Gophers receivers are short on stats but long on confidence

Isaac Fruechte, Derrick Engel are out to prove the critics wrong.

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Derrick Engel was the go-to guy for Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, catching four passes for 108 yards.

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It’s easy to see on paper why the Gophers receiving corps ranks among the worst in the Big Ten in most preseason publications. Their two leading returning receivers — junior Isaac Fruechte and senior Derrick Engel — combined last year for 37 catches, 631 yards and three touchdowns.

For comparison, Penn State’s top returning wide receiver, Allen Robinson, practically doubled that production all by himself, with 77 catches, 1,031 yards and 11 touchdowns.

But Engel and Fruechte can’t wait to see what’s possible this year. If people doubt them, what else is new? Each has dealt with that for years.

“It’s definitely motivating to us to prove people wrong,” Engel said. “Our goal is to lead the Big Ten in receiving. We’ve got to shoot for the stars, if we want to make a run at this thing [as a team].”

If that sounds lofty, consider how far these two receivers have come just to reach this point.

Neither had Division I scholarship offers during high school. Engel transferred to Minnesota from Winona State, and Fruechte from Rochester Community and Technical College. Each toiled for thousands of hours, behind the scenes, before finally making his way to the Big Ten stage last season.

• • •

Fruechte is a 6-3, 212-pound junior, and like Engel, he can run the 40-yard dash in about 4.4 seconds. In high school, Fruechte went to football camps in Tennessee and Texas and thought his tools compared pretty well with the more highly touted recruits.

“It was like, what do I have to do?” Fruechte said. “My dad just told me I had to keep working, and God has a plan for me, really.”

Fruechte is from Caledonia, a small town in the southeast corner of Minnesota. His father, Carl, was the head coach at Caledonia High School, and together they won two Class 2A state championships.

“His daddy’s not a good football coach — his daddy’s a great football coach,” Gophers coach Jerry Kill said.

Fruechte has seen other Caledonia players emerge from below the radar. In 2006, Karl Klug couldn’t get more than a walk-on offer from Minnesota, so he went to Iowa, where he blossomed into a second-team All-Big Ten defensive lineman. He had seven sacks as a rookie for the Tennessee Titans in 2011 and is entering his third NFL season.

“Maybe it’s just a small-town thing,” Fruechte said with a shrug.

Fruechte made the most of his one year in junior college, catching 30 passes for 805 yards and nine touchdowns at RCTC. Kill’s staff made Fruechte part of its first recruiting class in 2011, and he redshirted that fall before emerging as a starter for nine games last season.

“Playing at a smaller high school, and then having to go to junior college, I always had to have something special about me to get somebody’s attention,” Fruechte said. “And I’ve reflected that in my preparation, film study, extra lifting, stuff like that, to get better.”

• • •

Engel’s father, Joel, was an All-America basketball player at Augsburg, where his mother, Karen, was an All-America hurdler. At Chaska High School, Engel excelled in football and track, but he had a slender, 6-2 frame.

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  • Chart: Gophers receiving targets

    Monday August 12, 2013

    Gophers TargetsHere are the leaders among returning wide receivers for the Gophers, along with their 2012 statistics:Player Rec. Yards TD LongIsaac Fruechte 19 256 2 34Derrick Engel 18 375 1 42KJ Maye 11 49 0 13Andre McDonald 10 121 0 26Others...

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Houston 1 FINAL
Miami 1
Philadelphia 1 FINAL
Minnesota 7
St. Louis 3 FINAL
Detroit 4
Baltimore - WP: T. Wilson 10 FINAL
NY Yankees - LP: S. Baker 2
Boston 9 FINAL
Tampa Bay 6
Toronto 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh 8
Atlanta 5 FINAL
Toronto 3
Washington 2 FINAL
NY Mets 10
Chicago Cubs 5 FINAL
Cincinnati 9
San Diego 3 FINAL
Texas 2
San Francisco 9 FINAL
Seattle 8
Colorado 4 FINAL
Chicago Cubs 18
Cleveland 3 FINAL
Milwaukee 2
Oakland 10 FINAL
Chicago WSox 4
Los Angeles 5 FINAL
LA Angels 4
Kansas City 10 FINAL
Arizona 5
Atlanta 52 3rd Qtr
Charlotte 57
New York 7 1st Qtr 8:47
Chicago 11
Golden State 7:30 PM
Milwaukee
Oklahoma City 8:00 PM
Utah
Denver 9:00 PM
Portland
Nashville 4 FINAL
Washington 3
Arizona 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh 3
San Jose 3 FINAL(SO)
Philadelphia 2
Anaheim 3 FINAL
NY Islanders 2
NY Rangers 2 FINAL
Boston 4
Tampa Bay 0 FINAL
Detroit 4
New Jersey 1 2nd Prd 13:16
Carolina 0
Florida 0 2nd Prd
Montreal 1
Ottawa 1 2nd Prd 15:12
Toronto 0
Los Angeles 0 1st Prd 15:33
Minnesota 1
Columbus 0 1st Prd 15:28
St. Louis 0
Buffalo 8:00 PM
Colorado
Dallas 9:00 PM
Vancouver
Arizona 64 2nd Half 3:36
Wisconsin 73
Canisius 27 1st Half 2:11
NJIT 26
Notre Dame 7:49 PM
Kentucky
San Jose 1 FINAL
New England 2
Orlando City 2 FINAL
Montreal 2
Los Angeles 0 2nd Half 44:55
D.C. 0
Sporting Kansas City 1 2nd Half 44:55
New York City 0
Red Bull New York 0 1st Half 36:00
Columbus 0
Portland 0 1st Half 44:55
Vancouver FC 0
Colorado 7:30 PM
Houston
Seattle 7:30 PM
FC Dallas
Texas 54 FINAL
(1) Connecticut 105
Dayton 82 FINAL
(8) Louisville 66
(16) Duke 55 FINAL
(4) Maryland 65
Gonzaga 41 2nd Half 16:05
(6) Tennessee 36
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