The Gophers are in a quarterback battle. And according to teammates and coaches, it is absolutely neck and neck.
So close, in fact, that there’s hardly any difference between Zack Annexstad and Tanner Morgan.
“They both, pretty much, are equal, very equal,” senior receiver Tyler Johnson said. “So there’s pretty much no change in the offense at all when both of them get out there.”
On the field, the two quarterbacks might exude the same confidence and command the same respect. They split time last year, with Morgan taking over for injured Annexstad about halfway through the season. But off the field, believe it or not, they are different people.
Sophomore receiver Demetrius Douglas revealed that Annexstad has quite the flair for fashion. In fact, Annexstad owns about 30 pairs of sneakers, his most coveted being some Air Jordan 1s.
His outfits are just an outward extension of his “fun” and “goofy” personality, as Morgan described it. In fact, Annexstad slid into an interview with pal receiver Rashod Bateman on Tuesday during the Gophers’ media day, iPhone held out, pretending to ask questions like the media. Tuesday was actually Annexstad’s first meeting with local journalists; the Gophers don’t often allow true freshmen to do interviews, but he’s already nailed the routine.
Morgan, on the other hand, termed himself a “simple kid from Kentucky,” who spends most of his free time on football, going to church, hunting and fishing. But there’s some edge to that image now.
The redshirt sophomore isn’t quite going to grow a thick beard and join a biker gang, but he did get his first tattoo on his right forearm three weeks ago, a cross with an alpha and omega symbol to represent a favorite Bible verse. His grandparents love the idea but not necessarily the ink, thus it took four months of convincing for Morgan to make it to a parlor.
Another Kentucky native, sophomore tight end Jake Paulson, finally dragged the quarterback into the chair, sick of listening to him hem and haw. Paulson joked that he bet $5 Morgan would cry, but he ended up holding it together.
“I was super nervous,” Morgan explained. “I was scared of needles.”
Something Annexstad and Morgan do have in common, though, is dealing with adversity. For Morgan, that was losing the starting position to Annexstad in last year’s training camp. For Annexstad, it was a left ankle injury in the third game of the year combined with an internal midsection injury about a month later that sent him to the hospital and ultimately cost him his job.
As a starter, Annexstad went 3-4 while Morgan was 4-2, including the wins at Wisconsin and in the bowl game. Annexstad had a hard time even talking about his injuries last season, saying they put life and football in perspective for him.
“The game can be taken away from you really quick,” Annexstad said. “Situations change in football really fast.”
Annexstad wants a chance to fully show his capability. Morgan wants to prove he’s more than a pinch hitter. But that doesn’t mean the two are out for sabotage.
“Obviously, we’re competing with each other, but I think off the field we’re good friends. We’ll hang out together,” Annexstad said. “If we were to be bickering back and forth all the time, I think that wouldn’t look good for the whole team. ... It’s not like movies where, like, dudes are getting in fistfights in the locker room.”
Coach P.J. Fleck will make his decision sometime during training camp. He said Annexstad, Morgan and the other quarterbacks will split reps equally when practice begins Wednesday. But the performance from there on out will determine who earns more opportunities.
En route to whoever has the ball a month from now in the season opener, the Gophers are expecting a thrilling journey.
“It’s going to be a fun show to watch fall camp,” sophomore running back Mohamed Ibrahim said. “Because you know that they’re both going to bring their ‘A’ game. This is going to come down to the wire to see who gets that starting position.”