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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Minnesota Suspends Running Back

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Gophers lost yet another running back on Wednesday when junior college transfer Brylee Callender was suspended indefinitely for violating team rules.

Gophers coach Glen Mason did not specify what rules were broken in a one-sentence news release on Wednesday evening, but the move further depletes an already thin backfield.

The Gophers lost junior running back Laurence Maroney shortly after last season when he declared for the NFL draft and was taken in the first round by New England. Then Gary Russell, the top returning rusher who set a school record for rushing touchdowns last season, was ruled academically ineligible.

The drama for Minnesota got a head start in the offseason this year, as dark clouds circled the program during preparation for the Music City Bowl last December. Head coach Glen Mason's contract was up for renewal, and a strong case was made on both sides of the argument over whether to bring him back.
On the plus side, Mason's Gophers were about to play in their sixth bowl game in seven years, after a long dry spell for the traditionally dismal program, and put together an unprecedented streak of three straight seasons with two 1,000-yard rushers on the team.

Callender led Lakeville High School to the 2003 state championship before spending two years at Feather River College in California to get his academics straightened out.

At the Gophers media day on Aug. 4, Mason said Callender was impressive in spring workouts.

"Brylee Callender went through an adjustment period, but he probably performed best during spring practice," Mason said. "He worked tremendously hard this summer. I'm anxious to see how he'll perform."

Just how long Callender will be suspended was unclear on Wednesday night, but Mason may have to do some more shuffling to bolster the depth behind presumed starter Amir Pinnix, who was third on the depth chart last season behind Maroney and Russell.

The loss of All-American linemen Greg Eslinger and Mark Setterstrom to the NFL could put even more of a premium on quality running backs this season. Mason loves to use multiple backs in his run-oriented offense, which prompted him to move highly touted sophomore Alex Daniels from linebacker to running back, even before Callender was suspended.

"I've talked long and hard about not having the depth at running back we've all become accustomed to around here, so I moved Alex Daniels to running back," Mason said. "We have to get creative because we still want to run the football."

Jay Thomas and Justin Valentine also are in the mix for the Gophers, who have been one of the nation's top rushing teams for the past few years.

Callender's suspension could further hasten a move away from the running game as Mason will look to depend on senior quarterback Bryan Cupito more this season.

"When I look at us right now I'm a little uncertain about the running back position," Mason said at media day. "But I'm confident in our quarterback and the decisions he'll make. I'm confident in his throwing ability and I'm confident in our receivers, so that's why I think you'll see us throw the ball more effectively."


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