Gophers football preparing for challenging 2023 schedule with Poison in the weight room

AUGUST 1, 2023 — 6:34AM
You won't see P.J. Fleck sporting shoulder-length blond hair, a red bandana around his forehead and a sleeveless black T-shirt.
No, Fleck won't be confused anytime soon with Bret Michaels, frontman from the glam metal band Poison, but the Gophers football coach certainly is trying to give his team something to believe in.
Fleck and the Gophers kicked off 2023 training camp on Monday, and the seventh-year Minnesota coach revealed to local media that one of the themes for his team this year is "poise.'' Needing to replace such stalwarts as All-America selections at center in John Michael Schmitz and running back in Mohamed Ibrahim, Fleck and Gerrit Chernoff, the team's general manager, brainstormed for a theme to help the Gophers succeed. They made the link from poise to poison, meaning, "if you aren't poised, you will have poison.''
"I have a sixth-grade social studies teacher mind,'' Fleck said, "so you've got to find new ways to teach young people the cultural thing.
"… We knew this word poise: control, balance in hostile situations. How can we get this message home constantly? ... And that's where the Poison band came into play.''
Throughout the spring, Fleck hammered home his latest mantra by having Poison's music blaring in the team's weight room. Players — none of whom were even born during Poison's late-1980s heyday — heard the likes of "Your Momma Don't Dance,'' "Unskinny Bop,'' "Fallen Angel'' and "Look What the Cat Dragged In'' while putting in their offseason work.
Fleck acknowledged that when players reported for workouts in early July, they requested less Poison in the weight room.
"We think we got the message,'' he said, hopeful that his players have nothin' but a good time this season.
Opportunity knocks
The Gophers schedule, which includes Michigan, Ohio State and North Carolina, along with usual Big Ten West contenders Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin, is ranked the second toughest in the nation behind Ole Miss, according to ESPN. Fleck sees it differently.
"This is the second most-opportunistic schedule in America, and that's the way that our team has been talked to since January and what we've been preparing for,'' he said.
Open practices set
The Gophers announced they will have two training camp practices that will be free and open to the public. They are at 7 p.m. Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium and 3:30 p.m. Aug. 15 at the Athletes Village outdoor complex.
Saturday's practice also will serve as the team's annual Family Day outing. Fans are encouraged to bring diapers to the practice and drop them off outside the stadium near Tribal Nations Plaza (outside of West Plaza). The diapers will be donated to the Diaper Bank of Minnesota and distributed to families in need. Fans also are encouraged to bring a decorated oar to Saturday's practice to be added to the walls of the inside tunnel that the Gophers travel through from their locker room to the field on game days.
• Who'll be calling the offensive plays for the Gophers this season on Aug. 31 against Nebraska at Huntington Bank Stadium? Fleck wasn't saying Monday, adding that he wants to keep the decision in-house for now. The candidates are co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Matt Simon and co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Greg Harbaugh Jr.
"Why give somebody information that they can take and run with it?'' Fleck said of possibly keeping the Cornhuskers guessing.
• Fleck said the Gophers have applied for a waiver for cornerback Craig McDonald, a transfer from Iowa State, to play this season but are awaiting word from the NCAA. "He's gonna be a really good football player,'' Fleck said of the former Minnehaha Academy standout who is expected to have three years of eligibility remaining.

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