineman came true, but the compassion his coach showed in a time of unexpected tragedy was even more meaningful.
Ragnow, who started at both center and right guard for the last two seasons, nearly left college early for the NFL last year. He would’ve likely been drafted in the earlier rounds, but it was a difficult choice to make without the person he looked to most for advice.
Jon Ragnow, his father, died of a heart attack only hours after watching his son play on TV in a victory last year on Oct. 1. He was 50 years old. Bielema ended up flying with Ragnow back to Minnesota to show support.
And Bielema’s kept his office open for Ragnow to talk about how tough the last several months have been.
“It’s been very, very, very difficult since I lost my dad,” Ragnow said. “It happened and then (a week) later I had to go play a football game vs. Alabama. I just kept going and going and going. I was down. Last season, I was kind of in survival mode. Being so far away from my family was difficult. This whole offseason has still been a struggle, but I give a lot of credit to my teammates and (Bielema) especially.”
Maybe there should be cheering on draft night, after all.
“It’s so surreal that possibly in the next year my opportunity to play in the NFL could come true,” he said. “It’s just crazy how fast time has flown by. It’s amazing how many people back home and here have supported me. I’ve been blessed with such a great support group, especially with what happened with my family.”