Antoine Winfield Jr. was the Gophers’ rescuer this time last season.
The safety tracked back and stretched all of his 5-10 frame to snatch a for-sure score from Fresno State, preserving the Gophers’ 21-14 victory with about a minute to play.
Two games later, Winfield endured his second consecutive season-ending injury. But that interception remains one of the Gophers’ best plays of 2018. Now, he is back from his foot injury and will look to craft a similar highlight Saturday at Fresno State.
In last week’s season opener, Winfield made four tackles and a pass breakup in the victory over South Dakota State. One of his memorable moments was pressuring quarterback J’Bore Gibbs into throwing a pick-six in the third quarter.
Gophers defensive coordinator Joe Rossi called Winfield “one of the best in the country.” But coach P.J. Fleck said he felt Winfield was a little too enthusiastic in the first game. Fleck pointed to when Winfield uncharacteristically jumped offside when coming in on a quarterback sack and ended up missing out on what could have been an 8-yard loss.
“He almost, at times, wanted to overperform,” Fleck said. “He wanted to do everyone else’s job at times because he’s that good. … But again, he hasn’t played football in a long time. Let’s never forget that.”
Winfield said he knows he needs to do a better job in many areas. But for a player who has appeared in only eight games over the past two seasons, settling that eagerness is tough.
“I was just excited to be out there, to be honest,” he said. “I just love it when I’m able just to play, and I’m healthy.”