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The first completion of Cole Kramer's Gophers football career went for a touchdown on fourth down to Brevyn Spann-Ford, capping the opening drive in a win two years ago against Nebraska.

A former Eden Prairie standout, Kramer hasn't seen the field much in a major role since. Several quarterbacks have come and gone, but Kramer stuck around to eventually compete for the starting quarterback position this year.

Kramer appears to be slated for the No. 2 spot behind Athan Kaliakmanis, but he didn't let the intense competition to replace Tanner Morgan impact his leadership.

"That's what we talk about in our program, is to compete with each other and not against," the 6-1 senior said. "Whether it's in our workouts or throwing, we're making sure we're doing the right things."

Kramer's biggest impact with the Gophers had been in the wildcat package, specifically to take advantage of his running ability. He amassed 42 carries for 192 yards and two touchdowns in 2021 and 2022.

The Gophers offense has seen several coordinators (Kirk Ciarrocca, Mike Sanford Jr. and now Matt Simon and Greg Harbaugh Jr.) during Kramer's career. And his chances to throw the ball have been limited. He's completed eight of only 13 passes for 103 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in three seasons. No pass attempts came in Big Ten play last season.

“When he gets on the field, everyone listens to him, and everyone has a ton of respect for him.”
Gophers center Nathan Boe

So imagine the surprise of Gophers fans to watch Kramer make a case for the starting job when he outdueled Kaliakmanis in the spring game in April. He completed 11 of 16 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns in the win for the Gold team.

Similar to Morgan, Kramer doesn't stand out physically, but he excels as a student of the game.

"[Morgan] was an awesome role model on and off the field," Kramer said. "There were a lot of things I took away from him. How to watch film is something people take for granted, but there's a system to it. [He was] a good human being. He was awesome."

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Kramer, a three-star recruit who led Eden Prairie to a state title as a junior, had only one scholarship offer from a Power Five program. Fortunately it was from P.J. Fleck, allowing Kramer to follow his grandfather (1959 team MVP Tom Moe) and cousin (former All-Big Ten linebacker Carter Coughlin) to play for the Gophers.

Starting center Nathan Boe admires Kramer for developing a strong bond with the offensive line since he arrived on campus in 2019.

"He's best friends with a lot of us O-linemen and tight ends," Boe said. "That's something Tanner Morgan really started. The quarterback has to be really close with the O-line."

For two seasons, Kramer sat behind Morgan and former starter Zack Annexstad on the quarterback depth chart in 2020 and 2021. But Annexstad (Illinois State) transferred out of the program. So did other backups Jacob Clark (Missouri State) and Jacob Knuth (Kansas State) in the past two years.

Sticking with Fleck put Kramer into a spot where he's basically one injury away from being the Gophers' starting QB. The only other signal-callers on the roster are true freshmen Drew Viotto and Max Shikenjanski, a walk-on.

In Tuesday's open practice, Kramer took all of the first-team reps during team drills. But Fleck told media that the situation was "nothing big," with the trainers deciding Kaliakmanis needed to rest and not throw any passes that day.

Once the season starts Aug. 31 vs. Nebraska, Kramer could be the backup again, his role not much bigger than it was when he threw his first TD pass two years ago. But his impact as a leader has grown over time.

"I've always been impressed with his leadership skills," Boe said. "... When he gets on the field, everyone listens to him, and everyone has a ton of respect for him."