Justin Juenemann was minding his own business Wednesday morning, waiting for a meeting to start in the Gophers’ team room in the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex.
Less than 24 hours later the senior kicker, who never has appeared in a Minnesota game, became a national celebrity after being interviewed on Thursday morning’s "SportsCenter’’ on ESPN and seeing his photo all over social media platforms.
"It’s been a whirlwind. It’s been insane,’’ Juenemann said Thursday afternoon. “Never would I have thought just about 24 hours ago this would have happened.’’
“This’’ was a Twitter video from P.J. Fleck that shows the coach striding into the meeting room with Kyle Tanner, a patient at the University of Minnesota’s Masonic Children’s hospital.
And, oh yeah, in his right hand, Fleck had an air cannon, locked and loaded with a T-shirt.
After Tanner, 22, addressed the team, speaking about the challenges he’s faced following a bone marrow transplant nearly six months ago, Fleck asked Tanner to identify his favorite player.
Turns out, that player is Juenemann, who hasn’t missed a session when groups of Gophers visit the children’s hospital.
Here’s where the fun really started.
Fleck turned over the air cannon to Tanner, who fired the T-shirt to Juenemann, who made a great catch.
“I was kind of surprised I caught it,’’ Juenemann said. “It was coming in pretty hot.’’
Juenemann initially thought it was merely a white T-shirt. After a few moments, he looked it over and saw the block letters: Justin, congratulations on earning a scholarship!
“Who does that?’’ Juenemann asked about Fleck’s unorthodox announcement style. “He’s that unique type of person. … That’s just P.J. Fleck.’’
Though Juenemann’s on-field impact as a Gopher hasn’t been big, his off-field contributions helped earn the scholarship. Along the way, he became friends with Tanner who, according to his Caring Bridge website, has Fanconi anemia, a rare condition that increases the risk of certain cancers, including leukemia.
“All of us think some days we have it pretty tough,’’ Juenemann said. “… When you at Kyle, look at people in the children’s hospital going through a lot worse, it’s never as bad as you think it is. It was a humbling experience.’’
Juenemann hasn’t talked to Tanner since all the hubbub, but he plans to. “I want reach out to him soon,’’ he said, “maybe when everything dies down a bit.’’
A native of Phillipsburg, Kan., Juenemann ended up at Minnesota after he and his father put together a DVD of his high school highlights and sent it to “basically every Division I school.’’ The Gophers responded.
The 23-year-old, who already has a bachelor’s degree in Sports Management, is working on his master’s in Human Resources and Industrial Relations. He wouldn’t mind working in human resources with a sports team.
The scholarship, of course, will come in handy toward that degree.
“It means a lot,’’ he said. “It’s humbling, because I’ve been here as a walk-on and it just shows people that no matter what sport, if you come here as a walk-on, you can earn a scholarship. At the same time, I’m still gonna work just as hard, I’m still gonna be person that I have been.’’
That resumes with training camp leading up to the Aug. 31 season opener against Buffalo. Juenemann isn’t high on the depth chart – the Gophers have Emmit Carpenter, a junior and the reigning Big Ten kicker of the year – but maybe he’ll see action sometime.
"I’m just ready for the season, my last season,’’ Juenemann said. “It’ll be one to remember.’’