Andy Greder / St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS — Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck often referred to the 2017 season as "Year Zero." That was his way of establishing some breathing room to ingrain his culture, while also attempting to keep some of the results at arms length. But with his Gophers finishing 5-7 overall and 2-7 in the Big Ten in 2017, his first season provided a range of data points and potential early indications on where he could take the Gophers over the next five years of his contract. Here's a look at some of the numbers: Anemic offense
ST. PAUL — Minnesota United will send attacking midfielder Johan Venegas to Costa Rican club Saprissa on a one-year loan, a source confirmed Thursday, Dec. 21. Venegas was acquired by the Loons in a trade with Montreal during last year's expansion draft. With the second pick, Minnesota selected defender Chris Duvall of the New York Red Bulls and then traded him and general allocation money to Montreal for Venegas. Duvall started 25 games for Montreal last season.
As Rashod Bateman excelled in the football recruiting hotbed of Georgia in the fall, the senior wide receiver needed Gophers coach P.J. Fleck to trust him. Not the other way around. While Bateman had pledged to be in Minnesota's 2018 recruiting class back in June, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound playmaker was climbing Georgia's high school record book and garnering more attention throughout the fall and into winter. After he finished fifth all time in the state with 1,573 receiving yards in a season, he was bumped from a three- to a four-star recruit.
MINNEAPOLIS — The Instagram live videos from Gophers football players started popping up around midnight on Dec. 9. The majority of Minnesota's incoming recruiting class — many of whom will sign national letters of intent beginning Wednesday, Dec. 20 — were enthralled by the work of a hypnotist during their official visits to campus. The audience was laughing and documenting the action with cameraphones as their teammates and future teammates became sleepy ... very, very sleepy.
MINNEAPOLIS — Eric Decker, the Gophers' all-time leading receiver, was with New York Jets in 2015 when he returned home to give a speech. At the Central Minnesota Sports Awards in St. Cloud, Decker stressed the importance of savoring high school memories, like the ones he made as a 2005 graduate of Rocori High School in Cold Spring. St. Cloud Tech sophomore receiver Brevyn Spann-Ford was listening in the audience.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Eden Prairie's Mr. Do-Everything during the 2017 season rose above all other Minnesota high school players to win the Mr. Football award Sunday, Dec. 9. But Antonio Montero's college destination for next year is much less definitive. "We'll see how it shakes out. ... We'll see how that goes. ... I'll just have to stay patient and see what else comes," Montero repeated when discussing his views on opportunities with the Gophers, North Dakota State, Iowa State, Air Force and Illinois.
MINNEAPOLIS — IMG Academy had the most intimidating water boy you've ever seen during the 2016 football season. The 6-foot-9, nearly 400-pound Daniel Faalele had arrived at the Bradenton, Fla., college prep school without any football experience, so the native Australian's sporting activities were limited to practice during his junior season. On game days, he helped keep teammates hydrated. "People would look crazy when he came out and took the water to our kids," said Kevin Wright, IMG Academy's head football coach.
ST. PAUL — Elwin Fontaine opened the door to his small St. Paul apartment on Thursday morning, Dec. 7, and was greeted by Minnesota United midfielder Ethan Finlay delivering him hot and cold lunches from Meals on Wheels. "So many of us need it," Fontaine said. "It's not only food, it's cheer." An enthusiastic Finlay joined Loons mascot "PK" and Meals on Wheels reps in delivering fresh food to residents in the neighborhoods around Allianz Field, the club's under-construction stadium set to open at Interstate 94 and Snelling Avenue in spring 2019.
MINNEAPOLIS—With less than two weeks left until the early signing period opens, the Gophers football program has just two vacancies in its 2018 recruiting class. Revised NCAA rules passed in April have further capped the number of recruits Football Bowl Subdivision schools can sign each year to 25, meaning Minnesota's 23 current pledges are bumping up against the cap.
MINNEAPOLIS — Gophers recruiting target Curtis Dunlap backed away from his oral commitment to the Florida Gators on Tuesday morning, Dec. 5. "I've decided to decommit from the University of Florida and open my recruitment back up," Dunlap tweeted. Dunlap pledged to the Gators in July, then received offer from Minnesota on Nov. 10 and now plans to visit Minneapolis this weekend, according to 247sports.com.