Inside the walls of the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex is another story. Minnesota may have lost three starters, but still returns a wealth of experience in the defensive backfield.
Senior Damarius Travis, who started against TCU last year, but then missed the rest of the season with an injury is back after being granted a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA to compete in the 2016-17 season. Travis has played in 40 career games and has made 107 tackles, which includes 60 solo stops and 4.0 tackles-for-loss. Travis also has nine career pass breakups, two interceptions and has forced and recovered one fumble.
Adekunle Ayinde filled in admirably for Travis at safety last season when he was injured. The Blaine, Minn., native started 11 games and played in all 13 and made 43 tackles. He added 2.5 tackles-for-loss and received the team’s Gary Tinsley Underdog Award, which is presented to the student-athlete who best personifies the late Tinsley’s underdog spirit.
Jalen Myrick proved to be one of the best lockdown corners in the Big Ten last season as he saw extended action. The speedster from Savannah, Ga., has played in 34 games and started seven last season. He notched three interceptions on the season, which was second-best on the team and returned his pick at Purdue for a touchdown. It was his second career pick-six as a Gopher. Myrick made 27 tackles last season and added 3.5 tackles-for-loss and broke up three passes.
Duke McGhee has played in 23 career games and excelled in the defensive backfield last season as he saw significant playing time. McGhee, who is also a standout on special teams, ended the season with 41 tackles in 13 games, but recorded 12 tackles each against Illinois and Wisconsin. McGhee, who also broke up two passes last season, made his first career start in the Quick Lane Bowl against Central Michigan.
Another player who returns from injury for the upcoming season is safety Ace Rogers (will not participate in spring practice as he is still recovering). Rogers, who played previously at Iowa Western Community College and Iowa State, has one year of eligibility left. He played in three games last season before missing the final 10 with a knee injury. He made 11 tackles and broke up one pass – a Hail Mary attempt in the final seconds against Ohio – last season.
KiAnte Hardin and Antonio Shenault were true freshman last season who saw action with the Minnesota defense. Hardin, who also returns punts and kicks, played in all 13 games and made 13 tackles, one tackle-for-loss and also broke up one pass as he was named Minnesota’s Outstanding Defensive Freshman of the Year. Shenault played in 12 games and started on defense at Purdue. He ended the season with 15 tackles and also broke up one pass.
The Gophers have six more defensive backs on the spring roster in Alex Starks, Ray Buford, Zo Craighton, Dior Johnson, Jacob Huff and Joey Gorgen.
Starks, who is an upcoming senior and has not played in a game for the Gophers, is also returning to the defense after missing last season with a knee injury.
Buford, Craighton and Johnson all redshirted last season as true freshman, while Huff played in eight games. He saw most of his action on special teams and he ended the season with one tackle.
Gorgen attended Minnesota last season, but was not a member of the football team. He joined the squad as a walk-on prior to spring practice.
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