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17 Ohio players on Gophers' team



Published: Thu, October 26, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Canfield's Justin Kucek will be punting for Minnesota against Ohio State.

TOLEDO BLADE

COLUMBUS -- When Minnesota comes here Saturday to play top-ranked Ohio State, the Golden Gophers won't need passports, a map or even directions.

There are so many native Buckeyes on that team and coaching staff, they know just where they are going.

Minnesota has a bunch of players on its active roster from Ohio, significantly more than from any other state outside the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Neighboring Iowa has just one player on the Minnesota team, while nearby Illinois has only three.

That recruiting strategy alone gets Ohio State coach Jim Tressel's attention.

"The thing that impresses me about Minnesota is, number one, they've got 17 guys on their team from Ohio and half their coaching staff," Tressel said. "You know they're going to not even need an airplane to come to Columbus."

The Gophers will probably still take a plane, but landing rights won't be an issue. Eight of those 17 players come from right here in Columbus.

Ohio State cornerback Antonio Smith, another Columbus native, said it will be different seeing those familiar faces on the other side of the field.

"Minnesota did a lot of recruiting in this area," the Beechcroft grad said. "It is good to see a lot of city guys getting the opportunity to go up there and play in the Big Ten."

Cupito is good passer

Senior quarterback Bryan Cupito is from Cincinnati and is currently fourth in the nation in career total offensive yards per play among all Division I players. Cupito is averaging 7.33 yards per play for his career. He is second among Big Ten players this season, behind only Ohio State's Troy Smith.

"They're throwing it a little bit more than they have in the past few years," Tressel said, "and I think that's because they have the outstanding quarterback. He's an Ohio guy that's just very disciplined, just does a great job with the football, knows their offense inside and out, knows what they want to be in, and has been throwing to a great group of receivers."

That receiver group includes junior Ernie Wheelright from Walnut Ridge in Columbus. The 6-5, 215 pounder ranks 10th in Minnesota history in receiving yards with 1,397 yards.

Safety Dominic Jones from Brookhaven is third in the Big Ten in kickoff returns (25.1 yards per return) and is second in the Big Ten in punt returns at 11.2.

Even though Jones is just a sophomore, Tressel sees him as the emotional leader on the Minnesota defense.

"Defensively, they fly around, and they're led by a guy in the secondary from right here in Columbus, who's also a great punt returner and kickoff returner," Tressel said about Jones.

"He's got a 99-yarder for a touchdown and a couple other ones way out there, and he's just a fiery, physical guy, and he's played both safety and corner, so it will be interesting to see which way they deploy him this week."

Canfield's Kucek is punter

The Gophers' special teams are specially grown here in Ohio. Outside of Jones doing all the returns, Minnesota uses Canton Glen Oak's Jason Giannini as its kicker and Canfield product Justin Kucek as its punter. Kucek, a sophomore, is averaging 38.9 yards per punt and has put 13 inside the 20-yard-line.

St. John's Jesuit graduate Blake Haudan, a redshirt freshman, is the backup punter.

The Gophers also start Justin Valentine, a junior fullback from Columbus Eastmoor, and have several additional Ohio players listed as backups.

On the coaching side, Minnesota head coach Glen Mason, who has taken the Gophers to six bowls in the last seven seasons, is a former head coach at Kent State.

Mason, a New Jersey native, is a 1972 graduate of Ohio State and a former offensive coordinator for the Buckeyes. He also coached linebackers and the offensive line during his time with Ohio State (1978-85) while working under Woody Hayes and Earle Bruce. Minnesota wide receivers coach Luke Tressel is the son of Ohio State running backs coach Dick Tressel and the nephew of the Buckeyes' head coach.

Minnesota assistant head coach Mitch Browning went to Ohio's Loudonville High School, graduated from Capital University in Columbus, and coached at Ohio State, Kent State and Miami.

Running backs coach Vic Adamle is a native of Kent who played at Eastern Michigan, then coached at Kent State, while linebackers coach Mark Criner coached two seasons at Cincinnati.




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