Head up. Ball in his hands. Shoulders lowered. Legs pumping.
Seth Green has barreled into the end zone like that more than a dozen times for the Gophers. No hulking defensive line or opposing student section deterring him from a touchdown.
In a way, that’s how Green moves through life. The fifth-year senior, beginning what could be his final collegiate season Saturday, has navigated a turbulent Gophers career that has created a flawed perception of Green’s character.
He was once a four-star quarterback recruit bound for Oregon; that’s when most Minnesota sports fans remember first hearing the name Seth Green. Except that name is associated with his never actually making it to Oregon, failing to become the starting QB for the Gophers, being wrapped up in teamwide sexual assault allegations.
Green could have transferred in the face of a yearlong suspension stemming from the allegations during his first year with the Gophers. The university eventually cleared him of any wrongdoing, and Green didn’t flinch away from his potentially marred reputation.
“I knew it wasn’t going to define me,” Green said. “I didn’t think it was something that would overshadow me if I stayed.”
He made sure of that.
What people might not see is how Green has become the Gophers’ definition of a good teammate, never sulking despite roaming from tight end to receiver to wildcat quarterback. He’s championed social causes and helped register teammates to vote. He participates in essentially every team community service outing.
“Seth’s been through a lot in his lifetime,” Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said. “… I’m really proud of him for not giving up on himself, not giving up on University of Minnesota football, not giving up on our state.
“And finding the good in everyone.”
Fleck credits Green with sparking his “aha” moment.
The two have spoken many times throughout the past few months since George Floyd’s killing on a Minneapolis street ignited a renewed call to end racism. Sometimes with other Gophers team leaders, sometimes just as a pair, discussing what the Gophers might do to help end racial inequality.
In one such conversation, Green asked Fleck, “How many African-American teachers have you ever had?”
“I answered, ‘None,’ ” Fleck said. “And that was the problem.”
While Fleck is supposed to be leading and mentoring the 22-year-old Green, the coach has found himself learning from him instead. Together with the team’s leadership council, they created a program called HERE — Help End Racism through Education — a monthly meeting where players and staff can share their experiences with racism and also learn from guest lecturers about the history of systemic racism in America.
Seth Green’s father, Bryan, a former Gophers running back, made sure to teach his three sons how to live in a world that might see only their skin color. He said he advised them to “be beyond reproach,” treat the police with respect, not draw unwanted attention from the clothes they wear or how loudly they speak, all with the priority of coming home alive.
“But then at the same time,” Bryan Green said, “I’ve told them … if you get the opportunity, use your platform to do good, to bring awareness. But you do it in an articulate, educated fashion so that the message doesn’t get lost.”
That’s exactly what Seth Green did after Floyd died in the same Minneapolis neighborhood where Green worked delivering groceries during the pandemic lockdown. Green took to his social media accounts, sharing his personal story of police cuffing him and holding him at gunpoint outside the Dinkytown McDonald’s for fitting a description from a recent burglary. He protested on the 35W bridge. He deftly explains to anyone who asks what white privilege and Black Lives Matter mean to him.
Green has worked to educate himself on everything from Breonna Taylor’s killing to the history of mass incarceration, reading books such as “The New Jim Crow.” He’s filmed promotional videos for the athletic department reminding fans to vote in the upcoming presidential election.
“He’s definitely taken on that role for our team,” said Brevyn Spann-Ford, Green’s teammate and good friend. “… We’re starting to put together different actions that our team wants to take this season to show our stand against social injustice, and he’s made sure to get all the voting information out to all of our players so that we can all be registered to vote.”
Green said he’s tried to open people’s minds this summer. But now it’s about action.
“They’re going to ask what and how they can change things, and making sure you can give them tangible things to do is important so that way it doesn’t just stop at the conversation piece,” Green said. “Making sure that you’d have the biggest impact possible.”
Green’s mother, Teresa, remembers when he was little, scouring the house for gifts — perhaps one of his toys or books — to send his father while deployed with the national guard. Bryan Green said his young son derived more joy out of carefully wrapping a stickman drawing and watching his parents open it than he did receiving a gift of his own.
Fast-forward 15 years or so, and the essence of Seth Green hasn’t changed.
Fleck said Green’s heart “is made for philanthropy.” Spann-Ford dubbed him “the serving and giving king,” one of the tenets of Fleck’s Row the Boat culture. Heather Fleck, the coach’s wife, said she often hears about how Green volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House or University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital on his own. People Serving People, Feed My Starving Children, countless elementary schools and more have all benefited from Green’s time.
Spann-Ford recalled once last winter when the pair signed up for Salvation Army bell ringing at the Mall of America. He feared it would be a boring or awkward way to spend two hours. Instead, it ended up being one of their most fun memories together, meeting and talking with various mall workers and shoppers.
“That’s just who he is. That’s just in his DNA,” said Sid Tomes, Green’s longtime friend. “… He just genuinely has a big heart, and he wants to give back. And that’s kind of what makes him tick. That’s what makes him go.”
Tomes added Green has a strong sense of self. He knows he’s an adventurous and curious mind, soon to have a master’s degree. He knows he’s passionate about adding to his vinyl collection, discovering new anime series and driving fast cars — in video games, at least.
He knows his voice as a college athlete resonates. He knows he’s trying to do good.
Head up, barrel forward. No matter what anyone thinks.
“His value of his life,” Fleck said, “will never be measured by how other people view him.”