Gopher Football Spring Game: (FR) Minnesotan Zack Annexstad is My QB1

Wow, I knew Zack Annexstad was looking good in practice because PJ Fleck has been raving about him, and is adamant that those who ask about the QB situation, keep Zack included in the questioning. But, I didn’t think he would stick out bigger than the best sore thumb you’ve ever wanted to see (not everyone is with me on Zack sticking out more than his other QB competitors — more on that later). First, he sticks out physically, coming in at 6’3″ 215 lbs. He looks like a big time Big Ten quarterback. But, it wasn’t just his physical build that jumped off of my screen. This Minnesotan can sling the pigskin. That’s right, he’s one of us.

His release looks reasonably polished and heavily worked on, which would make sense being he left the beautiful state of Minnesota to join one of the elite high school football programs in the country, in IMG Academy (Florida).

IMG Academy is a High School powerhouse that has hosted superstars to the likes of Jimmy Butler, Cam Newton, Serena Williams, Russel Wilson…. and the list goes on and on. Playing for a school like that, this stud must have picked the Gophers over some pretty nice schools, right?

Wrong. Look, Zack had offers from some good schools, including Pitt, Cincinnati, and Illinois. However, he didn’t even get a scholarship offer from Minnesota (not for long). That’s right, Zack Annexstad is a Preferred Walk-On and is PAYING to play football here.

But, he doesn’t give a shit. Why? Because he obviously believes in himself. And, he believes in Minnesota and especially in Coach Fleck (247 Sports):

“I went to Minnesota’s practice last week on Thursday, and I talked with coach Fleck after and he was the one that told me that I had an opportunity to play at Minnesota,” IMG Academy quarterback Zack Annexstad said to GopherIllustrated. “This (Minnesota) is where i want to be so I jumped on it right away. I went home to talk with my parents and family and I called coach Fleck the next day, and he was excited. He asked me if I was 100% committed and I said absolutely. What put Minnesota’s PWO over the top of scholarship offers elsewhere is just that Minnesota is where I want to be. I love what coach Fleck is building here. We are going to do things at Minnesota that have not been done in a long time. This is also a really good time to be coming into Minnesota as a quarterback

Last year, in his senior year at IMG, Zach went into the season as the backup to Artur Sitkowski, who is now in the Big Ten East with Rutgers. Zack’s backup role didn’t last long. Apparently, Annexstad took over the job during a game where things weren’t going well. According to his coaches, he never relinquished the job after that (Star Tribune)

“We were struggling one game, and Zack came in. We felt like he gave us a little bit of an advantage,” IMG coach Kevin Wright said. “He never relinquished the job from that point on. … He’s a very underrated player. He’ll make an impact as well [at Minnesota] over the next few years.”

Part of what made Annexstad look so good was the lack of what was shown from the other QB’s. Redshirt Sophomore, Tanner Morgan played pretty well and the stat sheet looks pretty good (18/28, 272 yards, and 2 TD’s) but he had Tyler Johnson playing with him and Tyler makes everyone look good. Seriously. Look at this kid…

Now, I’m definitely in the minority on Annexstad being the guy, after Thursday’s scrimmage. EVERYONE ELSE is on Tanner Morgan’s $*%k (Star Tribune) (GopherIllustrated – subscription) (Pioneer Press). It’s clear PJ has Tanner starting right now (he was throwing to the top receivers including Tyler Johnson and not sharing reps with Vic Viramontes like Annexstad was) and that’s fine, but this looks like a classic case of a “this guy’s been here longer than 6 months” bias. And, like we’ve seen all over the football landscape in the past, that type of bias can linger into the season. But, once the games start, the true talent starts to emerge.

Watching Morgan, he just looks like a guy who will flash in spurts, because he will take chances and can run around a bit, which causes a lot of chaos in college football. However, it’s hard to watch him and think ‘bona fide Big Ten QB’. Again, he had a lot of yards and threw for two touchdowns but both of them were to Tyler Johnson. One TD ball wouldn’t be caught by 99% of college wideouts and the 2nd was a bad pass to an open target (1:05 mark on full highlight video on bottom of post). But… he had Tyler Johnson… so it didn’t matter and nobody is talking about it. Move those two throws to incompletions and he goes 16/28 for 210 yards on 0 TD’s and two fumbles. Not so hot.

Annexstad on the other hand, looked calm, cool, and collected without Tyler Johnson. And his throws are crisp and with purpose. Here is just one.

Vic Viramontes definitely doesn’t have issues looking the part of a D-1 Football Player, after spending his Freshman Season at Riverside Community College before enrolling at the U of M this season as a JUCO transfer. However, once the game started, he struggled. Especially holding onto the football, which DEFINITELY doesn’t fit into PJ’s culture. Fleck talked about that post-game saying “The ball was on the ground way too much for me,” adding; “He’s just got to learn how to value that football, which he will. He’ll get there.”

Some are calling it a 2-man race but I’d lean more toward a 3-man race for the long haul. Zack and Tanner are clearly neck and neck while Vic should start to emerge as he gets more comfortable. And honestly, I expect Zack to win. It might not be game-1, although that’s where I’d be leaning after Thursday, but I certainly expect him to be the guy by the end of the season. Viramontes needs to prove he can throw a little and he can hang onto the “program” when he runs (which he will do just as much as he throws).

Other notes:

– Rodney Smith looked REALLY good and both caught and ran for touchdowns.

– Also sticking out, especially while Rodney was in, was the offensive line and the MASSIVE holes they were opening. It’s early, but it was hard not to get aroused a little watching that. And even more aroused watching this (btw, without Zack Annexstad, there is no Daniele Faalele in MN):

– Remember Tai-yon Devers? You might remember his speed rush splashing onto the scene with Claeys & Co. as he racked up 3 sacks and 3 forced fumbles his Freshman year. Well, he disappeared with Fleck & Co. takin last year and I honestly thought he might have been someone who transferred out, because of how far he’d fallen off the map. Not the case. He was EVERYWHERE on the map Thursday night.

– Nobody should be surprised but Fleck’s spring game was lit. It was much more competitive than other spring games I’ve seen from both the Gophers and other teams in the past, and it came down to the wire. WTF doesn’t like spring football? Especially when starters play most of the game and the kids CARE about the results. It was very clear that the kids cared. It was fun to watch. That’s right. Spring football games. Fun to watch.

I love PJ Fleck.


Eric Strack (Founder/Instagram Graphic Designer/I Make Up These Titles as I Go) @RealMNSportsFan

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