Gophers coaches were boasting about Boye Mafe’s eye-popping speed and jumping ability well before he was listed among the biggest athletic freaks in college football entering the 2020 season.

The 6-4, 265-pound redshirt junior from Hopkins tests off the charts with a 40-inch vertical, which would have been a record for players at his position at the NFL combine this year.

Mafe, who also runs the 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds and squats 653 pounds, didn’t just get to be this athletically gifted by accident. He’s come a long way since high school.

“It wasn’t just something that was given to me,” Mafe said. “With the training staff that we have here, they definitely pushed me to the limits to make sure I could be the best I could be.”

A popular pick to be a breakout candidate on the Gophers defense this season, Mafe is the successor to starting rush end Carter Coughlin, who was selected by the New York Giants in the seventh round of the NFL draft.

Mafe’s burst and speed off the edge had Gophers coach P.J. Fleck calling him “twitched up” going into spring ball before practices were canceled because of the pandemic.

Losing out on extended practice time in the offseason didn’t minimize how high expectations are for the defensive line without Coughlin.

Mafe, who recorded 14 tackles and three sacks in 2019, is the heir apparent to the former Eden Prairie standout who was one of Minnesota’s most respected leaders during an 11-win season that ended in a victory over Auburn in the Outback Bowl.

Gophers defensive coordinator Joe Rossi praised Mafe’s maturity since his freshman season, when he redshirted after coming out of Hopkins a bit undersized to play up front at just under 220 pounds.

“Boye has been a guy who’s played a role the last two years and now, obviously that role’s going to expand,” Rossi said. “He’s a very athletic player. He’s got some explosion and some pass rush. We’re very excited about where he’s going with his game. He’s been working really hard and taking on some leadership role as well.”

Mafe, Keonte Schad and Esezi Otomewo have big shoes to fill on the D-line. Other than Coughlin, who was an All-Big Ten second-team selection, the Gophers lost sack leader Sam Renner and Winston DeLattiboudere, who combined to start 36 career games.

As if it was a sign of passing the torch, Mafe recorded a bowl-game sack against the SEC powerhouse Tigers. It wasn’t the first time he finished strong in the postseason, considering his career-high six tackles came in a Quick Lane Bowl victory over Georgia Tech as a redshirt freshman in 2018.

The Gophers strength and conditioning staff challenged Mafe to take his training to another level, even with drills he could handle on his own since quarantine. Now the next Gophers pass rusher to get some NFL looks might be a guy who already fits the part athletically.

“No matter if I didn’t think I could do more, they pushed me to go harder with the weights and do more,” Mafe said. “I think it’s translating over to the field. If you ask me how I feel about my body now compared to freshman year, I couldn’t even play then. So it’s made a tremendous difference in my game.”