Former EP teammates turn Gophers teammates for 2018

This fall’s Minnesota Gophers football team has a bit of a homegrown feel to it with several players deciding to play for the lone NCAA Division I football program in the state.

Blake Cashman

Minnesota junior Blake Cashman tied a TCF Bank Stadium record with four tackles for loss and eight overall tackles in the season-opening win over New Mexico State.

Eden Prairie football fans can take pride in knowing five former Eagles are on the Gophers roster including two key defensive contributors, anchoring down the left side of the defensive front in junior Carter Coughlin and senior Blake Cashman.

Red shirt freshmen linebacker Danny Anderson and tight end Clayton Witherspoon are joined by red shirt sophomore defensive lineman Connor Novak-Goar

Freshman defensive back Benny Sapp III, the son of former Minnesota Viking Benny Sapp II, joined Eden Prairie for his senior season but an ACL tear cut short his on-field contributions.

Carter Coughlin

Carter Coughlin is listed as a linebacker but has proven to be successful rushing from the outside of the defensive line so far in 2018.

The Coughlin and Cashman often lineup on the same side of the defense which offers a familiarity going back to high school.

“It’s great to lineup with my fellow Eagle over there,” Cashman said. “To be able to take the journey as a college football player, we’ve gone through a lot of changes but we’ve all grown and got to see our improvements and I’m excited to see (Coughlin)’s future.”

Cashman, a 6-foot-2, 235 linebacker has been a standout member of special teams and two-time Gary Tinsley Award recipient which goes to a player who embodied the underdog spirit of the late Gopher.

Two games into the 2018 season, the starting outside linebacker tied a TCF Bank Stadium record with four of his eight tackles for a loss to go with a sack and pass breakup in the season-opening win over New Mexico State. He followed that up with a team-best 10 tackles including 1.5 for a loss against Fresno State.

Blake Cashman

Blake Cashman

“I was very excited to get my first start on our first base package,” Cashman said about the opener. “So that was very exciting and I’ve been on the field a bunch so I was relaxed and calm but the coaches did a great job getting us ready mentality and I felt very comfortable and ready to run our scheme and assignments and knew everything would fall into place.”

Coughlin had two tackles including a big drive-stalling stop for a loss on third down in the opener. 

As he’s understood his position and role more, he feels more free to make plays and saw the quarterback break contain and decided to chase him down.

“Being a junior now, I didn’t have those jitters but the energy level definitely wasn’t lacking in any sense, first game of the year, I’ve been waiting for that from the week after the season ended,” Coughlin said. “You prepare nine months out of the year to play for three. It’s like shaking a bottle.”

He added two tackles against Fresno State and said the biggest difference moving from preseason work to game-week practices comes from the different feeling of live-play against another opponent who are not teammates. 

“It really shines light on the biggest areas you need to improve,” Coughlin said. “You work all fall camp but in reality you’re not playing against a live quarterback. You are playing live but its a different feeling playing against your teammates than a different team.

“It refocuses you to give new energy knowing your going in the right direction.”

Coughlin is moving from a linebacker spot to the edge rusher on the line.

“It’s a big difference, to be honest,” he said. “When you’re playing linebacker you’re sitting five yards off the hole but on the line you hit at the snap of the ball.”

At Eden Prairie, Coughlin said, Coach Mark Ritter emphasized to slow down as a linebacker to allow the play develop before hitting the whole.

“I’ve been able to play faster, more comfortable in that role and that’s been the biggest difference,” he said. 

As a junior, Cashman had 30 tackles including five for a loss and two sacks and had 45 tackles with a team-leading 7.5 sacks in addition to a forced fumble. Cashman was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week and the Holiday Bowl Defensive Most Valuable Player. 

That was coach P.J. Fleck’s first season as he made quite an impact on the new coaching staff.

“That’s what I’ve been saying to the media for the last month, having a year under our belts, we know the scheme better and learn the play book. Being able to have a smarter team is going to help us out because you look at great teams in the Big Ten like Wisconsin and they are smart, they don’t make critical mistakes and that’s big late in the season against good opponents.

“You play more free and have a lot more confidence when you know exactly your assignment and where you need to be.”

Family connection

Coughlin’s cousin is non-other than third-year starting quarterback Cole Kramer who will follow in his families footsteps to play football at the University of Minnesota six decades after his grandfather Tom Moe was a standout for the Gophers football and baseball teams of the late 1950s. He went on to be the athletic director from 1999-2002.

The connection is on his mother’s side of the family as their mothers are sisters. Jennie Coughlin and Jackie Kramer were standout Division 1 tennis players in college – Jennie at Minnesota and Jackie at Texas. 

Coughlin’s father, Bob Coughlin was also a defensive lineman for the Gophers and is now pastor at Grace Church in Eden Prairie.

“Cole and Cade, Jackie and Steve live maybe five minutes away from me, maybe,” Coughlin said. “Jackie and my mom are basically twins and the Kramers are basically over at my house 24/7. So I mean we’re unbelievably close with them and Cole’s visited me at college and spent the night a couple times and so to be honest with you, I’m so excited, especially with him coming in January we have a full year together.”

Beyond the field

Away from the field, the Gophers serve the greater Twin Cities community outside of the football facility including visits to the Amplatz Children’s Hospital on campus.

“It’s incredible,” Cashman said about the opportunity to visit children and families at the hospital. “It gives us a different perspective on life, especially at the hospital and gives us an opportunity to bond and get to know people out in the community and it’s a team activity that brings us closer together. We do activities outside football to take your mind away from the game and be with your teammates to do a good thing to bring out that family culture.” 

Coughlin said he saw what the program did outside the typical football work on social media. “But it’s way different being part of it, just thinking some college athlete is going to do something as a publicity stunt but in reality that’s the coolest thing that comes with being a college athlete. 

“God’s given me a platform and it’s really special to be able to use that and go into a place like the children’s hospital where kids have severe illnesses and me just walking in there to have a conversation with them and their parents lights up their world and it lights up my world 10-fold and that’s what is so cool about it."

Fleck and his staff presented scholarships to current walk-on players before the start of the 2018 season this year by flying in Navy Seal skydivers to deliver the news. Cashman was also a walk-on before going through an Easter Egg hunt to reveal his own scholarship in 2017.

“It was definitely fun for me,” Cashman said. “The guys who have gotten scholarships over the last month, I’m happy for them, they definitely deserve it. They work their butts off and they’re everything this program and culture is about and how they work to change their best every day.”

Follow Jason Olson on Twitter at @SunSportsJason.

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