The injury was so serious, the Gophers wondered if Chris Streveler ever would play quarterback again.
Five weeks into last season, Streveler went to make a throw at practice and tore a tendon in his right thumb. The Gophers kept holding their breath, especially when Philip Nelson transferred to Rutgers, leaving Mitch Leidner as their only quarterback who’s taken a college snap.
“I was nervous; concerned is probably too soft of a word,” Gophers offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said Tuesday, after the team’s fourth spring practice. “So I’ve been really pleased up to this point about what he’s been able to do.”
Streveler, a consensus three-star recruit coming out of Marian Central Catholic in Woodstock, Ill., had surgery to repair the tendon and redshirted last season. The Gophers wanted to wait to see how well he threw this spring before deciding whether to move him to another position, such as receiver.
But Streveler has alleviated those concerns with some nice throws, including two long passes to Devon Wright on Tuesday — one for a completion and one slightly overthrown.
“[The injury] doesn’t bother me anymore,” Streveler said. “I really don’t even think about it.”
Streveler is battling fellow redshirt freshman Conor Rhoda and true freshman Dominick Roden-McKinzy to be Leidner’s backup. Leidner looks head and shoulders above the rest, but the Gophers know they’ll need a backup ready, especially with how much their quarterbacks run the ball.
When Nelson got hurt early last season, Streveler briefly moved to No. 2 on the depth chart, behind Leidner. Streveler had made big strides in practice, but the torn tendon came just as he started to get comfortable with the playbook.
“It was a weird injury, so we really weren’t too sure about it,” Streveler said. “My teammates really supported me, and I just had to stay positive mentally and know that I’d be back here helping the team.”
The coaches were convinced Streveler could help them, even if he couldn’t throw. As a high school senior, he rushed for 22 touchdowns, in addition to his 26 passing touchdowns. He’s 6-2, 220 pounds after adding 30 pounds of muscle to his frame last year, yet he still has dynamic quickness and speed.
“I feel really comfortable at quarterback, for sure,” Streveler said. “But I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I’ll do whatever it takes to help this team. I’ll play any position, I’ll do anything.”
• East Ridge quarterback Seth Green was among the recruits watching practice. He’ll be a junior this fall and already has offers from the Gophers and Iowa.
• During punting drills, balls kept hitting the decrepit roof of the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex, bringing chunks of dusty insulation to the turf. Kill could only shrug. “Keep kicking until that roof comes out, and then we can get a new building,” he said.