One roommate sleeps in but swears he does all the cleaning.
Another is a video game aficionado with a soft-spoken, thoughtful manner.
A third has an independent streak and has earned the nickname “Mighty Mouse” from his roommates.
And the fourth is the ringleader, displaying the organizational skills and traits of a captain.
Together, the four roommates — Thomas Barber, Kamal Martin, Antoine Winfield Jr. and Carter Coughlin — have shared a Dinkytown apartment for the past two years and will continue to be roomies for the coming football season. And together, this quartet of third-year players is poised to form the heart and soul of the Gophers defense.
“It’s a brotherhood that cannot be broken” said Martin, a junior linebacker. “Blood couldn’t make us any closer.”
Added Barber, also a junior linebacker: “It’s probably been one of the greatest times of my life. They’re probably the best three roommates I’ll ever have.”
All four players will begin training camp in August with key roles on Minnesota’s defense. Barber led the Gophers with 115 tackles, including 10.5 for loss last year. Coughlin had a team-high 6.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. Martin started all 12 games, finishing with 42 tackles, including 6.5 for loss and two sacks. Winfield, a versatile defensive back who just might be the Gophers’ best defensive player, made 20 tackles in four games before missing the final eight because of a hamstring injury. He received a medical redshirt and will be a sophomore eligibility-wise this season.
So, how did they end up as roommates? All four are either Minnesotans (Barber played at Armstrong High School, Martin at Burnsville and Coughlin at Eden Prairie) or have strong Minnesota ties (Winfield lived in Eden Prairie until after his freshman year in high school before his family moved to The Woodlands, Texas). When they were being recruited by the Gophers in high school, they met during camps and the wheels began turning, according to Coughlin.
“It started in segments,” the junior linebacker/rush end said. “Thomas and I were talking about possibly being roommates in the future, and then I met Kamal the summer before senior year of high school. For some reason, he and I just clicked.”
The fourth roommate originally was going to be former East Ridge standout Seth Green, but Green found different living arrangements. That prompted Coughlin to turn to Winfield, his teammate at Eden Prairie from third through ninth grades.
Recruiting Winfield, the son of former Vikings standout cornerback Antoine Winfield, was something with which Coughlin had experience.
“One time, Antoine’s 40-[yard dash] time from an Ohio State camp was posted online, and it was 4.3-something,” Coughlin recalled. “I sent that to Coach Glass [former Gophers assistant Billy Glasscock] and said, ‘Hey, I went to high school with this dude. He can ball.’ Coach Glass took a look and said, ‘Yeah, let’s get him up here.’ ”
Added Barber, “We needed a fourth, and Mighty Mouse just fit right in with us with his goofy self.”
Barber — the one who “sleeps all day,” according to Winfield — described the four roommates as “puzzle pieces to each other.” There’s enough variety in their personalities to keep things interesting.
“Carter just keeps us all from killing each other,” he said. “Kamal and Antoine, they’re just there to make us laugh.”
Barber is adamant, however, about running a clean house.
“I do all the cleaning. I do ALL the cleaning,” he said.
But then he allowed, “They’re getting better as they mature.”
Relaxing and serving
Summers for many Minnesotans mean trips Up North, and that’s the case for the four roommates, too. The players regularly spend time at a Pequot Lakes cabin owned by Coughlin’s parents, Bob, a defensive lineman for the Gophers in 1989 and ’90, and Jennie (Moe), a standout tennis player at the U during that era.
The time at the cabin is an offseason highlight for the players and their teammates. A couple of weeks ago, Carter brought a crew of 12 Gophers to the cabin.
“Times like that, it’s good to get away for a bit,” said Martin, the gamer. “Have fun and bond with guys on your team, because those are bonds that will last a lifetime.”
The past two years, the quartet also took spring break trips to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Sure, they enjoyed the nightlife, but they also showed a giving side by visiting an orphanage during their stay this spring.
“It was really eye-opening,” Coughlin said. “Just seeing what they ate — small quantities and definitely not high-end food.
‘‘When we got there, each of us were surrounded by five to 10 kids. They’d grab us by the hand. Antoine was playing soccer with them for most of the night. Thomas was doing push-ups and pullups and kids were hanging on him. I was pushing little girls on a swing. It was a blast. Just seeing their joy was awesome.”
Spirituality plays a key role for the four roommates, with all being active in the University of Minnesota chapter of the Athletes in Action (AIA) ministry. All four participated in AIA’s Ultimate Training Camp last year, and this year Barber, Coughlin and Martin had internships at the camp.
“They’ve blossomed over the last six months to a place where they’re not just involved, but they’re leaders, too,” said Luke Middendorf, campus director and football chaplain for AIA. “That’s pretty uncommon for how busy they are … for them to take the time to lead others.”
Their spirituality reached another level recently. On June 17, Barber, Coughlin, Martin and Gophers receiver Clay Geary were baptized at Grace Church in Eden Prairie by Bob Coughlin, who is a pastor at the church. Winfield was there to support his teammates.
“We were all at different points in our faith — from not interested at all to someone being really interested,” Carter Coughlin said. “The bridging point where that gap closed was when we went to UTC with Athletes in Action. God just hit all of us really, really hard. I was tearing up. … From there, it was, ‘What now?’ [The baptism] was a surreal moment for all of us. It was the coolest thing ever to do as roommates and best friends.”
“We decided to intern, and it was an unbelievable experience” he said. “It was a different perspective on how people get brought back to Christ. Throughout the year, I felt the calling that I should get baptized.”
As the Gophers season approaches, the four players are full of optimism. They’re eager to improve on last year’s 5-7 record and do so with each playing a key role.
“The junior year is just a huge year,” Coughlin said. “You put everything together that’s happened over the last two years. Each of us are in some sweet roles. I’m so excited to see how I play, so excited to see how each of those guys plays and so excited to see how the team as a whole plays.”
Winfield echoed those sentiments.
“We’re going to have an exciting defense this year,” he said. “All my roommates will be starters, and we’ll be playing together. The defense is going to be fun this year. I can’t wait to see what we can do.”