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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Houston 7 1st Qtr 2:53
Pittsburgh 0
San Diego 10/23/14 7:25 PM
Denver
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Cleveland
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 75 4th Qtr 9:14
Cleveland 87
New Orleans 73 4th Qtr 8:50
Washington 54
Milwaukee 56 3rd Qtr
New York 61
Philadelphia 42 3rd Qtr
Brooklyn 49
Charlotte 50 3rd Qtr 8:58
Atlanta 62
Sacramento 18 1st Qtr 5:55
San Antonio 12
Memphis 10 1st Qtr 5:56
Dallas 15
Tampa Bay 8:30 PM
Edmonton
Arkansas State 10/21/14 7:00 PM
Louisiana
Connecticut 10/23/14 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
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Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
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Boise State
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California
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Rice
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas
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(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
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Toledo
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
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Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
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Stanford
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Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
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Pittsburgh
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Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
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Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
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Buffalo
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Missouri
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Western Ky
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Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
UCF
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Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
ULM
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(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Ottawa 6 FINAL
Hamilton 16
Montreal 20 FINAL
Toronto 12
Calgary 33 FINAL
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Date/Opponent 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 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA

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