A salute to the U of M’s ‘elite six’

MSR News Online/MSR News Online
Rodney Smith, Gary Moore, Julian Huff, Jerry Gibson, Jacob Huff, Antonio
Shenault // Courtesy of the U of M

Senior day is long over. So is a 14-year Gopher football team’s losing streak against the University of Wisconsin and being the underdog at Quick Lane Bowl game in Detroit, Michigan. Being football players at the University of Minnesota is also now over for all but one of the “elite six” players most responsible for these achievements.

Why are they called the elite six? Because they have done something different than any other past alumnae in 14 years: not just winning an axe against Wisconsin, but also changing the attitude and mindset of a foundation.

The elite six were not recruited by current head coach P.J. Fleck; they were recruited by former head coach Jerry Kill and interim coach Tracy Claeys. From Coach Kill leaving his position because of health problems and having Defensive Coordinator Claeys take his place, to problems facing 10 African American student-athletes, the University Minnesota football program was in disarray.

Most of the “elite six’s” teammates went to other colleges and universities to play football, but these African American players stayed. They believed in the University of Minnesota, and they believed in their teammates.

The elite six took these young student-athletes to be a great brick-by-brick challenge, showing them on and off the field what it means to practice integrity, honesty and commitment.

Here is the senior class of 2018 U of M football Golden Gophers’ African American student-athletes, a.k.a. the “elite six”:

Jacob Huff, senior season

Started all 12 games • recorded 85 tackles (54 solo), broken up seven passes, forced two fumbles and made two interceptions • recognized as All-Big Ten Honorable Mention by the coaches and media • Academic All-Big Ten • led team with 10 tackles against Wisconsin, also broke up one pass and forced one fumble.

Julian Huff, senior season

Academic All-Big Ten played all four seasons as linebacker • led the Gopher tackles in the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit.

Gary Moore, senior season

Mexico State • started against Fresno State • made one tackle against Miami • notched one tackle against Maryland • recorded three tackles including one for a loss against Iowa • notched one tackle against Ohio State • made one tackle against Nebraska • recovered fumble that sealed a win against Indiana on top of recording a season-high five tackles and one tackle for loss • competed at Illinois • registered two tackles against Purdue • tallied a career-high six tackles including one for a loss against Northwestern.

Jerry Gibson, senior season

New Mexico State • saw action against Miami and Iowa • recorded first career sack against Ohio State • competed against Nebraska, Indiana and Illinois • registered one tackle against Purdue • notched one tackle against Northwestern • recorded one tackle against Wisconsin.

Antonio Shenault, senior season

Made four tackles and broke up one pass against New Mexico State • tallied seven tackles including 0.5 for loss and forced one fumble against Fresno State • returned an interception 42 yards and notched seven tackles including one for a loss against Miami • registered four tackles against Maryland • tallied four tackles against Iowa • recorded a career high 13 tackles including one for a loss against Ohio State • notched three tackles against Nebraska • played all four year as a defense back for the Gophers.

Rodney SmithAll-Big Ten Honorable Mention • received team’s Bronko Nagurski Award (Team MVP) 2017 • 2016 named All-Big Ten Third Team by league coaches and media • named Offensive MVP of the Holiday Bowl after scoring one touchdown and recording 132 all-purpose yards • averaged 4.8 yards per carry • rushed for 100 yards in six games, which is tied for ninth in a single season • rushed for 100 yards in four straight games (Maryland, Rutgers, Illinois, Purdue) to become the first Gopher since David Cobb in 2013 to accomplish that feat • received team’s Bronko Nagurski Award (Team MVP) and Bruce Smith Award (Outstanding Offensive Player) and was named the Bob McNamara Offensive Back of the Year • will be back next year with the Gophers.

About Ken Foxworth

Kenneth Foxworth is a contributing sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He welcomes reader responses to  kennethfoxworth568@msn.com.

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