Zack Annexstad handed the ball to Daniel Faalele at the 6-yard line. Faalele took his first hit three steps later. Then another. And another. Nearly the entire defense launched their combined body weight at Faalele, but he still trudged his way across the line.
Maybe the Gophers should change Faalele’s position on the roster from RT to RB.
The 6-9, 400-pound offensive lineman, the Gophers’ biggest player, scored the Maroon team’s second touchdown in the spring game Saturday at Athletes Village, helping his side to a 38-20 victory against the Gold squad.
Coach P.J. Fleck said he didn’t have a name for that play just yet, but it will likely be something Australian after Faalele’s home country. Too bad “The Refrigerator” is already taken.
“It was unbelievable,” Fleck said. “I thought he was getting tackled. Then he just kept moving his feet. And 400 pounds later, he’s in the end zone.”
Redshirt sophomore running back Mohamed Ibrahim said he didn’t think anyone could take Faalele down one-on-one. Senior defensive lineman Carter Coughlin said he was relieved he wasn’t playing that series, as Faalele is the size of three grown men and it would take at least that to stop him.
“I was on the sideline, and when the defense got back on the sideline I told them, like, ‘There was nothing you could do right there,’ ” senior receiver Tyler Johnson said.
Faalele wasn’t the only surprise at running back, a position that has been limited because of injuries this spring, including redshirt seniors Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Jon Santaga took nine carries 67 yards.
“He surprised me,” said Ibrahim, who led the group with one touchdown and 84 yards on 10 carries. “He was breaking tackles. He looked real shifty out there. He looked comfortable at it. So we might even use him this year.”
The Gophers defense had seven sacks and two interceptions, including a 71-yard pick-six from sophomore linebacker Thomas Rush, who played running back in high school.
“He’s stepped up big time, and it was really good to see him finish that way because he’s had a great spring ball this far,” Coughlin said of Rush, who also made 3.5 tackles. “That shows what he’s going to be able to do for us this year. He’s going to be in a huge role as Sam linebacker.”
Fleck said Rush opened his eyes “to a lot of things.” The coach also called redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Boye Mafe maybe “one of the most valuable players” on defense this upcoming season. Mafe made 3.5 tackles, including a sack. Fleck said with the talent on the defensive line, he plans to moves those players around and be creative, possibly to put Mafe and Coughlin on the field together as two of the best pass rushers.
Coughlin called Mafe a “freak” athlete who has transformed his game to become more physical and detail-oriented for his second season.
Shortly after the spring game’s conclusion, the Gophers garnered another commitment. Justin Bellido, a wide receiver out of Brooklyn and Erasmus Hall High School in New York City, announced his decision on Twitter. The 5-10, 165-pounder is the eighth member of the 2020 class. He is a three-star recruit, according to 247Sports.