Gophers coach P.J. Fleck found different ways to surprise walk-ons with scholarships when he was at Western Michigan. This week, he struck again.
Fleck’s staff organized an Easter egg hunt for the players, who rounded up 1,000 eggs. Gophers coaches then directed players into the team meeting room, where each assigned seat had a plastic egg taped to it.
Players were instructed to hold their eggs in the air so they could open them at the same time. Inside each one was a piece of paper that revealed the news — walk-on linebacker Blake Cashman now has a full scholarship.
“They all went nuts,” Fleck said.
Cashman, an Eden Prairie native, started his college career on special teams as a freshman in 2015 and became a pass-rushing force last season. He made 9½ tackles for a loss over the final five games. He was named the defensive MVP of the Holiday Bowl.
Fleck made no secret that Cashman would get a scholarship but wanted to make the moment memorable for the whole team.
“It was so special,” Cashman said. “It was something I’ll never forget. I just remember I opened up my egg, and the love I felt for my teammates — I was overwhelmed with emotion and joy at that moment.”
At Western Michigan, Fleck once set up an onside kick drill and had the ball kicked to walk-on Trevor Sweeney. The whistle blew, so Sweeney could open the piece of paper attached to the ball, with the news of his scholarship.
Last year, Fleck came onto Western Michigan’s field for a practice dressed in full gear, helmet and all. He challenged walk-on Kasey Carson to a one-on-one drill near the goal line. Then, Fleck had the team look up at the video board, where actor Sylvester Stallone delivered a personal message for Carson about his scholarship.
“I know this: Blake will always remember the day he got a scholarship,” Fleck said. “Those are the moments and memories that connect a football team. And we’ve got a long way to go to connect them, but everything we do like that brings us a little bit closer together.”
Top receiver commits
The Gophers landed a commitment from Jornell Manns, a receiver from Mansfield, Ohio, who also had reported offers from Wisconsin, Penn State, West Virginia and Kentucky.
The 5-11, 185-pound Manns made unofficial visits to Ohio State and Wisconsin in recent days before visiting Minnesota. Manns announced his decision on Twitter.
The Gophers now have nine commitments for the Class of 2018 and moved up to No. 12 nationally in the 247Sports composite rankings.
Rain or shine
Saturday’s forecast calls for rain, but Fleck sounds determined to hold the spring game, as planned, at noon, at TCF Bank Stadium.
“We’re going to scrimmage, and we’re going to have some live football because I want to see where these guys are,” Fleck said.
Running back Shannon Brooks and defensive tackle Merrick Jackson are questionable for Saturday with injuries.
“Both are recovering really well, but I just don’t know if we’re going to bring them back just yet,” Fleck said. “I think they’re both very important moving forward, and if there’s anything that can further them being out, I’m not going to risk that at all.”