One fundamental change P.J. Fleck wants to make to the Gophers football program is moving practices from afternoons to mornings, the new coach said Wednesday.
Northwestern has held morning practices for years, under Pat Fitzgerald, and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz made the switch from afternoon to morning practices in 2015. Fleck said he has heard five of the 14 Big Ten teams now practice in the mornings.
Fleck switched Western Michigan to morning practices after his first season there and liked how it worked for his final three years with the Broncos. He hopes to convert the Gophers to morning practices by this fall, though internal university discussions are ongoing.
One potential drawback to morning practices would be trimming the list of available undergraduate classes, which mostly fall between 8 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Shrinking class options could make it harder for players to complete certain majors. Allowing them to start class at 11 a.m., instead of noon, for example, could make a difference.
“That was the leeway I gave them,” Fleck said of his discussions with the administration. “I said, ‘If noon is too hard, we’re usually done with practice before 11 anyway.’ ”
But Fleck stressed the academic benefits of morning practices.
“First of all, when you come to a university that’s a top-20 public institution in the country, the No. 1 thing obviously is our academics,” he said. “And I understand all that. I think part of having morning practices makes them a better student.”
Fleck said with morning practices, coaches wouldn’t have to worry about players sleeping in and missing class. Their day would start with a 7 a.m. team meeting, often including a motivational session “on a certain topic that gives them perspective for the entire day.”
“At 11 a.m., they’re done with football for the rest of the day,” Fleck said. “Their academic tutors clear up — those become easily accessible to schedule, meetings with professors that might have only office time at 4:45-5. They can at least go there because their whole afternoon’s [open].”
Fleck noted that his Western Michigan team went 1-11 practicing in the afternoons, before going 8-5, 8-5 and 13-1 as a morning-practice team.
“I want our faculty to understand how important this is, even for them, so they can get the best student from our student-athletes every single day,” Fleck said. “We went from a 2.48 GPA when we had afternoon practices, to a 3.14, the highest ever in the program’s history when we were in morning classes, and it continued to rise every year.”
Three off to combine
Three former Gophers have been invited to the NFL scouting combine — quarterback Mitch Leidner, cornerback Jalen Myrick and safety Damarius Travis. The event runs Feb. 28 through March 6 in Indianapolis.
Benny Sapp III, son of former Vikings cornerback Benny Sapp, gave the Gophers their first 2018 commitment last weekend. Sapp III is a 6-foot, 180-pound cornerback who transferred to Eden Prairie from St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He has had two surgeries to repair a torn anterior cuciate ligament in his knee but also had reported offers from Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State, among others.