– Antoine Winfield Jr. motioned for the group to back up before he launched the football high in the air. A dozen or so kids splashed through the waves with outstretched arms, diving for the catch before crashing into the water.

The Gophers safety — along with his roommates, receiver Clay Geary and defensive end Carter Coughlin — played catch with some young fans at Clearwater Beach on Monday, one of the final days to enjoy Florida before Wednesday’s Outback Bowl. Other Gophers swam in the Gulf of Mexico, played bean-bag toss in the sand, signed plenty of autographs and posed for many pictures. Teammates buried offensive lineman Conner Olson in the sand up to his neck before drawing a six-pack on him.

Both the No. 18 Gophers and No. 12 Auburn made appearances at the event, with Gophers coach P.J. Fleck speaking to the crowd heavy with fans having escaped a snowstorm back in Minnesota for a warm ocean breeze.

“I wish we came every day, to be honest with you,” defensive tackle Micah Dew-Treadway said. “The beach is a sanctuary. It’s just relaxing. We can do whatever we want.”

Dew-Treadway called himself “maniacal” about game preparation, with Wednesday’s meeting with the SEC powerhouse always in the back of his mind. But Monday’s outing gave him and the rest of the team a nice respite.

While an overcast sky prevented any sunbathing, these college guys didn’t have any trouble having fun, reverting back into kids themselves. Coughlin, for example, borrowed a boogie board to skid across the shallow water.

“It’s definitely a good reward,” Dew-Treadway said.

Fleck to speak

The American Football Coaches Association announced that Fleck will be the kickoff speaker at its convention Jan. 12-14 in Nashville. That’s another task added to the coach’s convention schedule, as he has already said he plans to interview many coaches there for openings on his staff, including at defensive line and offensive coordinator.