When P.J. Fleck was introduced as Minnesota’s head coach on Jan. 6, 2017, he said it was a new era of Gopher football.
That new era will also feature a new quarterback, as Mitch Leidner, who started 41 games for the Gophers has graduated and is now pursuing professional aspirations. Leidner finished his career ranked in the top five all-time in passing yards, passing touchdowns, completion percentage, completions and attempts.
Minnesota must replace one of its most productive quarterbacks in school history and has six options to choose from in spring practice. The group includes fifth-year senior Conor Rhoda, junior Neil McLaurin, redshirt sophomore Demry Croft, redshirt freshman Seth Green and freshmen Tanner Morgan and Samuel Pickerign. However, only Rhoda and Croft have played in a game and they have combined for 34 career pass attempts and one touchdown.
Rhoda is a local product who attended Cretin-Derham Hall before enrolling at Minnesota. He is the most tenured of the group, as he has played in five career games (two in 2014 and three in 2016). Rhoda started and played the entire game at Maryland last season and led Minnesota to a 31-10 victory. He completed 7-of-15 passes in the road win for 82 yards and one touchdown. Rhoda also played against Illinois and Indiana State last season and appeared in two games in 2014. He did not play in a game in 2015, but was named the Offensive Work Team Player of the Year.
McLaurin enrolled at Minnesota in January after transferring from Southwest Mississippi Community College. He was injured in the first game of the 2015 season but started eight games for the Bears in 2016. He completed 85 passes for 964 yards and eight touchdowns. On the ground he added 440 yards and six touchdowns on 80 carries.
Croft redshirted last season after playing in three games in 2015. The Rockford, Ill., native completed 7-of-17 passes for 34 yards and rushed nine times for 38 yards in 2015 in games against Northwestern, Purdue and Ohio State.
Green redshirted last season and was named the Offensive Work Team Player of the Year. He spent his senior season at Allen High School in Allen, Texas, and helped lead the Eagles to a 14-1 record and a berth in the state championship game. Green completed 81 passes for 1,481 yards and 19 touchdowns and rushed 99 times for 865 yards and 10 scores. Prior to his family moving to Texas, Green played three years at East Ridge High School in Woodbury, Minn. Green led the Raptors to a 9-2 record as a junior and to the state quarterfinals and completed 142 passes for 1,850 yards and 20 touchdowns. He also rushed 107 times for 551 yards and five scores.
Morgan enrolled at Minnesota in January after a standout high school career in Kentucky. He played his junior and senior seasons at Ryle High School after playing his first two years at Hazard High School. As a senior, he passed for 2,747 yards and 27 touchdowns as Ryle finished with a 12-1 record and reached the 6-A state quarterfinals. He also rushed for 320 yards and five touchdowns en route to being named a finalist for Kentucky's Mr. Football award. He ended his high school career as one of only a few Kentucky high school quarterbacks to pass for more than 10,000 yards in his career.
Pickerign graduated from Minnehaha Academy in 2016 and is a freshman for the Gophers. In 2015, as a senior in high school he completed 48-of-82 passes for 980 yards and 14 touchdowns.
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