Patrick Reusse
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Bryan Cupito and his family live in a leafy neighborhood south and far to the east in Minneapolis. A visitor noted a red object tied around a pair of trees in a neighboring yard a few feet away.

"Do they have to take down those trees?" said the visitor. "That would be too bad."

Cupito said: "The trees are staying. That's a rope. A neighbor kid and his buddies tightrope walk across it. I don't know how they got into that, but it's very impressive."

He then smiled and said: "This is a great neighborhood. You see everything. You have young families with adventurous kids, and next door, you have people who have lived in the same house for 50, 60 years."

Cupito came to Minnesota as a freshman quarterback recruited by the Gophers from Cincinnati and headed into a redshirt season. He was in a writing class on the first day of fall semester in 2002 and met Carly Mickelson-Vaughn, a graduate of the new Eastview High School in Apple Valley.

Five years later, they were married and graduating from the University of Minnesota. Cupito was leaving the Gophers as their all-time leader in passing yards, a record now held by Adam Weber.

Cupito was undrafted. There were overtures from a couple of NFL teams to attend training camp.

"Ten thousand if you were cut, something like that," Cupito said.

He realized that was more a when than an if. "It was time to get on with life," he said.

Life as a family man. Life with Carly and now four kids. "It's a great life," Cupito said "I'm sure I'll get a couple of 'Happy Father's Day, Dad,' from the kids. That will be enough."

Callie graduated this month from Minnehaha Academy. Ava was a freshman, a backup point guard on the Hopkins team that lost to Minnetonka in the Class 4A title game, and hearing from recruiters.

Carter was a seventh-grader at Hopkins and Jack a fifth-grader at Minnehaha — football and basketball hopefuls.

Cupito is now a regional manager for Amneal Pharmaceuticals. The company is well-known for its medications to help deal with Parkinson's disease.

He was in Chicago for work midweek. Carly was headed to her job at Thomson Reuters late in the morning Friday. There were kids somewhere in the house, and others occupied elsewhere, and then there would be a coaching session for Cupito at Phelps Field Park on E 39th Street in south Minneapolis on Friday evening.

Cupito's job had the family in Madison, Wis., for five years. They moved to Woodbury when new work duties brought the family back to Minnesota.

"Carly was excited about that, to be back home, and so was I," Cupito said.

Nothing against Woodbury, the booming suburb, but the Cupitos decided to look for a house in the city, found a small place with enough bedrooms, and moved to Minneapolis in 2020.

Bryan found the Phelps Recreation Center and the Phelps fields almost immediately. Jim Halbur, a pastor at Fountain of Life church, heads the Phelps Activity Council.

"All the kids here call me P.J. … for Pastor Jim," Halbur said. "Bryan came over here with his kids and dived right in. We see that a lot — people who were good athletes bring their own kids and see that they can help a lot of kids as coaches.

"Eighty percent of our kids here are low income. A similar percentage come from single-parent homes. You know the simple thing our kids need? Rides. In addition to being a coach in football and basketball, Bryan gives a lot of rides to and from Phelps."

The Cupitos' home is a locale for any number of Phelps kids on a weekend. Their basement is a big romper room.

Bryan came here from Bishop McNicholas High School in Cincinnati, sat for two seasons, started for three seasons, beat rebuilding Alabama in a bowl game in 2004, beat Michigan in the Big House in 2005, and engineered the Gophers to a 38-7 lead over Texas Tech in the Insight Bowl in 2006.

And then the defense collapsed, the Gophers lost 44-41 to Tech and his coach, Glen Mason, was fired.

"That was weird," Cupito said. "The year before, you were wondering, but then they gave Glen a contract extension. I liked Glen. But you talk to him now, or listen to interviews, and he's funny.

"He never was funny with us."

Mason has remained a Minnesotan since that firing. We talked about Cupito for a few minutes last week, but first the Gophers coach from 1997 to 2006 lamented what is becoming of big-time college football — the dissolution of tradition in conferences, the transfer portal and the wild, wild arrival of pay-for-play started by Name, Image and Likeness.

"We wanted our guys to come in and have the great experience of going to college," Mason said. "Those should be the best years of your life. Get an education, meet people, play football. And then, if you're great, you go to the NFL, and the other 98 percent take advantage of the degree, and value the people they have met.

"Bryan waited two years, and then was a very good quarterback for us. And now he's out there in the world, a dad, and doing good things in the city where he played."

Which doesn't mean the generations of an Italian family in Cincinnati are forgotten, and more that Bryan greatly misses about his hometown.

"Skyline Chili … I love that stuff," Cupito said. "I got my kids indoctrinated. They love it. But not Carly. She thinks it's terrible."

Even on Father's Day for a Minnesota girl, chili with noodles is not an option.