Sportswriter’s Notebook: Gopher student-athlete spotlight

Our first installment of the “Gopher 100” series for the 2017-18 Minnesota sports season couldn’t have found two better subjects to kick off the year. Rodney Smith’s 2017 football season starts Thursday August 31 at home. P.J. Fleck will be his third coach since he first arrived at Minnesota in 2014.

After a red-shirted season, the 5-11 running back from Jonesboro, Georgia has rushed himself in the school’s record books, gaining over 1,800 yards in 25 games — he became the 20th Gopher ever to rush for 1,000 years in a season in 2016, as Smith played in all 13 games, and started in 12. Smith also plays with diabetes.

Rodney Smith (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

“I was diagnosed at eight years old,” he points out. “I haven’t publicly spoken about it.” Smith told us that his parents didn’t discourage him from playing football. “My dad was a coach. She [his mother, a nurse] just made sure that I took care of myself off the field.”

His mom also taught him how to monitor his blood sugar levels and told his coaches whenever things weren’t right physically. “At first I couldn’t drink regular sodas, juices and stuff. With the new technologies, I can pretty much eat whatever I want,” says Smith.

Temi Ogunrinde came to Minnesota after graduating from Park High School in 2014 in hopes of continuing her track career as a sprinter, which she did for one season.

Then, in 2016, the Cottage Grove, Minn. native was switched to the hammer throw. The move proved successful as Ogunrinde set a Minnesota program record, won titles at the Big Ten Championship and Kansas Relays in the 2017 outdoor season, and made the conference first team.

Ogunrinde, an Academic All-Big Ten honoree, was also named one of the two U-M Sportsman Award winners, chosen from a group of over 350 student-athletes honored throughout the academic year. According to a press release, the winners are honored for positive sportsmanship in and out of competition, good academic standing and good citizenship.

“What opened my eyes was [that] I got so much insight on being a nonprofit,” Ogunrinde said of her summer internship with the 2019 Minneapolis Final Four Local Organizing Committee. She hopes someday to work with a nonprofit after graduation — she is an entrepreneurial management major in Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, and expects to graduate next spring. “I feel I have that duty to give back and make it better for the next person,” says Ogunrinde.

Temi Ogunrinde (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

“I gained so much experience from the summer work,”  she continues. “I don’t know exactly where I want to go, but I know now [about] the networks and the experience has paved that way to where I want to go next or where I want to try out.”

Smith is a senior youth studies major. His summer internship was with Hennepin County Youth Services: “This was a different opportunity to impact young people in a different way other than being an athlete, coaching or mentoring… I enjoy working with young people,” says Smith on his summer work. “The kids respected me, and I respected them. I listened to them, and helped in any way that I could. They had questions — I answered them.”

“This has been a life changing experience for me,” concludes Ogunrinde. “This is an amazing opportunity. It was really cool.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.

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Summer internships provide real-world experience for student-athletes