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Rape allegations cast cloud over spring game

By Chip Scoggins

McClatchy Newspapers

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Gophers football spring game Saturday was billed as a "celebration" and everyone associated with the program went to great lengths to keep the focus positive and on football.

Nobody, however, could deny the undercurrent of disappointment, shock and frustration that pulsated throughout the Metrodome. Try as they might, it was hard to escape the reality that three Gophers players sat in jail only a few blocks away after being arrested in connection with a rape investigation.

This is not how coach Tim Brewster envisioned his first spring game, the one he worked so tirelessly to promote the past month.

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But the dynamics changed dramatically when junior Alex Daniels and sophomores Keith Massey and E.J. Jones were taken into custody Friday evening on suspicion of raping an 18-year-old.

Unfortunately for the Gophers, the arrests were the topic of conversation on a day when the focus should have been on the quarterback competition, the improved defense and changes brought in by the new coaching staff.

Overnight, a dark cloud rolled in and Brewster faced his first crisis. Sadly, this is part of being a major college coach, too. Brewster has won over Gophers fans with his boundless enthusiasm and salesmanship. His task Saturday was much different.

Everyone looks to the head coach to set the tone, in good times and in bad. Brewster’s predecessor, Glen Mason, had his share of faults that turned people off, but he rose to the occasion in times of turmoil.

Mason was a rock for the entire athletic department when freshman Brandon Hall was shot and killed in downtown Minneapolis. He also dropped the hammer on his players when he learned they took recruits to a strip club a few years ago.

Brewster, a rookie head coach, faces his first major incident less than three months after he accepted the job. He didn’t seem overmatched by the situation, though.

Brewster was forceful and direct when he addressed the media Saturday. He gave a short statement and quickly shifted the conversation to the game. He didn’t seem intimidated by the questions or unsure of what to say. That’s a start.

In some regards, the entire team tried to use the spring game and its festivities as a distraction from the distraction.

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"It’s an unfortunate incident, and there’s never a good time for that," associate athletic director Tom Wistrcill said. "(But) we could focus on football today and everybody can be excited about our players."

The Gophers found positives on the field. The offense, after getting outplayed all spring, had more success. Quarterbacks Tony Mortensen and Adam Weber continued their spirited competition by making some plays. The defense continued to show signs of improvement. And despite a few minor leg injuries to key players, the team avoided any major health setbacks, which is always a main objective in spring practice.

Afterward, the Gophers closed the book on spring practice, but the dark cloud remained.

"Situations are going to come up and we are going to handle them and move on," Brewster said. "We are going to represent this state in a great way."

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