WR Ernie Wheelwright

2005 Statistics

Coach: Glen Mason
58-50, 9 years
2005 Record: 7-5
at Tulsa WON 41-10
PURDUE WON 42-35 (2OT)
at Penn State LOST 14-44
at Michigan WON 23-20
at Indiana WON 42-21
at Iowa LOST 28-52
vs. Virginia LOST 31-34

2004 Final Rankings
AP-UR, Coaches-UR, BCS-UR

2006 Outlook

Under head coach Glen Mason, Minnesota has slowly, methodically grown into a consistently winning program. Funny, for that is also the Golden Gopher’s M.O. on offense – their steady running game sets up sure-fire passing that allows for ball-control and consistency hard to stop. But this has also meant that if you can get out ahead of Mason’s troops, you can probably keep them from catching up. Still, UM is the only I-A school to post 2000 yards each in both rushing and passing categories over the past seven seasons. Mason quietly ranks second in the conference (behind only Joe Paterno) for career (I-A) wins, but with only one 10-win season in his nine campaigns here, Mason has to take the next step so Minnesota can jump into the ranks of the nation’s elite.

Ostensibly, the problems in Minneapolis have usually been on the defensive side. Over the past three consecutive winning seasons prior to the last one (2002-04), Minnesota’s D had not allowed any of their first six foes to score more than 30 points, collectively going 16-2 in the process. Then the tables turn and these promising campaigns just go south (6-11 in those regular season games that follow). It was worse in 2005, for UM won only three games to start by being so stingy on D before they finished 4-5 (includes 34-31 loss to Virginia in Motor City Bowl). They look to change this profile with two new unit coaches (LBs, secondary) and many new faces (at new positions) in the starting 11. We think that if this occurs, it could equal at least 10 wins, or at least much better national rankings in many major defensive categories. And in the ever-parable Big Ten, Minnesota has to have this happen to join the league’s top programs (OSU, Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin). Otherwise, they will continue to beat their fellow wanna-be’s but fail against these four.

Offensively, the Gophers should rely more on the pass. Senior hurler Cupito can be relied upon to hit the mark anywhere, and these WRs (and TE Spaeth) can make the big pass play a new wrinkle which will allow Minnesota to come back in many games they usually would be out of it once down 14 or more. The offense showed this kind of explosive profile in spring drills/scrimmages, and it worked well (though it could just as easily have been the defense still adjusting). Special teams look solid, so it is only a matter of the D catching up to the O for that next step to occur.

Their slate has steadily become more formidable, and with a game at California to go with ventures into West Lafayette (Purdue), Columbus, Madison and East Lansing, their work is cut out for what the Golden Gophers will have to chew. Back-to-back home tilts with the Wolverines and then Jo Pa’s boys prove Minnesota may only again win seven, but they will still show up each week with a chance for the W.

Projected 2006 record: 6-6
QB - 4 DL - 2.5
RB - 3 LB - 3.5
WR - 3.5 DB - 3
OL - 3 ..

Passing: Bryan Cupito, 297-176-9, 2530 yds., 19 TD

Rushing: Amir Pinnix, 78 att., 467 yds., 1 TD

Receiving: Ernie Wheelwright, 37 rec., 568 yds., 5 TD

Scoring: Jason Giannini, 13-19 FG, 36-44 PAT, 75 pts.

Punting: Justin Kucek, 37 punts, 39.4 avg.

Kicking: Jason Giannini, 13-19 FG, 36-44 PAT, 75 pts.

Tackles: John Shevlin, 74 tot., 57 solo

Sacks: Steve Davis, 6 sacks

Interceptions: Trumaine Banks, Mike Sherels, John Shevlin - 1 each

Kickoff Returns: Dominic Jones, 1 ret., 28.0 avg., 0 TD

Punt Returns: Dominic Jones, 12 ret., 10.0 avg., 0 TD


DB Trumaine Banks
OFFENSE: Jakari Wallace-WR, Jared Ellerson-WR, Jarod Posthumus-TE, Mark Setterstrom-OG, Greg Eslinger-C, Mike Nicholson-OG, Laurence Maroney-RB (NFL)
DEFENSE: Mark Losli-DT, Anthony Montgomery-DT, Keith Lipka-DE, Kyle McKenzie-LB, John Pawielski-FS

Bryan Cupito has brought polish and stature to the passing game. The holder of Ohio’s prep career TD record (92), he has brought an aerial threat that compliments well the Gopher’s heavily leaned upon ground attack. His arm strength and accuracy have adequately stretched the field and defenders must respect this, or else. Coaches will likely choose to throw it more than a third of the time (34% last year) with the new-look RB unit. Though his decent foot speed isn’t very often the centerpiece for play-calls, his savvy as an escape artist is unsurpassed (lead the nation in avoiding sacks – foes only rung up three all of ’05). Cupito’s management of the offense and its/his opportunities is excellent. Two sophomores have his back. Tony Mortensen changes the offensive possibilities with his dual-threat ability, but hasn’t shown much with his arm in his few chances. Mike Maciejowski would keep the current scheme in place, but has no real-game reps…yet. Cupito’s health is vital for UM to go far in 2006.

Running Back
There will be some new talent emerging onto the national scene from Minnesota’s RB unit, namely Amir Pinnix. The junior has been waiting patiently and has shown flashes of his strength and speed in his limited chances. Most notable in his 2005 number are how he gained 475 yards (at a clip of six per carry), yet lost only nine yards in 78 attempts. We only have to see him get some throws in the flat to know that he is everything first-round NFL draft choice Laurence Maroney was. Classmate Brylee Callender is a highly-touted JUCO-transfer who is also expected to get the rock a lot. The Lakeville-native brings the same size and speed, and the Gopher’s new one-two punch is in place after Callender proved in spring ball he has adjusted well. Justin Valentine at FB is a third dimension here. The junior lost no yards on his 23 carries while proving his soft hands are worthy of a defender watching him at all times. His strength as a lead blocker is good, but his modest stature is suspect. There are backs stacked in reserve, just waiting for their chances, too. Again, Minnesota should go well over 200 yards per game and is likely to have the leagues most formidable running attack.

Junior Ernest Wheelwright is an all-purpose player – he runs great routes (for superior position), wins jump balls (ex-DB and roundball star), and blocks well downfield for all of those ground attempts UM makes. His 6’5” frame means his impact should expand even more via his own stats climbing, that is until he decides to get a job on Sundays. Fellow junior Logan Payne is not as tall, but is just as tough in all other ways. His numbers will also grow with Cupito’s expanded role. Sophomore Mike Kasten seems to be the only backup close to having any experience in the system (though he has no catches), but this walk-on (ex-track star) was all-state in prep and has proven his way onto the depth chart. Otherwise, the slate of freshman backups mean that Wheelwright and Payne need to stay healthy, or the offense may not be as dimensional.

Tight End
Senior Matt Spaeth is one of the offensive leaders. His ability to both knock DEs/LBs into next week and open up the deep middle due to his soft hands makes him our site’s second-team All-American choice. Spaeth’s presence just makes everyone that much better with his attitude and ability to persevere, regardless of who is thrown at him. Sophomore Jack Simmons, though not as heavy, is really another excellent prospect, but he will have to wait another year to truly shine. Simmons could have a breakout year when defenders needing to keep Spaeth in their sights leave him alone in two-TE sets.

Offensive Line
There are only two starters returning, but two other backups who have seen significant reps will step into major roles. Left tackle Steve Shidell has been stellar in protecting Cupito’s blind side and is the primary reason he was sacked only three times all of last year. His footwork compliments his strength for being less than 300lbs. Ex-DT Tony Brinkhaus is another junior returning starter who has been there for the last two seasons as a major force in UM’s superior running attack. The biggest challenge has to be that of Brinkhaus as their new center in replacing Greg Eslinger. Ostensibly, this junior has his work cut out in calling the schemes as well as Eslinger did. Tony Swaggert, a former-DE who has the quickness needed to pull while also possessing the power to push, will slide into the left guard slot with Brinkhaus’ strong showing at center this spring. Senior John Ainslie steps back into the right tackle slot after injury displaced the former-starter in last year’s first game (vs. Tulsa). Ainslie is solid, whereas the right guard slot is slated to have two unproven, yet highly qualified RS freshmen battle for the start. Otis Hudson is bigger and faster than Ryan Ruckdashel, but neither showed enough to displace the other in spring ball. This group is the key to what has been a prolific offensive movement over the past three years (Big Ten record 3000+ yards rushing each year from 2003-05), so the new look from Brinkhaus on down will dictate much of how far the UM offense can/will go. There is little experienced depth, so, again, injuries would likely decimate this unit’s impact if a rash of them occur.

With new running backs – all capable – and a quarterback who is proven and could guarantee an increase in aerial production if allowed to throw more than UM’s usual average of about 25 times per game, many wonder what head coach Glen Mason will choose to do. The new-look line will tell all, but we guess they will keep with what they know and run it a majority of the time, slowly opening up the playbook each game. This formula worked to the tune of a 54% third-down conversion rate (second in the nation next to USC), but with their two 1000-yard backs gone, thinking that this efficiency can continue with the backs they now have and the revamped line is unrealistic. Still, there should be no hesitation to quickly lean on Cupito’s arm if the ground game sputters. The three primary receivers – Wheelwright, Payne and (TE) Spaeth – are well-sized and all can block capably, but they need to collectively get the rock more for defenses to stay out of the box. Spaeth cannot be contained wherever he runs, and Wheelwright is the same way and an all-conference star if given the chance. Mason just has to not wait until he is losing to throw it more. The pass can be what sets up the run, and if the pass works early this way, what is the harm? As the line comes together and the backs are properly assigned, then the run can again become predictable and still work, like it has in their last three seasons (3000+ yards per campaign from 2003-05 set new Big Ten record). They won’t likely reach these vaunted numbers in ’06, so the tweaks we recommend should keep UM moving the ball.


TE Matt Spaeth


Returning Starters/
Key Players
QB Bryan Cupito-Sr (6-3, 205) Tony Mortensen-So (6-3, 220)
FB Justin Valentine-Jr (6-2, 230) Jeremy Faue-Jr (5-11, 225)
TB Amir Pinnix-Jr (6-0, 195) Brylee Callender-Jr (6-0, 200)
WR Logan Payne-Sr (6-2, 200) Eric Decker-Fr (6-2, 205)
WR Ernie Wheelwright-Jr (6-5, 215) Mike Chambers-Fr (6-1, 195)
TE Matt Spaeth-Sr (6-6, 270) Jack Simmons-So (6-4, 235)
OT Steve Shidell-Jr (6-5, 285) Jason Meinke-Fr (6-5, 235)
OG Tony Brinkhaus-Jr (6-4, 300) John Jakel-Jr (6-5, 280)
C Tyson Swaggert-Sr (6-4, 285) Brad Bultman-Jr (6-2, 280)
OG Otis Hudson-Fr (6-4, 290) Ryan Ruckdashel-Fr (6-6, 255)
OT Joe Ainslie-Sr (6-7, 310) Matt DeGeest-So (6-5, 270)
K Joel Monroe-So (6-0, 180) Jason Giannini-So (5-10, 180)



Defensive Line
With the nation’s 69th-ranked run stopping unit and a 111th-ranking for sacks in ‘05, addition by subtraction could be just what is needed here. Luckily, DE Steve Davis is the lone returning starter, for he led the Gophers in sacks and tied for the lead in TFLs. This sophomore ex-LB moves well and should take up two hats if foes are smart. Classmate and fellow-end William Van DeSteeg proved much in his limited reps, enough to now start. He has more mobility than his predecessor (Lipka), and will really break out with the attention Davis will garner. Tackle Eric Clark has started as an end, but the senior moves inside despite his undersized stature. Proven backup Neel Allen has the bulk to underscore run-stopping effort and will rotate in quite often. Former walk-on Todd Meisel is another quick tackle who just doesn’t have much size, yet overcomes this with smarts and passion to produce results. In the Big Ten, the size issues inside will hurt UM when they come up against the leagues best OLs, but if they work as a united crew, they can achieve more.

Mario Reese is the senior leader, and he will continue to surge like he did when he took over the starting “drop” LB spot midway through 2005. Reese has good mobility for an ex-DE, and the strength to still be a fifth down-lineman, when called upon for such. In the middle is Alex Daniels, who saw limited time as a frosh last campaign, and he has the speed (4.59 in the 40) to really cover the territory needed. As the Gopher’s only four-star recruit in the past three classes, look for bigger results since he now knows the system and exactly what to do. Daniels displaced starter Mike Sherels, but Rochester-native Sherels will see plenty of reps due to his quality production. WILL Deon Hightower is an undersized, speedy RS sophomore who is enough of a sure tackler to get the start ahead of a pair of green classmates. This corps has the quickness to cover underneath, but like the inside of the line, they will suffer in plugging gaps unless those same linemen can hold their own.

Defensive Back
There needs to be drastic improvements here, and hard-lessons learned should translate into (at least) a marginally better showing. Junior corner Jamal Harris is well-sized and fast enough to cover even the best WRs. Harris, a returning starter, also does well in chasing down runners who escape into the secondary, which hopefully won’t be nearly the same problem it was in 2005. Quality coverage coming from Keith Massey on the other side will mean UM can leave both CBs on islands. Massey should replace Banks well, but is still young enough that mistakes will be made. Dominique Barber takes over at free safety, with Trumaine Banks sliding in as his backup, a dubious call by coaches after Banks led the Gophers with 13 pass breakups. True soph Dominic Jones really impressed his first year, starting the last seven games at strong safety. Jones 4.4 speed means he will likely play deep centerfield so that plays will stay in front of him. There is just too much talent here for Minnesota to again finish 97th in pass defense, and new DB coach Craig Bray has been hired to assure improvements occur.

What happened on defense during the last campaign was a huge disappointment, to say the least. Like in other recent years, things progressively worsened, but coordinator David Lockwood was retained and two new unit/position coaches will provide the changes soon to be seen in 2006. There have also been a number of position shuffles, namely Jones moving to safety with the talent at CB allowing his speed to now be a safety net. The DBs look like they can make last year’s tough lessons pay off. The LBs are a svelte group that can work together to overcome matchup issues in any run stopping efforts, but the line has to (at least) occupy blockers or those size issues will allow OLmen to again dominate. Davis and Meisel are the guts of that DL and should lead the way for the improvements needed in all facets, but with no DTs weighing in over 300lbs in this league of huge linemen pushing tough running schemes, question marks already arise. UM’s total defensive ranking was 90th, and allowing numbers like they did in ’05 – namely 5.9 yards per play as foes converted 45% of their third-down tries – will not get the Golden Gophers anywhere fast as a team.


DE Steve Davis


Returning Starters/
Key Players
DE Steve Davis-So (6-2, 230) William Brody-So (6-5, 245)
DT Todd Meisel-Jr (6-4, 265) Jeff Tow-Arnett-Fr (6-2, 270)
DT Eric Clark-Sr (6-4, 265) Neel Allen-Jr (6-3, 295)
DE Willie VanDeSteeg-So (6-4, 250) Matt Stommes-Fr (6-7, 245)
WLB John Shevlin-Jr (6-1, 225) Deon Hightower-So (6-3, 200)
MLB Alex Daniels-So (6-3, 230) Mike Sherels-Jr (6-0, 235)
DLB Mario Reese-Sr (6-3, 230) Patrick Cheney-Jr (6-1, 225)
CB Keith Massey-Fr (6-1, 200) Desi Steib-Jr (6-1, 185)
CB Jamal Harris-Jr (6-0, 185) Michael McKelton-Fr (5-10, 170)
SS Dominic Jones-So (5-9, 180) John Carlson-So (6-2, 220)
FS Trumaine Banks-Sr (5-11, 185) Dominique Barber-Jr (6-0, 200)
P Justin Kucek-So (6-0, 200) Blake Haudan-Fr (6-1, 190)




Sophomore Jason Giannini had an impressive showing in his freshman campaign. Though he hit 68% of his three-point tries, he went cold at year’s end, only hitting two of his last six. He also has some work to do after only securing nine touchbacks on his 70 KOs. Do not be surprised if fellow sophomore Joel Monroe pushes for starting duties. The underclassmen looking for defensive reps will assure KO coverage will remain strong.

Justin Kucek also had enough of a showing as a RS frosh to make all feel that field-position battles can be won. Kucek has the leg to go long, but instead controls his efforts well with placement. Net results were decent, but should improve with the quality of UM’s depth on defense.

Return Game
With such quick first steps, Dominic Jones steps into the return spotlight, now with KO duties heaped onto his already established quality as PR guy. Jones doesn’t wait for much, and that is the sign that surely he should hit the house on at least a few (of each?). Callender as backup on KOs and Payne doing the same behind Jones on PRs will mean no drop off when either is used.