The Gophers football practice field is nothing new to Isaac Fruechte -- he's been going there for most of his 21-year-old life.
Most of the visits, of course, were as a fan: a young Fruechte who worshipped the team as a kid, and then an older Fruechte, who turned down offers from smaller schools in pursuit of playing at his house of heroes.
The dream was so built up that when Fruechte -- who played one season at Rochester Community and Technical College and then redshirted at the school last fall to preserve a year of eligibility -- was finally offered a scholarship and reported to Minnesota this past spring for practice, the nerves of a lifetime spilled out all over the familiar field.
"The spring here was really nerve-wracking," said the native of Caledonia, a southeast Minnesota town about 165 miles from Minneapolis. "I didn't really know what to expect and it's my first time being up here [as a player] and I had just always kind of walked around as a fan and had just only sort of seen what was going on."
Fruechte struggled to make the transition, but only four practices into the fall season, his efforts -- and the reactions those efforts are getting -- weave an entirely different story.
"Apples and oranges," a grinning head coach Jerry Kill said of the sophomore. "You can tell he's not thinking, he's playing much faster, much more confident. There's just no comparison."
And now, Fruechte comes into a situation where he could have an opportunity to make a difference right away. In his news conference before the start of fall camp, Kill plainly stated he's looking for "playmakers" in a wide receivers corps that underperformed last year. With the Gophers' best long threat gone in Da'Jon McKnight, the early battle for playing time is wide open, with Fruechte competing with six returning receivers (including seniors Brandon Green and John Rabe, and sophomores Devin Crawford-Tufts and Marcus Jones) as well as true freshmen Andre McDonald and Jamel Harbison. All have shown skills, but none has guaranteed roles heading into the season.
It's early, but so far the super-quick Fruechte -- who has been timed running a 4.38 40-yard dash -- has been one to stand out, showing his sure hands and using his speed to get past defenders and grab long passes in practice.
"I think he's got a chance to really help us this year," Kill said. "Just over the last three days, he's not the kid he was, and we expected that."
Fruechte is just the type of recruit, actually, that Kill has been searching for: one that wants, specifically, to be in Minnesota and one that will play with passion.
The chance is long-awaited for the 6-3, 205-pound Fruechte, who grew up coming to games and practices with his father and uncles -- who had season tickets since he was born. Fruechte was unable to walk on his freshman year because of low math scores, but now he looks back on that letdown as something meant to be. He wouldn't have been ready for the challenge then -- academically or athletically -- he said, but now, he has the base learning and maturity to excel with his chance.
"I don't think I'd be ready even now," Fruechte said. "I think I'd still be behind the curve."
Instead, he went to RCTC, gained 15 pounds, picked his grades up and arrived early -- in time to immerse himself in the playbook that's "10 times bigger" than what he's used before. Now, he's ready.
"Right now, I'm just living the dream -- going to school here and representing [the Gophers]," he said. "It's what I wanted to do my whole life. It's amazing, I love it."