Mitch Leidner is feeling good heading into this season. So good, in fact, that the Minnesota quarterback grew himself a beard.
Well, according to teammate David Cobb, it's properly classified as a chinstrap.
"He’s a different guy, you see how he carries himself now," Cobb said last week at Big Ten Media Day. "He has a little chinstrap going."
But the facial hair isn't the only thing that's different about Leidner. After an indecisive tumultuous offseason at the quarterback position up in the Twin Cities, Leidner is now the clear-cut QB for a Gophers team suddenly burdened with expectations.
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But nothing really seems to burden this confident group. And that's what the difference is in Leidner. He's the leader of this team now. And he's loving every minute of it.
"We said: Hey, Mitch is going to be our quarterback," head coach Jerry Kill said. "And we established that. And I think when you know you're going to be the guy, it's a little bit different."
Last season, Leidner started a few games, constantly splitting snaps with Phillip Nelson. It all worked out for the Gophers in the end, as the team won eight games in a season for the first time in a decade. But it didn't help the passing game, which was one of the conference's weakest. And it didn't help either quarterback. This offseason, Nelson decided he wanted to get away from Minnesota's run-heavy approach and transferred to Rutgers. Shortly after that, Nelson was involved in a gruesome legal situation and was dismissed from the Scarlet Knights.
Regardless of what happened, Leidner is now the No. 1 man under center for the Gophers.
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“It was actually probably the best offseason I’ve ever had," Leidner said. "At first it was a little bit uncomfortable when coach Kill first told me to take over. I was a little bit like, ‘OK,’ trying to establish myself. By the time spring football rolled around, I was that guy and everybody listened to me. It didn’t matter what I said, guys were going to do it. Overall, they were really good to me, all the guys on the team were, and it was really cool to see everything take off like that going into this summer.”
The leadership is there. And with it has come relief from the redshirt sophomore. It all adds up to the team believing in him and believing that he can take the Gophers to even greater heights than they reached a season ago.
"Just to know that you’re that guy and you don’t have to worry about having a bad series and the next quarterback comes in," Cobb said. "He’s put in hours and hours in the film room. I mess around with him all the time, telling him he doesn’t have a social life and telling him he needs to spend more time with his girlfriend.
"But that guy, he’s going to lead us, and he’s going to be OK.”