In 1996 with two games left in the season, Jim Wacker was notified that he would not return as head coach of the Golden Gophers. Mired in a six-game losing streak, Wacker led his team out of the Metrodome tunnel for the final time on Nov. 16, 1996 for a matchup with the Illinois Fighting Illini. Led by then-junior Cory Sauter, the Golden Gophers used a last minute to drive to send their head coach out with a 23-21 victory.
Sauter would return for his senior season under a new coach, and capped off his career as the school's all-time leader in several passing categories. Sauter currently ranks third in career passing yards, second in completions, fourth in touchdown passes and third in completion percentage. Following his career at the U, he went on to spend seven years in the NFL. After spending 2006 as a Graduate Assistant for the Golden Gophers, Sauter spent a year with the Berlin Thunder as quarterbacks coach in the World Football League. He was then hired at Southwest Minnesota State in Marshall, Minn., and was named head coach prior to the 2010 season.
This profile of Cory Sauter appeared in Minnesota's official game program on October 11, 1997.
It's a job that requires a quick mind, a strong arm and the ability to provide leadership to his team. It's the place on the football field where everybody focuses their attention almost every play. It's a position where heroes are born and legends are made. It is the quarterback.
This season the Golden Gopher quarterbacks have a new look. The recent years of high flying passes and big play possibilities are not gone, but the Minnesota quarterbacks operate a more balanced attack that features the run as much as the pass. The offense has produced 54 percent of its total yards through the air and 46 percent on the ground so far this season. It is the quarterback that sets the tone for the offense to move the ball.
Senior Cory Sauter has been the starting signal caller for the Golden Gopher offense that has averaged 309.6 yards per game. In Sauter's 32 career games in the Maroon and Gold, the 6-5, 214 pound Hutchinson, Minn., native has broken just about every passing record in Golden Gopher history. He currently holds the Gophers' career completions record with 479, the career passing yards record with 5,995 and career touchdown passes mark with 36. Sauter holds the first and second spots on the Gophers' passing yardage in a season chart, posting a mark of 2,600 yards his sophomore season and 2,578 yards his junior season. Sauter also occupies four of the top 10 single-game passing yardage marks in Gopher history and has the school record the most 300-yard-plus games with seven.
With numbers like that, one might think that Sauter might saunter around campus with a big ego, but that is just not his style.
"Records are nice, but there are a lot of other things that are a part of being on a football team," Sauter said. "All of the relationships with all of the different players over the years is something that I am going to take with me the rest of my life."
The mild-mannered, soft-spoken Sauter came to the U of M five years ago after being courted by some of the nation's top passing schools. With the likes of Miami, Brigham Young, Colorado, Wyoming and all of the schools in the Big Ten beating on Sauter's door, he made the decision to come to Minnesota.
"I don't have any regrets in choosing Minnesota," Sauter said. "I never said to myself 'Why didn't I go here or there?' Minnesota is where I decided to go, and Minnesota is where I have committed myself 100 percent. It is where I have dedicated myself to giving all of my time and effort to make this team the best it possibly can be."
When Sauter arrived at Minnesota he had many expectations placed upon him because he was so highly recruited. During his first year in Gold Country, Sauter stood on the sidelines and watched how things were done at the college level. He did not get into any games that year and was redshirted. But that year gave him a chance to develop and to learn the system. When the 1994 season rolled around, Sauter found himself behind two senior quarterbacks.
"I was kind of in the mix that year," Sauter said. "I had a couple of opportunities that I didn't do that well in, and I knew I still had a long ways to go to be a starting quarterback in the Big Ten."
After the 1994 season, then head coach Jim Wacker brought in former NFL quarterback Jim Zorn to coach the signal callers, a move that helped Sauter develop into a young gun.
"Coach Zorn really helped me make some big strides during his time here," Sauter reflected. "He taught me how to mentally prepare myself for games and helped me to gain a lot of confidence in what I do."
The coaching staff change after the 1996 season brought another change in Sauter's coach. A receivers coach under Wacker, Kevin Sumlin became Sauter's new quarterback coach, a move that has spurred Sauter onto another stage in his development.
"Coach Sumlin has helped me to understand the running game more than I did before," Sauter said. "With the new offensive philosophy, there have been a lot more requirements for me to run the football, to move around more and to use my feet more. Having more balance in the offensive game plan has helped me in taking some of the pressure off my shoulders.
"Coach Sumlin is really tough on my footwork, making sure that if it's a running play, I am able to use the correct footwork to give the perfect handoff. In the passing game, he has helped me get my feet in the right position to throw the football. When my feet are in the right position, that is when I am the most accurate."
The 1997 Sports Illustrated College Football preview referred to Sauter as the 1997 version of Jim Druckenmiller: "the best quarterback you've never heard of." A former start at Virginia Tech, Druckenmiller became a first-round draft choice of the San Francisco 49ers and recently made his professional debut starting in place of an injured Steve Young. Such a lofty comparison might have most players' heads ready to burst, but not Sauter.
"I try not to think about what other people say about me, whether good or bad," Sauter said. "I know what I am capable of doing on the field. I really just want to focus on performing at my best each and every game and make sure that my focus is where it needs to be rather than on any outside distractions."
Although Sauter's effort and attitude will be missed next season, the Golden Gophers are blessed with a wealth of talent waiting for a chance to play. Sophomore Billy Cockerham is Sauter's backup this season. Cockerham has appeared in two games this season with four pass attempts and four completions for two touchdowns.
A multi-talented performer, he and Sauter form a potent one-two punch at the quarterback position for the Golden Gophers.
Waiting in the wings are freshman Andy Persby and sophomore Ryan Keller. They will present formidable challenges for the starting job next season. Persby, a 6-3, 219 pound redshirt freshman from St. Paul, Minn., threw for a 2,827 yards as a high school senior, while Keller, a 6-2, 200-pounder from Chicago, Ill., transferred to Minnesota this season from the University of Kentucky and will not be eligible to play until next season due to NCAA rules.
The quick mind, strong arm and leadership qualities are essential to any college quarterback. With Sauter and Cockerham leading the way and Persby and Keller learning the ropes behind them, the long and storied tradition of Golden Gopher quarterbacks is sure to continue
Written by Mike Vidnovic
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