Gophers running back Mohamed Ibrahim has battled through injuries to lead the team in rushing this season, but last week he had to deal with something more difficult: the death of a close friend in Maryland.

“He was everything to me. He was my best friend, my brother,” Ibrahim said. “We hung out ever since the third grade.”

Ibrahim, who played football at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, Md., said he considered returning to Maryland last week, but his father came to Minnesota for the Northwestern game, in which Ibrahim rushed 20 times for 98 yards and a touchdown. Ibrahim leads the team with 845 rushing yards in eight games.

Help from teammates, especially redshirt freshman wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell, helped him get through a tough week.

“If I’m ever down, Chris sees it and he picks me back up,” Ibrahim said. “It’s always nice being around teammates, knowing what you’re going through and always picking you back up.”

He also credited coach P.J. Fleck for helping him through difficult times. “[He] told me he’s with me,” Ibrahim said. “He’s always there.”

Fleck marveled at how Ibrahim has dealt with the death.

“He lost one of his closest, closest people in his life to a very tragic ending to a life. So, he’s dealing with that on a Tuesday practice, and you’re talking about going out and beating the Big Ten West champs,” Fleck said. “He’s the starting running back, 18 years old, you’re telling him that we got to be able to get through this.

“… He’s handling it really well,” Fleck added. “He’s a very, very tough young man. He’s very mentally tough, emotionally tough, physically tough.”

Ibrahim plans to keep forging ahead to honor his friend.

“I’m just going to play for him,” he said. “Everything I do, I’m going to live for him. ”

Randy Johnson