When temperatures near 90 and humidity become oppressive, training camp for football players often can be an exercise in drudgery. Players are blocking and tackling teammates for days on end, with an actual game against an opponent still on the distant horizon.
Gophers coach P.J. Fleck, however, gave his team a couple of fun diversions this week that had the players roaring with approval.
First on Wednesday, Fleck surprised his team with tickets to the Beyonce and Jay-Z concert. The ticket announcement at the Athletes Village came with lip-synch production featuring staffers Daniel Ifft and Will Henry in starring roles.
“It was definitely a surprise,’’ safety Antoine Winfield Jr. said. “At first [Fleck] said we were going to watch the Vikings practice, but then the tickets were under our seats. ‘Wow, we’re going to the Jay-Z and Beyonce concert.’ ’’
Then on Thursday, Fleck had Navy SEAL Brent Gleeson addressed the team at the Athletes Village. After the team bussed over to TCF Bank Stadium for practice, two other Navy SEALs parachuted into the stadium with a special letter they gave to Fleck. He called tight end Ko Kieft over and had him open the letter. Inside was a message that linebacker and special teams standout Bailey Schoenfelder, whose best friend is Kieft, has been awarded a scholarship.
“I was beyond surprised. It blew my mind, honest,’’ Schoenfelder said. “They did such an elaborate job of covering it up to make sure I didn’t find out. And when I did find out, it was beyond anything I’ve ever experienced.’’
Schoenfelder, a third-year sophomore who grew up on a ranch near Huron, S.D., was mobbed by his teammates afterward.
“We make that a really big deal,’’ Fleck said. “That’s not showy, that’s not for attention. That’s that kid’s signing day. Bailey Schoenfelder never got a signing day. … Walk-ons never get that.’’
The presentation carried special meaning for Schoenfelder, who signed up to join the Marines on a delayed entry program during high school but failed a hearing test during processing.
“I had to kind of rework my plan and ended up talking to Coach [Tracy] Claeys on the phone, and he ended up offering me a preferred walk-on spot here.’’
Shoenfelder, a state champion wrestler in high school, said that sport helps him in football: “If you’re a wrestler, you’ve got to have heart. That’s where I got a lot of my heart from, a lot of my guts.’’
Thursday night, Schoenfelder — a cousin of former Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway— shared the scholarship news with his parents, John and Sandi.
“I hope this sets some sort of example for all the kids there,’’ he said.
Schoenfelder is the sixth walk-on that Fleck has awarded a scholarship.
• Redshirt freshman receivers Chris Autman-Bell and Demetrius Douglas both worked with trainers on the sideline during Friday’s open practice at TCF Bank Stadium. Fleck said their injuries are not serious and that they should be fine.
True freshman Rashod Bateman used the opportunity to step up in their absence by making a couple of nice catches during 11-on-11 drills.
“He’s like that every day,’’ Fleck said of the four-star recruit. “We just have to get him into an environment where he has to make plays.’’
• Fleck said offensive tackle Jason Dickson, a junior college transfer from Diablo Valley (Calif.) Community College, likely will redshirt this year.