CHICAGO – One of the best things about covering the Big Ten media days is extended access to players and coaches in a relaxed setting.
The Gophers had their media sessions on Tuesday and I was able to spend about 30 minutes with star running back Rodney Smith.
It was the longest conversation I’ve had with Smith and I found his answers to be thoughtful and funny.
Here are a few highlights:
Smith was asked about the $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy, which mascot Goldy Gopher introduced in 2014 as a reward to the winner of the Minnesota-Nebraska game.
“It started my redshirt freshman year,” Smith said. “I saw it on Twitter. I thought it was a real trophy game because I’m from Georgia. I didn’t really know much about the trophy games. It’s interesting.”
Smith added: “When we had it I don’t remember seeing it, now that I think about it.”
Smith on the impact of the upcoming $166 million Athletes Village: “That will be a big deal for the University of Minnesota. It definitely helps with recruiting. When I came on my visit and I saw other schools, when I saw University of Minnesota and how our facilities stack up to other schools, I wasn’t really impressed honestly.”
Smith said he visited East Carolina, Georgia Tech and Georgia when he was in high school.
“Once you see those other schools, you could tell that we’re a little bit behind,” he said.
On what he liked about Minnesota when he visited: “I fell in love with the city when I got here. Growing up in Georgia, I didn’t hear anything about Minnesota. I thought it was country, farmland. I fell in love with the city. And I thought about opportunities after football with all the Fortune 500 companies in the Twin Cities. And I thought it was time for me to grow up as a young man.
On the first time he saw snow: “I was nervous. The first time I saw actual snow, I called [former strength coach Eric Klein] and said, ‘It’s snowing. What do you want me to do?’ He said, ‘We still have workouts. What do you mean?’ I was like, ‘How am I going to get there?’ He said, ‘You’ve got to walk.’ In Georgia, we get a little bit of ice, everything is canceled.
On the different classes that P.J. Fleck holds for players: “We have classes to help with things outside of football. We have financial class, an etiquette dinner. A swag class, we had stylists come talk to us about dos and don’ts. Like big guys shouldn’t wear stripes. Stuff like that. It was helpful. I appreciated it.”
On the etiquette dinner Fleck put on for players and their girlfriends/dates: “It was a fun time. For occasions like this, Big Ten media day, you don’t want to be at the table eating like a barbarian. We learned the correct etiquette in how to eat.”
Finally, Smith was asked about a report by USA Today that Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany will receive $20 million in “future bonus payments” in the context of an ongoing national discussion about student-athlete benefits and whether they should be paid. Smith paused before answering.
“Uh, proud of him,” Smith said, smiling.