When Rashod Bateman was selected in the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday night and Benjamin St-Juste was picked one night later in the third round, Gophers P.J. Fleck admitted to being excited, while fifth-year wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell took his feelings to the next level.
"I was sprinting down the hallway and screaming in my room,'' Autman-Bell said. "Seeing my guys, especially Bate … that's just awesome. Seeing my brother get drafted and getting to play with Lamar [Jackson, Ravens QB], that's great. As soon as they get their numbers selected, I'll be buying jerseys.''
Bateman, a wide receiver, was selected 27th overall by Baltimore, while St-Juste, a cornerback, went 74th overall to the Washington Football Team, making them the first Gophers duo to be selected in the first 75 picks since linebackers Mark Merrill, Michael Hunt and Steve Stewart were taken 31st, 34th and 43rd, respectively, in 1978.
Bateman and St-Juste also are the sixth and seventh Fleck-coached Gophers over the past two seasons to be drafted, joining 2020 picks in safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (second round), receiver Tyler Johnson (fifth), linebackers Kamal Martin (fifth) and Carter Coughlin (seventh) and defensive back Chris Williamson (seventh).
"I love where our program is, I love where our program's headed,'' Fleck said after Saturday's spring game at TCF Bank Stadium. "I'd love to be at next year's draft. You hate to think ahead, but you look at the three-year combined draftees after next year. I'm really proud of Rashod Bateman and Benjamin St-Juste.
"They lay out all their hopes, dreams and aspirations, and as a head coach you do everything you can to fulfill that. It just shows you can accomplish anything you want at the University of Minnesota. I was a big day for us. … Those are the reasons why you coach.''
Running back Mohamed Ibrahim, a Baltimore native, was happy to see Bateman selected by the Ravens.
"I grew up a Ravens fan, so I was rooting for him,'' Ibrahim said. "… It's just nice that he'll be back in my hometown when I go back.''
• Among Gophers starters from 2020 sitting out the spring game were Ibrahim (observing Ramadan), tight end Bryce Witham, offensive lineman John Michael Schmitz and defensive ends Boye Mafe and Esezi Otomewo.
• Winfield, Martin and Coughlin were among the former Gophers who attended the spring game.
• The pregame coin toss had a different flair. Guest head coaches Lindsay Whalen of the Gophers women's basketball team led the Maroon, and Ben Johnson of the men's basketball team led the Gold. Whalen and Johnson had a three-point shooting contest at midfield instead of the coin toss. Johnson won the contest, and his Gold chose to receive the opening kickoff.
Barring any COVID-19-related issues, the Gophers are scheduled to begin their 2021 season on Thursday, Sept. 2, against defending Big Ten champion and national runner-up Ohio State at home.