There have been few players who embodied the best aspects of the Gophers better than senior linebacker Carter Coughlin.

Not only does he have a huge family connection to the university, but his ties to Eden Prairie — the best high school football program in the state — showcase the kind of success the Gophers want to have at the collegiate level.

And the family ties to the university will continue for some time with his cousin Cole Kramer, who also played at Eden Prairie, joining the club this season as a freshman quarterback. Bud Grant, the former Vikings head coach and father of Eden Prairie head coach Mike Grant, said Kramer is the best prep quarterback he has ever seen.

On top of the family ties, Coughlin is one of the most highly touted players in recent history for the Gophers.

He is a preseason All-America according to analyst Phil Steele, he was named to the watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which honors the best defensive player in college football, and he was recently awarded an Academic All-Big Ten designation.

Coughlin said his desire to do great things for the Gophers started with his grandfather.

"We have Grandpa [Tom] Moe starting it off, obviously he played football here, played baseball here, was the AD here, as well," Coughlin said. "He is someone that just absolutely loves sports, loves competition, all of that stuff.

"My dad [Bob Coughlin] played football here, then my mom Jenny Moe, now Jenny Coughlin, is a Hall of Fame tennis player here. My uncle Mike Moe played football here, as well. And now me and my cousin Cole Kramer are on the football team here. So the family bloodline runs deep in Minnesota."

Football for breakfast

Coughlin said his family built his desire not just to play for the Gophers but for sports in general.

"My dad is tough as nails. I would say I inherited that from him, but I would say my mom is even tougher," he said. "…They are crazy competitive. That's why my house of five kids was super fun growing up, because everyone is crazy competitive. Take that with me on the football field and always push myself. That's why I'm here."

He added that his father had him dissecting game tape over the breakfast table in elementary school.

"I was in third grade when I started playing tackle football. But football in the yard, doing tackling drills, that started early on," he said. "Even in third, fourth, fifth grade my dad would sit and watch film with me while I'd eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch for breakfast and go over stuff, even though as a third-grader I don't know how much I could get out of film."

EP mentality at U

By every scouting measure, Coughlin came out of Eden Prairie as one of the 10 best linebackers in the country.

He had lost just one game in three seasons, and the mentality he learned at Eden Prairie under Grant came with him to the Gophers.

"I would say one of the biggest things is he taught all of us what it is like to win," Coughlin said. "Coaches talk about how they like to recruit guys that know how to win because that is a mentality that you have. That's a mentality that I bring here. I hate losing more than anything. I didn't do much losing when I was in high school, I only lost one game. Bringing that here, I have that same mentality that there is no excuse for losing a game."

This season there are eight former Eden Prairie players on the roster — Coughlin, Kramer, defensive lineman Connor Novak-Goar, tight end Clayton Witherspoon, linebacker Danny Anderson and defensive backs Benny Sapp III, Antoine Winfield Jr. and Caden Fey.

"Yeah, the EP line is still strong at the University of Minnesota," Coughlin said.

Lead the nation?

Last season Coughlin tallied 48 tackles, 9½ sacks, four forced fumbles and 15 tackles for loss in helping the Gophers turn what looked like a lost season into a great one with a 41-10 win over Purdue, a 37-15 win at Wisconsin and a 34-10 win over Georgia Tech in the Quick Lane Bowl.

He ranked 20th in the nation in sacks, and when Coughlin was asked for his personal goals, he pointed to that spot.

"I want to lead the country in sacks, but I recognize that if my role is something different I will do that, no matter what, as long as it betters the team," he said. "I want this team to maximize its capabilities."

Does the preseason All-America honor puts pressure on him?

"It's an honor," he said. "Now I just recognize that I need to go make it happen."

He said succeeding both athletically and academically didn't come naturally to him. He learned to do it at the U.

"When it comes to academics, even though it's tough to balance football and school, I made sure I did both of them at an elite level," he said. "We talk about the four areas of our life and how important that is. Starting off in college it was tough, my grades weren't that good. But as I've progressed I have grown as a man, as a player and as a student. Now I'm an Academic All-Big Ten."

Can this team pick up where it left off last season?

"When you look at our team, it's a new team," he said. "We lost some guys, we added some guys, we have guys who now have more experience even though we're still a young team. But I think we are really far along in fall camp for where we are. I think we have a chance to have a really special team this year."

The fact that Joe Rossi is now the permanent defensive coordinator — after serving in an interim role last season following the firing of Robb Smith — is also a big positive for Coughlin, who said he has a great relationship with the former linebackers coach.

"I have got to know Coach Rossi really, really well because he was my position coach when Coach [P.J.]Fleck first got here," Coughlin said. "He did a lot of our coaching and our rush-end coaching. His biggest thing then was details, and that has allowed me to understand this defense and my position with crazy detail. Now as the defensive coordinator he has brought that same detailed mentality to our entire team. I mean, shoot, you saw how it paid off last year with our defense."

Coughlin isn't talking much about it, but there's no doubt his trajectory points to the NFL. He said it is a lifelong goal.

"Yes sir, no doubt about that," he said. "I'm excited for what the future holds, but first off I have to focus on this season and be the best teammate I can be."

Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. •