Bryan Cupito may care the least of anybody if he breaks any school records.
The senior quarterback is approaching several career milestones that will help him leave his mark among the Gopher greats. Only four games into his senior season, Cupito is currently second in all-time career touchdown passes, third in career passing yardage and fifth in career passing completions and completion percentage. He will likely move up on the list in all of the categories over the course of this year.
But personal statistics and records do little for Cupito.
“I don’t really get into records and all that stuff,” Cupito said. “Records are going to be broken eventually by somebody.”
Cupito has a goal much loftier than improving his personal statistics in order to cement his place in Gophers’ history.
“I just want to win,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll be remembered as the guy who got to the Rose Bowl. That’s my goal, and if not the Rose Bowl than another good bowl. I feel like if I don’t do that I’ll just be considered another quarterback. (The program)’s reached the level of going to a bowl game every year. I think for someone to really stand out you’ve got to want to get to the next level, which is going to a major bowl game.”
Cupito has always been overly harsh on his individual performance in games, in the hopes of making himself the best player possible. But over the years, he has turned his harsh personal criticism into a positive that helps his game rather than hinders it.
“After the California game this year I was pretty disappointed in myself,” Cupito said. “I take things pretty serious during the games. If we lose, I feel like I did something wrong that cost us a chance to win. I really focus on what I could have done to help the team win. Things have gotten better than they were two years ago, but I’m still the same.”
Cupito considers the best part of the game his decision making, which he said has improved greatly since his first year as a starter. He now possesses the poise and experience to make the big plays at the right times.
“As you get older, you start maturing about things,” Cupito said. “But time is the biggest factor. I don’t make too many bad decisions. I really work on that in practice. Our coaches really emphasize good decisions, and I think I do a pretty good job of not turning the ball over. I still do it, but not a lot. If I turn the ball over, I know it’s going to hurt our team.”
Although Cupito is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the Big Ten this season, his name is not mentioned alongside the conference’s elite.
Does Cupito think he deserves that level of respect?
“I would say we’ll find out in these next games,” he said. “There are a few quarterbacks in the Big Ten who have really gotten respect because they’ve gotten their team to the big bowl games and made a lot of really good plays. For me to get to that level, I’ve got to do the same thing for my team: win us some big games and make plays in the big games.”
While Cupito may be his own biggest critic, head coach Glen Mason is more complimentary than critical of Cupito's performance since he took the reins from Asad Abdul-Khaliq following the 2003 season.
“Bryan is more capable than anybody we’ve had around here to run our offense,” said Mason. “He’s played pretty good football the last three years and he’s always been an accurate passer. He’s a smart and durable guy and he has an air of confidence about him and an air of leadership. I look for him to build off that and have an exceptional year."
After three years as the Gophers’ starting quarterback, Cupito may still be flying under the radar on the national scale on a team that has always been known for its running rather than its passing. But at least one opposing coach is paying attention.
“(Cupito)’s an experienced guy now, and I think those coaches put the game in his hands and feel good about it,” Purdue coach Joe Tiller said prior to the Gophers’ game against the Boilermakers on Sept. 23. “He’s very talented, and I think with all the quarterbacks coming back (in the Big Ten) he probably has been overlooked, a little unfairly.”
So far, Cupito is most heralded among Gophers fans for his performances in two noteworthy games last season. He threw what was then a career-high three touchdown passes against 10th-ranked Purdue to lead the Gophers to a 42-35 double overtime victory on Sept. 24, 2005. And he will forever be remembered for last season’s 23-20 upset victory at Michigan on Oct. 8, where he helped bring the Little Brown Jug back to Minnesota for the first time in 19 years despite fighting an injury.
But after losing four players that starred last season to the 2006 NFL draft (Greg Eslinger, Laurence Maroney, Anthony Montgomery and Mark Setterstrom), Cupito knows he needs to carry more responsibility for the Gophers to win big games this year.
“Those guys made a lot of our big plays, so it requires me to make more big plays in order for this team to be successful,” Cupito said. “But it’s going to mean that a lot more guys will have to step up and make plays. We have one star player at tight end – Matt Spaeth – but other than that we have a lot of guys just trying to make plays on offense and defense. We’re more of a team this year than we were last year."
Cupito said he realizes it will be difficult for him to follow the footsteps of his former teammates to the NFL.
“I’m going to see what happens,” he said. “I know it’s going to be a long shot for me to make the NFL, but I’ll kind of base it off how the season goes and what opportunites come up. (The NFL) is everyone’s goal. Hopefully it’s possible, and I’ll get the opportunity to do it.
“But it’s not life or death. I’m not going to base my life off trying to make the NFL.”
That’s because Cupito has a solid back-up plan.
He received his diploma prior to the start of the season, graduating with a business and marketing degree last spring. He is currently working on his master’s in sports management with plans on graduating this summer.
His changing outlook on the importance of his education is another example of Cupito’s maturation throughout the past three seasons.
“When I first got here, I wanted to graduate,” Cupito said. “I thought it would be great, but it wasn’t my main goal. Then about two years into school, I saw that I could really do it and I got excited about it.
“Two years ago, I never would have thought I would go for my master’s degree. But when I saw the opportunity, I wanted to take advantage of it. I just felt like I wanted to use my scholarship wisely, and it could lead to job opportunities down the road.”
But for his senior football season, Cupito is focusing on doing whatever possible to lead the Gophers to a top bowl game.
“I think we have a good chance, because I think every team (in the Big Ten) has a legitimate chance this year,” he said. “On any give day, we can win just as much as we can lose. I feel like it’s wide open and we have to take one game at a time and hope to have a good season.”
If it doesn’t happen, the chronic self-critic said he wouldn’t feel worthy of being remembered among the Gophers best all-time quarterbacks, despite his records and statistics.
“Hopefully I’ll get us to a great bowl game and that’s how I’ll be remembered,” Cupito said.
story by Emily Wickstrom, athletic communications student assistant