Tyler Nubin, the standout safety who opted to return to the Gophers rather than make himself available for the NFL draft, spent much of spring practice lobbying for more time on the field. Coach P.J. Fleck opted to use Nubin sparingly, knowing what he has in the senior, opening more time for youngsters and keeping him away from possible injuries.
Nubin, though, was relentless in his approach, even enlisting Fleck's wife, Heather, to help his cause.
During a recent scrimmage, Fleck held Nubin out in order to look at other players.
"He got mad at me — legitimately mad at me,'' Fleck said, laughing, during his KFXN-FM radio show. "He said, 'I didn't come back to sit over there. If I would have known you'd do this, I would have left.' ''
Nubin then talked to Heather Fleck, who was attending practice. Suddenly, P.J. Fleck got a text message on his phone watch. "It says, 'Nubin told me he wants to play, and he better play,' '' Fleck said. "She says, 'Why don't you just play him? I think he should play.' ''
Saturday, Nubin got his wish in the spring game and made a big impact in a very limited role.
On the Gold team's second play from scrimmage, Nubin was on the field with the offense, standing near the sideline and plotting some subterfuge.
"I ran out to the numbers and then I had to act like I didn't get the personnel right,'' he said. "I was just waiting for the ball to be snapped, then took off.'' When Gold quarterback Cole Kramer got the snap, Nubin was all alone along the sideline before hauling in Kramer's deep pass and sprinting 53 yards for a touchdown while giving a "peace'' sign to the fooled defenders.
"After that, he comes up and tells me he should be playing offense this year,'' Fleck said of Nubin, one of three players named Sid Hartman Spring Game MVPs, joining wide receiver Le'Meke Brockington and running back Zach Evans.
That was the first score for the Gold team, which won the game 36-34 over the Maroon team. Evans scored on a two-point conversion run for the Gold in overtime after the teams were tied 34-34 through four quarters.
Nubin also was happy for his brother, Jordan, a redshirt sophomore running back who carried eight times for 85 yards and a touchdown, according to unofficial stats supplied by the Big Ten Network.
"I thought he did awesome,'' Tyler said of Jordan. "And he's really been coming into his own. He's just got to grow that confidence in himself to know that he can do the things that the coaches are asking him to do.''
Big fellas in action
Tyler Nubin's touchdown wasn't the only trick play featured Saturday. On the first play from scrimmage, Maroon left tackle Aireontae Ersery lined up to quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis' left, took the handoff and gained 5 yards up the middle. And in the fourth quarter, 6-7, 355-pound tackle Tyrell Lawrence was sent in motion on a passing play in which Kramer hit Brockington for the TD that tied the score 31-31.
Fleck preps for new rule
Saturday's spring game featured running time between plays, with Fleck's aim to fit it in the BTN's broadcast window. Shorter regular-season games are likely this fall because the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Committee on Friday passed new regulations for Division I and II games that will keep the clock running rather than stopping it after first downs are made, aside from the final two minutes of each half. The move is expected to shave seven to 10 plays per game.
"It's going to make the game definitely go a little faster,'' Fleck said. "There's a lot of dead time that's going to take out that we don't necessarily notice. … They're doing everything to speed up the game for all the right reasons, and I'm glad they're doing some things that won't drastically change the game.''