After so many moves, Gophers’ Seth Green at home in Wildcat formation

MINNEAPOLIS — Rodney Smith saw a teammate running with confidence when Seth Green took off for a 9-yard touchdown in the Gophers’ season-opening 48-10 rout of New Mexico State last week.

But an assertive, straight line hasn’t always been the path for the Woodbury, Minn., native.

Green was highly recruited when he transferred from East Ridge High School to Allen, Texas, for his senior season. He gave an oral commitment to Oregon before switching to the Gophers.

At the U, he said he had reservations for a year after the head-coaching switch from Tracy Claeys to P.J. Fleck. He arrived in Dinkytown as a quarterback before moving to tight end during spring practice and eventually to receiver this fall.

The redshirt sophomore’s touchdown on Thursday, however, came in the Wildcat formation, where he and quarterback Zack Annexstad switched spots. Green took the snap, followed his blocks and zeroed in on the goal line, where he bowled over former Gophers cornerback Ray Buford to score.

Green backed it up with a 3-yard touchdown run later in the second quarter. His new role in the Minnesota offense will be something Fresno State (1-0) must prepare to see again from the Gophers (1-0) in their game at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.

“Seeing all that hard work pay off was definitely joyful,” Green said Wednesday, Sept. 5, of his TDs. “It helped give me promise that if I keep working and keep on the grind, all that will come together for good, if you keep doing the right things.”

Green’s long road also included an alleged role in the sexual misconduct case in September 2016; he wasn’t initially suspended by the U but was when added to the investigation by the end of that season. He was cleared and reinstated to the football program in March 2017.

During that saga, which included no criminal charges for any of the 10 players, Green was named scout team player of the year. In 2017, he played mop-up duty as a quarterback in one game but did not throw a pass.

While Green was the longest tenured quarterback on the roster last spring, he was at the bottom of the depth chart. Three Fleck recruits — Annexstad, Tanner Morgan and Vic Viramontes — were all ahead of him.

This prompted a frank conversation between Green and Fleck, who laid out three options.

First choice: He could stay at quarterback and likely not see game action outside of emergency situations. He would go back on the scout team for a third season.

Second: He could transfer to another school and possibly improve his odds of playing QB. While Fleck said he would support and help in this transition, it would mean another big turn on Green’s winding path.

Third: He could put his faith in Fleck, whose sales pitch included the line: “You’re too valuable to waste as a third-string quarterback.”

By that point, Green had faith in Fleck. But that wasn’t the case a few months earlier.

“I wouldn’t say I was all bought in,” he said Wednesday. “You can’t be all bought in to something off the rip. You have to learn about it. (Players) didn’t know enough to be all bought in.”

Green said he needed a calendar year with Fleck for all the rhythms and cycles of college football to play out before he knew what to expect and whether this was where he wanted to be. Green told Fleck he wanted to stay but that he needed to reflect on the three options.

“I prayed about it a lot and talked to my family and just that family feel between my teammates — these are all my brothers,” Green said. “When he talked to me, he said, ‘It’s not that we don’t want you to play. We love you, and we want you to make an impact. It’s just not at quarterback.'”

At Big Ten media days in July, Fleck raved about how Green had bought in and bulked up to nearly 250 pounds to play on the line of scrimmage a tight end. But in fall camp, Green almost never lined up at that spot during portions of practices open to the media.

However, at 6-foot-4 and with one the biggest vertical leaps on the team, he did some impressive things at receiver. It’s a facet the Gophers believe remains untapped for Green after he didn’t catch a pass in the opener.

Fleck said they didn’t wait to use the Wildcat because it’s now a part of their offense — not just a wrinkle to spring on unsuspecting opponents.

“Now, we can build off that package,” Fleck said. “Seth Green is a quarterback. It’s not like you just have to run the ball out of that. Now, we can expand what we want to do out of that. It’s in the infant stages of it.”

The idea of Green in the Wildcat was birthed in spring practices, and offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca said he “noticed that he had a good knack for it. We just kind of followed it up, and it was a nice little addition (Thursday) and feel like it can help us moving forward.”

It also prepares Green for a role he goes back to regardless of his position changes: emergency quarterback. When Annexstand and Morgan finished spring ball ahead of Viramontes, Viramontes decided in June to transfer back to Riverside City College in California. That thrust Green back in the emergency third-string role this season.

It would be yet another change for Green, but he’s used to them by now.