INDIANAPOLIS – P.J. Fleck had the leadoff role among coaches during Thursday's opening session of Big Ten football media days at Lucas Oil Stadium, and the Gophers coach came out fired up.
"This is just so great to be back,'' said Fleck said, referring to last year's absence of the conference gathering because of the coronavirus pandemic. "… Everybody's really excited for the 2021 season, and I know our coaches and our players are as well.''
Fleck is representing the Gophers in Indianapolis along with running back Mohamed Ibrahim, quarterback Tanner Morgan and defensive end Boye Mafe.
"We've got three unbelievable young men we brought here from the University of Minnesota,'' he said. "We always talk about, 'Make sure you're a better person than you are a football player,' and all three of these guys are definitely that."
Fleck called Ibrahim, the reigning Big Ten running back of the year, "a bowling ball going downhill with razor blades on it. He's not the biggest guy, the strongest guy or the fastest guy, but he is one of the toughest guys in the country, and I'm glad he's on our team.''
Fleck said he's looking for a breakout year from Mafe, an athletic 6-4, 265-pounder who had 4 ½ sacks last year. "He's an absolute freak when you talk about vertical jump, size, weight, speed,'' Fleck said. "He's going to come to this stadium one day, probably after this season, and just blow the [NFL] combine out of the water.''
Morgan, whose father, Ted, died July 12 after battling a brain tumor, received credit from Fleck for his leadership.
"Tanner Morgan is the heartbeat of our football team,'' Fleck said. "… To watch him go through that in the last year and a half as his dad battled brain cancer was incredibly inspiring to our team, inspiring to our city and our state.''
Fleck also described Ted Morgan as "a huge part of our program. He did a lot to bring a lot of people to our program.''
Other highlights from Fleck's news conference:
* Fleck said five-time cancer survivor Casey O'Brien, a former Gophers placekick holder, called him three days ago and said he received a clean cancer scan. "I'm proud to be able to say that,'' Fleck said. O'Brien, who gave a stirring speech at the last Big Ten Football media days in 2019, works for RBC Wealth Management.
* Fleck on offseason rumors that Tennessee was interested in him as a coaching candidate before it hired Josh Heupel. "There's rumors all the time in college football about coaches. I have no idea where that comes from. Once somebody starts speculating something, it goes like wildfire.''