March 4, 2014
Minnesota begins spring practice today at 4 p.m. (free and open to the public) with a new voice. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Mitch Leidner is ready to lead the Gophers as they begin (very) early preparations for the 2014 season. We caught up with the Lakeville, Minn., native to get his perspective as he enters his third spring practice at Minnesota.
GopherSports: Mitch, you are coming off a season where you saw extensive playing time and nearly led the Gophers to a comeback win in the Texas Bowl. What were your thoughts on the bowl game and how you played?
Mitch Leidner: Everyone was pretty mad after the bowl game, but all it did for me was make me really hungry to come into the winter workouts, spring ball and next season. It's exciting to see how many people we have coming back for next year. We have all those offensive linemen, running backs and receivers coming back and that makes it exciting to begin working with them today. I am really excited to get back out there. Going through all those workouts and captain's practices get me excited to see how much everyone has improved. I cannot wait to get back out on the field with them.
GS: You bring up a good point. You look at Minnesota's roster and almost everyone is coming back. It has to be exciting to know that when you are in the huddle next year, you will have played with almost everyone before.
ML: I am really excited. This winter has been really important, especially working with the receivers. Look at Donovahn Jones. He never even had a captain's practice last summer because he was playing quarterback the entire time. I feel like a lot of people do not realize that this is really his first offseason playing receiver. It will be exciting for people to come out during spring ball and see him making plays. The same goes with Drew, Isaac and Eric Carter as well. Those guys, and all our receivers, have been working hard and doing a great job this winter.
GS: What do you want to work on this spring?
ML: I really want to get my timing and pass plays down with the receivers. I want to get to the point where everyone is comfortable. If I see something then I can make a call and we can adjust and do different stuff off of that. I have been working on things that I know I need to work on all winter long, things I need to emphasize on. I want to carry that over into spring ball, like being more accurate. Those are things that you can never get enough work on. I want to get to a point where I am clicking with the receivers and everyone is really comfortable.
GS: You are only a redshirt sophomore, but this is your third spring practice. Do you feel like a veteran now?
ML: I feel like I have been here forever. I feel like I have the confidence of somebody who has been here forever, but I still have three years left. I am going to play like it is my senior year now.
GS: Coach Kill said you have stepped up and become a leader since the bowl game. Is that something that you naturally wanted to do or did it take some encouragement?
ML: It is something I wanted to do right after the bowl game. It is something I have wanted to do for a long time, but is has been hard being in a two-quarterback system to really be that guy. But after the bowl game I said I wanted to come back and, "Be that guy," and do everything I can. The way it worked out it was a lot easier than I expected. Guys have really responded well. It also helps when you are friends with everyone on the team and they all look up to you. Everyone wants to win.
GS: There are different kinds of leaders. Are you more of a vocal leader or do you lead more by example?
ML: I am a little bit of both. I will be here all day on a Saturday trying to get better. If we are doing a conditioning drill then I will get on some guys and tell guys that this is going to be our year. I am pretty much a mixture of both who can really respond well to the team.
GS: Sounds like Coach Kill is trying something new this year. If a player misses two classes then he and the rest of the players at his position have to report to the indoor facility. The player who missed the class has to stand and watch his teammates run. But we heard that the quarterbacks were running recently too, even though nobody missed a class?
ML: One of the defensive backs missed class for a second time, so all the defensive backs came in and ran on Friday morning. The guy who missed the class has to stand there and watch. All the quarterbacks were right there as well running with those guys.
GS: Why were the quarterbacks there? Was that your idea?
ML: It didn't even cross my mind not to be there. I never mind getting in another workout and we all have to be good team leaders.
GS: When you play football you instantly have more than 100 brothers, but your real brother, Matt, is a redshirt freshman this year. It has to be pretty neat to play with one another.
ML: It is fun, but we treat each other like teammates most of the time. There are a lot of brothers on this team and there have been a lot of brothers on this team, but it is definitely a fun experience to be here together and to go through everything with him. Being a year ahead of him I can help him out with things that I have already been through.
GS: He plays center and was your center in high school as well?
ML: He was the center and I was the quarterback when he was a junior and I was a senior. It was fun, but sometimes we would get into it every now and then. But anyone who is a competitor gets into it every now and then.
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