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Gophers senior linebacker Blake Cashman, the team’s leading tackler, announced Tuesday that he won’t play in the Dec. 26 Quick Lane Bowl and instead will focus on preparing for the NFL draft.

“It’s been an amazing ride,” he told the Star Tribune. “I cannot thank everyone enough who’s been along my journey since I stepped foot on campus and helped put me in the position I am today to have that chance to chase a dream of mine ever since I was a little boy.

“It was very hard for me,” he added, “because I love my team and I love being around those guys.”

Cashman said he considered the move after the season and discussed it with coach P.J. Fleck. One of the biggest factors, Cashman said, was the fact that he had three separate shoulder surgeries in the past 11 months.

“That’s something that is a big concern,” said Cashman, who wore a cuff on one shoulder this season. “I need to get some imaging done and make sure my shoulders are healthy, because I would hate for an injury — really something you can’t control — to have any bearing on my opportunity to get on [an NFL] team.

“… Football’s a violent game, and the wear and tear of a long season takes its toll on a body.

Cashman joins senior offensive tackle Donnell Greene in ending their Gophers careers before the Quick Lane Bowl to prepare for possible NFL careers. Greene underwent knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus, an injury with which he dealt during the last half of the season.

The Gophers could be without other players as well. On Tuesday, the Star Tribune reported that at least six players are being disciplined and withheld from practice. They could face suspensions that last through the Quick Lane Bowl, several sources said.

Strong senior season

A former walk-on from Eden Prairie, Cashman led the Gophers with 104 tackles and tied for the team lead with 15 tackles for loss. He added 2.5 sacks, five pass breakups and forced and returned a fumble 40 yards for a touchdown. He earned second-team All-Big Ten honors, and Pro Football Focus named him to its second All-America team.

Cashman was at his best down the stretch, with nine tackles, a half-sack and the fumble return in the 41-10 rout of Purdue. The following week, he made a career-high 20 tackles in a 24-14 loss to Big Ten West champion Northwestern. He was ejected for targeting in the second quarter of the Gophers’ 37-15 win at Wisconsin.

Cashman will relish that victory over the Badgers, Minnesota’s first vs. Wisconsin since 2003 and first in Madison since 1994.

“That was without a doubt the highlight of my career as a Gopher even though I wasn’t able to play too much because of that ejection,” Cashman said. “With the fans and all the love and support we got because of that, you couldn’t put into words the emotions that were running through me.”

Replacing Cashman likely will be senior Julian Huff, who filled in against Wisconsin and had four tackles and intercepted a pass.

After Cashman’s game against Northwestern, Fleck raved about his play and what he means to the team.

“I wish I had 130 Blake Cashmans, because he’s exactly what college football is all about, what it should be about,” Fleck said. “He’s a very selfless player. What he did today was really special, and I’ll remember that the rest of my life.”