Joe Rossi might have enacted the most aggressive slide into the DMs in Twitter history.
The Gophers defensive coordinator was driving along the highway this past May when defensive quality control coach Danny Collins texted with the news: Michigan cornerback Benjamin St-Juste had just tweeted his intent to transfer as a graduate student with three years of eligibility.
“I literally pull over on the highway and [direct] messaged him,’ ” Rossi said of how desperately the Gophers wanted another good cornerback. “… Right there, boom, we’re on it.”
Rossi’s bold move worked, as he was the first coach to contact St-Juste about an opening. And there were no questions about his intent, with the coach immediately insisting St-Juste call him and set up a visit so he can see Minnesota’s campus and fall in love with it.
Two weeks later, St-Juste had done just that, and he officially joined the Gophers at the end of June. He needed a while to learn the playbook and acclimate to the team, but now the cornerback is coming off his best game in time to face Nebraska on Saturday.
In five games with one start this season, St-Juste has 11 tackles and four pass breakups. At Michigan, he played mostly on special teams as a freshman before sitting out the 2018 season because of a hamstring injury. The program actually told media outlets back in March the injury would force St-Juste to medically retire, but he instead transferred.
His injury granted him a redshirt year. And being from suburban Montreal, he graduated high school at 16 and took two years of community college in Canada, which helped him graduate from Michigan in 2½ years with a sociology degree, making him able to transfer without having to sit out a season.
That’s not the only unique aspect of St-Juste. He is 6-3 and 200-pounds with coverage skills, athleticism and flexibility. Part of that might come from 14 years as a speedy hockey defenseman before he decided he wanted to stand out from the Canadian crowd and be like his father, who was once a safety at Miami (Fla.) but broke his leg in training camp.
St-Juste speaks three languages: French, his first growing up in Quebec to a Canadian-born mother and Haitian-born father; Creole, his father’s native dialect; and English, which he only began building fluency in at age 17.
That was also the age he attended his first camp at Michigan. He left with an offer, and eventually garnered a four-star ranking and another offer from Virginia Tech.
Josh Helmholdt, a recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, said Canadian players — especially those not from Ontario — almost need to come to the United States either to play high school or attend camps to gain exposure, since not many college programs devote recruiting resources to trips north of the border.
And even after navigating scholarships, St-Juste still had to improve his English, work on his ACT score and take around 18 to 20 credits a semester to ensure he met the college academic standards.
“It was tough,” St-Juste said. “I didn’t have that many people telling me what to do, what to take in terms of classes.”
That experience, though, smoothed the way for his transition to the Gophers. He found what he describes as a family atmosphere in Minnesota, where coaches care about their players. He has teammates who want him to teach them to say, “How are you?” in French. He is working toward a master’s degree in sport management.
But St-Juste is still adjusting. Gophers coach P.J. Fleck joked how he has caught St-Juste mixing up his M’s, wearing Michigan flip-flops into the football facility instead of his Gophers ones. That, and the first word his teammates and coaches use to describe him is “quiet.”
“As he continues to come out of his cocoon, out of his shell, you see there’s many layers to him,” cornerbacks coach Rod Chance said. “In terms of his personality, in terms of his humor, things like that. Because he’s really a funny guy. He’s just not a man of many words.”
Well, except to a certain group of people. St-Juste said he makes sure to make himself open to young Canadian football players. In fact, they often slide into his DMs, too, asking for advice on how to play at the Power Five level just like him.
“I wouldn’t say a chip on my shoulder,” St-Juste said of being a Canadian player. “I would say more I’m always proud. I’m always happy to succeed or do good things here because there’s so many people back home looking up to me, wanting to do the same things.”