whi Two University of Minnesota football players will participate in the National Football League's Scouting Combine, which begins tomorrow, Feb. 18, in Indianapolis at the RCA Dome. Running back Thomas Tapeh and tight end Ben Utecht will join more than 300 other players at the combine.
Tapeh, a physically-punishing running back, joined with Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney in 2003 to form one of the nation's best backfields. The Gophers finished third in the nation in rushing, averaging 289.15 yards per game. Tapeh aided that ranking by totaling 570 yards and serving as the lead blocker for Barber and Maroney, each of who tallied 1,000 yards rushing last season. Those achievements came only one year after Tapeh teamed with tailback Terry Jackson in 2002 to become one of only two teams (West Virginia) to have two running backs total at least 900 yards rushing. Tapeh finished the 2002 campaign with 906 yards on the ground.
Tapeh finished 12th on the school's all-time rushing chart with 1,958 yards and is tied with Marion Barber III at No. 4 on the school's all-time rushing touchdown list with 24. He is also tied for fifth all-time in season rushing touchdowns with 11 in 2003.
Utecht was a semifinalist for the John Mackey Award in 2003 and is recognized as one of the nation's finest tight ends. He has made great strides in his blocking technique and has turned into a very versatile tight end. He owns Minnesota career record for receiving yards by a tight end (1,211) and ranks 12th overall in school history in receiving yardage. The Hastings, Minn., native also ranks 10th on the Gophers' all-time receptions list with 83 career catches and is tied for third in school history with 15 career touchdown receptions.
Utecht has surprising speed and great hands for a player his size and has also proven to be an effective deep threat for tight end. A first-team All-Big Ten selection and a member of both the ESPN.com and College Football News All-Big Ten Team, Utecht had 18 catches for 289 yards and two touchdowns despite playing in only 10 games. He had a career-best 16.1 yards per reception in 2003 after setting career-highs in receptions (37), yards receiving (480) and touchdowns (6) in 2002.