WR Ernie Wheelwright

2006 Statistics

Coach: Tim Brewster
1st year
2006 Record: 6-7
at Kent State WON 44-0
at California LOST 17-42
at Purdue LOST 21-27
at Wisconsin LOST 12-48
at Ohio State LOST 0-44
at Michigan State WON 31-18
IOWA WON 34-24
Texas Tech LOST 41-44 (OT)

2006 Final Rankings
AP-UR, Coaches-UR, BCS-UR

2007 Outlook

After watching the defensive efforts deteriorate over the past three seasons, the hiring of new boss Tim Brewster trickled down a (much needed) total revamping of the coaching staff. In his first head coaching position at this level, Brewster has brought in the right mix within his staff. Two of the most innovative and respected minds in the game will bring Gopher football into the 21st century - coordinators Mike Dunbar and Everett Withers change the looks on both sides of the ball. Dunbar and Brewster have installed a spread approach on offense that may struggle a bit initially due to their QB situation not quite being sound. Junior Tony Mortensen has the nod going into the fall mainly due to (limited) experience, but Adam Weber should find the field on game day to sort out who truly deserves and can best lead this offense. Withers has much talent on this roster with which to work, and progress throughout spring shows massive improvements already. An ex-DB coach, Withers’ hiring ostensibly was to improve UM’s 113th-ranked defense by focusing on its most ailing dimension, the 117th-ranked secondary. Experience issues amongst the reserves at end are aided by the athleticism of the depth at tackle, though, size issues inside could prove detrimental against the conference’s top running teams. The new “Gopher Nation” (est. 2007, upon Brewster’s hire) shouldn’t expect this team to surprisingly surge to the top of the league, but they won’t be outclassed anymore due to the modern game passing Minneapolis by. The three warm-ups, followed by two challenging conference home games, is the perfect pace for UM to shift the gears of teamwork through their developmental stages. Double-digit wins isn’t a pipe dream, but realism dictates some struggles keep that from happening. Still, just knowing that this team is on the right track should have the Maroon-and-Gold faithful patient for what will eventually happen, though maybe not until 2008.

Projected 2007 record: 7-5
QB - 2.5 DL - 3
RB - 4 LB - 3.5
WR - 3.5 DB - 3
OL - 3.5 ..

Passing: Tony Mortensen, 2-10-2, 15 yds., 0 TD

Rushing: Amir Pinnix, 252 att., 1272 yds., 10 TD

Receiving: Ernie Wheelwright, 26 rec., 437 yds., 5 TD

Scoring: Amir Pinnix, 10 TD, 60 pts.

Punting: Justin Kucek, 56 punts, 40.3 avg.

Kicking: Jason Giannini, 7-12 FG, 38-41 PAT, 59 pts.

Tackles: Mike Sherels, 104 tot., 67 solo

Sacks: Willie VanDeSteeg, 10 sacks

Interceptions: Dominique Barber, 4 for 57 yds., 1 TD

Kickoff Returns: Dominic Jones, 32 ret., 24.6 avg., 1 TD

Punt Returns: Dominic Jones, 19 ret., 11.5 avg., 0 TD


DB Dominique Barber
OFFENSE: Bryan Cupito-QB, Logan Payne-WR, Matt Spaeth-TE, Tyson Swaggert-OG, Joe Ainslie-OT
DEFENSE: Mario Reese-LB, Trumaine Banks-CB

New coordinator Mike Dunbar comes here after building the nation’s 12th-ranked offense at Cal, and the new spread formations have been developing as well as can be expected for an offense with a new signal caller after three years of the same guy (Cupito). Enter Todd Mortensen, who at this time is the tentative starter come fall behind center. This kid has size, speed and an arm that, once developed within this young system, should have the accuracy needed with his heady approach. Now realize that Mortensen (don’t be too freaked out about his -7.40 rating from ’06) hasn’t firmly taken the mantle at QB – he gets the nod over RS frosh Adam Weber due to time in the system, his size, and having slightly quicker feet. Also a dual-threat, Weber took snaps with the first team quite a bit this spring, so we don’t rule out a rotating QB chair until the pressures of real game reps sort these two out. Set to thrive in the new look is senior leader Amir Pinnix at tailback. This workhorse proved much in only losing 40 yards on his 250+ carries, and his soft hands will be on display even more now, as will the oft-used hands of backup Jay Thomas. The sophomore is also a great slasher through the open creases this offense creates, and both these guys have just enough size to effectively pass block when extra receivers are employed. Senior Justin Valentine, who was relegated last year to mainly blocking chores as a pure fullback, will see the rock a lot more after coach Brewster’s recognition of his ball-carrying talents in practice. “Justin may end up playing some tailback in this offense because he is an excellent football player,” the new coach opined this spring. The balance between run and pass won’t be known until September reveals such, but the quality of the new faces at receiver has the offense looking worthy of major production. 6’5 Ernie Wheelwright is the lone returning starter, and this field stretching senior will compete with proven sophomore Eric Decker for top dog this year. Decker’s big freshman campaign, along with his huge spring (game), has coaches drooling over his huge (still developing) potential. Junior JUCO-transfer Marc Cheatham headlines the slew of other new receivers competing for the important third and fourth slots – the talent is there, just a bit green. Since Brewster is a highly respected former tight end coach, we see junior Jack Simmons and 6’6 soph Troy Reilly finding themselves bigtime contributors and for either/both to be all-conference soon. The line has been adjusting well, with big, athletic senior center Tony Brinkhaus a perfect fit for calling out their new schemes. Senior (5th year) left tackle Steve Shidell will be the new QB’s best friend, and junior counterpart Matt DeGeest earns his start after great backup work last year. The upside of Nedward Tavale, after being the only Gopher freshman in ‘06 to start all 13 games, makes this line very likely to again – for the ninth straight season – produce both 2,000 yards in rushing and passing for the Gophers. Depth up front is also green, so a slew of injuries would possibly put that streak in danger. Overall, things look adequate so far for where this offense needs to be, but we’re sure those nice opposing Big Ten defenses will show them just what is still needed. Luckily, their first three tilts are warm-ups against smaller non-cons, so final fine-tune adjustments can be made before the conference onslaught.


RB Amir Pinnix


Returning Starters/
Key Players
QB Tony Mortensen-Jr (6-3, 230) Adam Weber-Fr (6-3, 210)
FB Justin Valentine-Sr (6-1, 230) ..
TB Amir Pinnix-Sr (6-0, 205) Jay Thomas-So (6-0, 195)
WR Ernie Wheelwright-Sr (6-5, 215) Marcus Sherels-So (5-11, 175)
WR Eric Decker-So (6-2, 210) Michael McKelton-So (5-10, 180)
WR Marc Cheatham-Jr (6-2, 210) Mike Chambers-So (6-1, 190)
TE Jack Simmons-Jr (6-4, 240) Troy Reilly-So (6-6, 250)
OT Steve Shidell-Sr (6-5, 290) Dominic Alford-Fr (6-3, 305)
OG Ryan Ruckdashel-So (6-5, 275) Jeff Tow-Arnett-So (6-2, 275)
C Tony Brinkhaus-Sr (6-3, 295) D.J. Burris-Fr (6-2, 280)
OG Ned Tavale-So (6-2, 305) John Jakel-Sr (6-5, 300)
OT Matt DeGeest-Jr (6-5, 275) Jason Meinke-So (6-5, 255)
K Joel Monroe-Jr (5-11, 190) Jason Giannini-Jr (5-9, 185)



This side of things needs the most work done after finishing 113th overall. Accordingly, we now find the keen mind of Everett Withers at the helm. A DB specialist, Withers gets 12 guys who have starting experience with which to begin his first coordinators job in a decade, but that doesn’t mean he and his staff won’t field who they think are the best 11 each week, regardless of seniority. It will all start up front, and the signs from camp have been very good for developments here. Alex Daniels is back on defense (started at TB against Cal; finished as team’s second best rusher), and this ex-DB has the size-speed combo like few in football anywhere. Tandem end Willie VanDeSteeg is all-conference with team highs in sacks (10) and TFLs (14.5); experience behind them is two relatively new sophomores who just need reps to learn how to use their quality prowess. Smallish tackle and fifth-year senior Todd Meisel has been here during both the good and bad times, but his presence, along with that of Neil Allen, now anchors the restructuring efforts of (former Syracuse) line coach Tim Cross. Two JUCO-transfers, with Eric Small earning the start opposite Meisel, bolster the depth inside, but none of tackles on the two-deep seems big enough to do Big Ten-quality clogging when it will most be needed. The linebackers return almost en mass, so it will be through the tutelage of new LB coach John Butler that this unit plays to its potential. Seniors Mike Sherels (team high 104 tackles) and John Shevlin are found everywhere, but now they won’t have to ‘stop the flood’ with the entire team’s emerging display of speed and hungry gang-tackling. Junior Steven Davis gets the starting nod again, but classmate Deon Hightower will again be an intricate part of the LB rotation after his huge spring. Deep, fast and big, this LB corps has everything needed to succeed. Super tough Dominic Jones hopefully won’t have to chase runners nearly as much, either – if this all-Big Ten corner can focus more on coverage, we know the defense must therefore be doing better. Senior CB Desi Steib needs to step up his efforts since he is sure to be picked on, but soph nickel Keith Massey has his back and might eventually start if Steib wavers. Depth from there on the outside is suspect. Three seniors with extensive starting experience are back at safety, and, like the rest of last year’s 117th pass defense, this entire secondary will improve light-years under Withers. Results at both this level and in the NFL prove why success follows wherever he goes. Progress through spring proves they are gelling well in the new system and flying to the ball...most importantly, looking like a team. Moreover, the athletes are there for this to eventually be a serious D that can keep the Gophers in games when the offense is kept in check, but size issues at tackle could hurt against bigger running teams.


DE Willie VanDeSteeg


Returning Starters/
Key Players
DE Alex Daniels-Jr (6-3, 255) Willie Dyson-So (6-3, 230)
DT Eric Small-Jr (6-2, 265) Serge Elizee-Jr (6-1, 300)
Garrett Brown-So (6-2, 285)
DT Todd Meisel-Sr (6-4, 275) Neel Allen-Sr (6-3, 285)
DE Willie VanDeSteeg-Jr (6-4, 255) Raymond Henderson-So (6-6, 255)
LB John Shevlin-Sr (6-1, 225) Deon Hightower-Jr (6-3, 210)
LB Steve Davis-Jr (6-2, 235) Logan U'u-Jr (5-10, 225)
LB Mike Sherels-Sr (6-0, 240) Nathan Triplett-So (6-3, 240)
CB Dominic Jones-Jr (5-8, 190) Daron Love-Fr (6-1, 185)
CB Desi Steib-Sr (6-0, 185) Keith Massey-So (6-1, 195)
SS Duran Cooley-Sr (6-0, 205) Scott Jilek-Fr (5-11, 190)
FS Dominique Barber-Sr (6-0, 210) Jamal Harris-Sr (6-0, 185)
P Justin Kucek-Jr (6-0, 200) Blake Haudan-Fr (6-1, 190)




Coach John Butler’s aggressive approach should mean Justin Kucek’s controlled punting efforts (56th) can equal better net results (74th). Both kickers are worthy, but Joel Monroe took the starting nod away from junior classmate Jason Giannini for the last two games and went 2-for-3 to retain his status heading into this campaign. T-H-E man at both return slots, Dominic Jones uses his 4.41 speed (in the 40) to keep tacklers grasping at air and will find the end zone for sure.