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.

He played two years at Winona State, leading the team in receiving as a sophomore, and the thought of playing for the Gophers never left his mind.

“I knew it was always an option,” Engel said. “After a while, I just thought, it’s either now or never, so I might as well take a shot at this thing. So that’s what I did.”

Engel transferred to Minnesota and sat out the 2011 season under NCAA rules. Last year, he gradually climbed the depth chart as other receivers fell off. Jamel Harbison tore up a knee, A.J. Barker thrived for a while before quitting, and Andre McDonald missed the Meineke Car Care Bowl because of a violation of team rules.

Suddenly, Engel emerged as quarterback Philip Nelson’s go-to guy in the bowl game, catching four passes for 108 yards against Texas Tech. Heading into spring practice, he bulked up from 175 pounds to 187, and he said he was able to maintain his speed.

“I’ve definitely accomplished some of my goals, but I’m not done yet,” Engel said. “I’m not satisfied. I want to keep getting better and keep seeing where football takes me.”





 

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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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Tennessee 13 FINAL
Jacksonville 21
Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
New York 97 FINAL
Chicago 103
New Orleans 99 FINAL
Houston 90
Milwaukee 108 FINAL
Sacramento 107
Oklahoma City 109 FINAL
Golden State 114
Florida 2 FINAL(SO)
Philadelphia 1
Colorado 0 FINAL(OT)
Pittsburgh 1
Toronto 1 FINAL
Carolina 4
Washington 5 FINAL(OT)
Columbus 4
Anaheim 2 FINAL
Montreal 1
St. Louis 4 FINAL
Los Angeles 6
Edmonton 3 FINAL
San Jose 4
St Thomas (TX) 61 FINAL
Rice 72
Stony Brook 59 FINAL
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Delaware 62
FIU 58 FINAL
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Utah State 57
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Drake 102
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Marquette 80
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Howard 48
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Miami-Florida 74 FINAL
UCLA 67
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South Dakota 115
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USC 96
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Indiana-Southeast 45 FINAL
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<
Gophers Football Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 amX28-24
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa 11 amX51-14
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State 11 amX31-24
Nov 22 - at Nebraska 11 amX28-24
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin 2:30 pmX34-24
Jan 1 - vs. Missouri noon

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