Gophers defensive back Benjamin St-Juste had one of his best performances of the season in the Gophers’ 23-19 loss to Iowa on Saturday.
He finished with seven tackles, which trailed only Antoine Winfield Jr. with eight, and a team-high two pass breakups.
St-Juste is a unique player.
He was a four-star recruit, according to 247 Sports, out of Quebec, where he attended Cegep du Vieux Monteal.
He graduated high school at 16, so even though he was only a redshirt sophomore, he already had graduated from Michigan before transferring to the Gophers in the offseason. That meant he was able to play right away and will still have two years of eligibility left after this season.
St.-Juste played in 12 games his freshman season at Michigan, mostly on special teams, but injuries led him to redshirt his sophomore season before deciding to transfer.
He said the first team who contacted him about coming to their program was the Gophers.
“I was able to graduate early from Michigan and Minnesota looked like the perfect fit for me,” St-Juste said. “It was a really smooth transition. I’m really happy I’m here right now.”
The coach who was immediately on St-Juste’s transfer was defensive coordinator Joe Rossi.
“Apparently Rossi really wanted me to come here,” St-Juste said. “It was just a funny story how he was driving on the highway and just stopped on the side and called me right away to get me to come to Minnesota and visit and all of that stuff. I was able to set up a visit the next week, and I was committed here after that.”
Even though St-Juste is a grad transfer, he didn’t start right away in the defensive backfield.
“I was in the rotation for the first three games because I was still learning the playbook and all of that stuff and then by the Purdue game, our first Big Ten game, I was a starter at corner,” he recalled. “There were already corners starting from the previous year, and I was able to compete with them and get better. I got the chance to be the starting corner, but everybody in the defensive back room is good, so if somebody goes down the next guy is up and he can do the job.”
St-Juste’s has broken up seven passes, which ranks second on the team behind Coney Durr, who has nine, and St.-Juste’s 28 tackles on the season are ninth overall.
ESPN ranked St-Juste as the No. 2 Canadian prospect in the Class of 2017.
He said that playing prep football in Canada meant that he had to work hard to get noticed by college scouts.
“We don’t get as much attention when it comes to football. Hockey is the primary sport that is where all the attention goes,” St-Juste said. “You have to put double the effort and double the motivation and hard work to get to the NCAA level if you come from Canada.”
The other big challenge for the Gophers defensive back was that French was his primary language growing up in Quebec. He said that while he has a great grasp on English, he didn’t start speaking it until he was 17 years old and it took him a while to feel comfortable with the language.
“It was pretty hard my freshman year [at Michigan] because I had always been a fluent French speaker, and I come from the French area of Canada, so trying to learn how to do all of my homework, my essays, and talking with coaches and players, learning English was pretty hard my freshman year,” he said. “But I felt like I have adapted pretty well, so far.”
Even though it was Rossi who first reached out, St-Juste said that he has grown to respect the coaching style of P.J. Fleck.
“I love coach Fleck. I feel like he is a players’ coach,” St-Juste said. “He cares about his players. He makes sure we are all good, makes sure our bodies are rested and yeah so far from the little time I have had with him, I have really had a good journey with him.”
Northwestern in ’36
The 1936 Gophers football team was one of the greatest in school history. The Gophers finished ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press and were named national champions.
That team was incredible. The Gophers played eight games and opponents scored in just three of those contests.
Bernie Bierman was in his fifth season as the Gophers coach, and they had gone undefeated in their previous three seasons. The Gophers opened the 1936 season at Washington and won 14-7. They also defeated Nebraska, Michigan, Purdue, Iowa and Wisconsin by a combined score of 142-0.
But the Gophers did suffer one loss that year, at No. 3 Northwestern by a final score of 6-0. That loss was the Gophers’ first in 28 contests. a run in which they went 21-0-7. That Northwestern squad was coached by Lynn “Pappy” Walford, who was in his second season and would be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1966.
The headline in the Sunday Minneapolis Tribune on Nov. 1, 1936 read, “Fighting Wildcats Capitalize Breaks to Upset Gophers, 6-0, on Slimy Field”.
The score was 0-0 when the Gophers fumbled late in the third quarter, and Northwestern took over on the Gophers 13-yard line.
Northwestern back Don Geyer carried the ball for a 2-yard loss, but Gophers defensive tackle Ed Wifseth, an All-American that season, was given a penalty for slugging — a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty which moved Northwestern to the 1-yard line.
They scored on the first play of the fourth quarter.
“He’s the gentlest player on the team, and I can’t believe Big Ed was guilty of unnecessary roughness,” Bierman told the Tribune.
He also lamented that his team just wasn’t ready for the competition.
“They seemed to take Northwestern for granted, and that is always a dangerous attitude, even against a weaker team than Northwestern.”
• It will be interesting to see if Evan Hull, the Northwestern freshman running back from Maple Grove, will play against the Gophers on Saturday. Hull rushed for 220 yards with four touchdowns in the Wildcats’ 45-6 win over Massachusetts last week. The only question is if Northwestern wants to save Hull’s redshirt, because he has now appeared in four games and will lose his redshirt eligibility if he plays a fifth.
• WCHA Commissioner Bill Robertson notes that for the second consecutive week the WCHA has the No. 1 men’s hockey team in the country in MSU Mankato and the No. 1 women’s team in the Gophers.