Antoine Winfield Jr. didn’t waver at all about playing in the Outback Bowl. But that’s not the only major decision ahead of him, with leaving for the NFL draft a possibility.
“Yeah, I knew I was going to play in the bowl game,” the safety said Friday. “So I’m just excited to get out there and play, play one more with my boys.”
Winfield is a fourth-year sophomore because of back-to-back season-ending injuries the previous two years, meaning he’ll graduate this spring with the rest of the senior class. And playing one more game with them — including roommates Carter Coughlin and Thomas Barber — was a “super important” opportunity Winfield couldn’t forsake.
“It’s just crazy to see how far we’ve come and where we’ve come from,” Winfield said. “And just playing in this final game is going to be an amazing experience. Just one last time with all the seniors.”
It could be Winfield’s last time as well. He leads the Gophers with 83 tackles and seven interceptions and is a unanimous All-America, just the seventh in Gophers history and first since center Greg Eslinger in 2005. He also joins his father, Antoine Winfield Sr., a unanimous All-America in 1998 at Ohio State before going on to a long NFL career, mostly with the Vikings.
Winfield could soon follow in his father’s footsteps and declare for the NFL draft. He said right now, all his focus is on facing Auburn in the bowl game Jan. 1, and any decision he makes will probably come after that game.
Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said he’s pretty much talked to Winfield every day about this impending choice, with the Winfields strongly considering the information the NFL provides on what round Winfield is projected to go. Fleck said if that information says first or second round, he’d encourage Winfield to declare.
“Of course, you always want a young man like that to play for you again, but is that the best thing for him moving forward?” Fleck said. “Because at this point in his career, what he’s done for the University of Minnesota, what the family’s done for the University of Minnesota, he deserves to be able to pick what’s best for him.”