CHICAGO – Most of the Gophers’ introduction to the hit musical “Hamilton” came early on in P.J. Fleck’s tenure as coach, when he themed a week after his favorite Broadway show.
The retitled “HOWmilton” taught the players how to not throw away their shots and what their legacies could be. And Wednesday night was a good reminder of that for defensive lineman Carter Coughlin, receiver Tyler Johnson, running back Mohamed Ibrahim and holder Casey O’Brien, when Fleck took them to the show in Chicago ahead of Big Ten Media Days.
“What are we going to do with our shot? You’re not going to throw away your shot. What are you going to do with your legacy? Who’s going to tell your story when you’re gone?” Fleck said of the musical’s messages. “… You can come from nothing and be something and somebody. And you’re not perfect. You’re never going to be perfect. You’re going to make mistakes, but it’s how you overcome all that.”
Turns out, “Hamilton” applies to college football as well as the Founding Fathers. Especially that part about making something from nothing.
While Fleck, now heading into his third season, certainly didn’t start from scratch with the Gophers, the program still has a ways to climb if the preseason projections have been any measuring stick. In a recent Cleveland.com poll of Big Ten media, the Gophers were ranked sixth in the Big Ten West. Some oddsmakers have the Gophers at 6.5 wins in 2019.
“As a team, we pretty much don’t look too much into it,” Johnson said, adding the Gophers prefer to keep their focus internal. “But I know coach Fleck, he does a great job of bringing it up, addressing the team and then basically just crumbling it up and just throwing it away.”
At least within Minnesota, though, Fleck thinks his team is proving people wrong after an inconsistent 2018 that ended very strong.
“We haven’t won a championship in over 50 years, but if people can start to see firsts — yes, we won our last game of the year and our bowl game. That’s the first time in program history that’s happened — It’s a small never or first that hasn’t happened or has happened, but it’s something you can show, look, here’s what we’re doing,” Fleck said. “… Now all of a sudden, you start to show people where we’re headed because everybody wants proof.”
Interest-wise, while Fleck gave an energetic but not over-the-top news conference at Media Days, his individual podium later in the day seemed roomy when compared to the sometimes three-person deep semicircle around new Ohio State coach Ryan Day for pretty much his entire 60-minute allotment. Same for the players, with even Johnson — who pundits tab as one of the best receivers in the conference — having only a couple media members at his podium at all times.
Not to say everyone entirely overlooks the Gophers. The stacked running backs and receivers particularly cause some excitement. But whether underrated or overhyped, the Gophers aren’t paying too much mind either way.
“It doesn’t really matter to me personally, or the team personally. We know that if we do everything that we say we want to do, that we can fulfill those dreams,” Ibrahim said. “… You can’t get comfortable. You cannot get comfortable in this league because every team has the chance to beat you any given week.”
So actually, maybe the Gophers are doing the exact opposite of message in “Hamilton” and choosing to wait for it instead, at least when it comes to widespread respect.
“All I’ve got to say is, I guess everybody’s entitled to their own opinion,” Coughlin said of those mediocre predictions. “I’m not really sure who voted on that. But I mean, I don’t know, maybe you’ve got to pay a little bit more attention to what we’ve been up to.
“But it’s all right. Everybody will be able to see it this year.”