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Gophers football: Former East Ridge QB Seth Green steps into backup role

Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck looks on during the second half Aug. 31 against the Buffalo Bulls at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — Throughout preseason camp and the opening two games of the season, the competition between quarterbacks Conor Rhoda and Demry Croft was perhaps the top storyline of coach P.J. Fleck's first season as coach.

But with Rhoda named the outright starter Monday, Sept.11, and Fleck announcing Tuesday, Sept. 12, that Croft will be away from the team — possibly for the foreseeable future — Seth Green enters the picture as Rhoda's backup for Saturday afternoon's game against Middle Tennessee State at TCF Bank Stadium.

Green, a former East Ridge quarterback who played his senior season in Allen, Texas, enrolled at Minnesota in January 2016, redshirted last season and has yet to appear in a game.

With Rhoda and Croft taking the majority of the reps during practices, Green stood behind the offense and simulated his progressions as if he had received the snap.

"The third-string guy has to learn by osmosis," Gophers offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Kirk Ciarrocca said Wednesday, Sept. 12. "... He needs some reps, and he needs to play."

After Saturday's game, the Gophers will have a week off before opening Big Ten play against Maryland on Sept. 30 at TCF Bank Stadium.

"I think the bye week will be very helpful for (Green) from a repetition standpoint, but he knows our offense," Ciarrocca said. "He knows what he should do. He just needs more reps. The more reps, the better."

The Gophers also have true freshman QB Tanner Morgan on the roster. He enrolled in January to acclimate to Minnesota's program, but Fleck wants to a redshirt him this season. Minnesota has a commitment from Brennan Armstrong, a quarterback from Shelby, Ohio, in the 2018 recruiting class.

'Rhoda boat'

Some Gophers fans used the phrase "Leidner Island" to rally behind last year's starting quarterback Mitch Leidner. They are back at it this year with "Rhoda Ranch" or "Rhoda Boat," a play on words off of Fleck's mantra, "Row the Boat."

"It started last year when I played at Maryland — the whole 'Rhoda Ranch' thing," Rhoda said. "I've got a ton of friends from high school that are just students here at the U. I think they take that and run with it a little bit more than I do, or more than my family does.

"But it's cool to see, just to see the support from people and see your name out there on a positive note."

After not being welcomed back by former coach Tracy Claeys, Rhoda, a former walk-on from Cretin-Derham Hall, was about a week away from seeking a job in medical sales when Fleck called him during his first full day on the job in January. Rhoda said he and Fleck talked for 45 minutes, but within a minute the quarterback had accepted his new coach's offer to return.

Rhoda was Leidner's backup last year, and he heard congratulations from Leidner when he was named the starter Monday.

"He's happy for me," Rhoda said. "Obviously, we had a lot of experiences together, and he is somebody that I respect the hell out of."

Water spirit

The four building blocks to Fleck's program are academic, athletic, social and spiritual, but that last doesn't need to be religious, he said.

"The way we talk about spirituality is something bigger than yourself," Fleck said Tuesday. "It could be this water bottle. It can be the team. It doesn't have anything to do with religion."

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