Gaelin Elmore announced he was transferring Thursday, leaving another hole on the Gophers defensive line and removing a player who was a key leader under the previous coaching staff.
Elmore was honored nationally last spring with the Wilma Rudolph Student-Athlete Achievement Award and played a big role in the team’s two-day boycott before the Holiday Bowl.
Elmore saw regular playing time on the Gophers defensive line for three seasons, first under coach Jerry Kill and then Tracy Claeys. But with the team going through its first spring camp under new coach P.J. Fleck, Elmore decided to use his one remaining year of eligibility elsewhere.
“I don’t think it was a good fit,” Elmore said in a telephone interview. “It just wasn’t for me, and being an older guy, it’s tough to change. Both sides tried to make it work. I wanted to make this decision now so I didn’t leave Minnesota in a bad position where they can’t get another player to take my spot.”
Elmore will graduate this summer with a degree in communication studies, after only three years at the university. He plans to become a graduate transfer, which will enable him to play at another school this fall.
Elmore said he agreed not to transfer to a team that will play the Gophers this fall. That would eliminate Wisconsin, Iowa and the rest of the Big Ten West, along with Maryland, Michigan State and Michigan.
But Elmore’s decision further thins a Gophers defensive line corps that already needed to replace departing seniors Scott Ekpe and Hendrick Ekpe.
Without Elmore and Hendrick Ekpe, the leading candidates to start at defensive end this fall will be sophomores Tai’yon Devers and Winston DeLattiboudere. Two starting defensive tackles return in seniors Steven Richardson and Andrew Stelter.
Elmore, who will be a senior this fall, joins offensive linemen Tyler Moore and Connor Mayes as 2016 starters who have announced they are transferring.
“I have a ton of respect for Gaelin,” Fleck said. “And Gaelin’s been nothing but amazing to me since I’ve been here. I know he loves the University of Minnesota, and the Golden Gophers, and I know he’s been through a lot since he’s been here.”
Growing up in Peoria, Ill., with parents who had fallen into addiction, Elmore wound up homeless, separated from his siblings and bouncing through foster homes. His life changed when a coach in Somerset, Wis., took him under his roof.
As the Wilma Rudolph Award committee wrote, “By the age of five, Elmore had faced more hardships than the average person may face in a lifetime.”
Last season, Elmore played all 13 games, starting six, making 16 tackles, with four tackles for a loss, 1½ sacks and three fumble recoveries. He also earned Academic All-Big Ten honors for the second time.
Elmore was among the Gophers who were incensed in December, when the university announced it was indefinitely suspending 10 players for their roles in an alleged September sexual assault.
As Elmore later said, “These guys were punished without the opportunity to ever defend themselves.”
The players revolted with a boycott. But just when it looked like they were going to skip the Holiday Bowl, Elmore was among the leaders who brought the team back together. They not only played, they upset Washington State 19-12.
On Twitter, Elmore poured out his heart Thursday with a long message, explaining how tough the decision to transfer was.
“I will forever bleed maroon and gold … I wanted to have ties to this university forever,” Elmore wrote. “I know there will be a lot of speculation on why I decided to leave but I’m not leaving with any ill will toward anyone here.”
• Mark Williams was recruited as a quarterback but practiced at receiver last season while redshirting after suffering a hand injury. Fleck said Williams will get work at wide receiver, cornerback and safety to “see where he fits.”