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Two-way player: Losli sacks the books just as hard

MINNEAPOLIS

With each new season comes the inevitable introduction of a new sports buzzword.

Walk-off homer is a recent example -- a noble contribution to the cliche-free society we can all agree we're striving for, but a word that has ultimately become like all the rest: overused.

Well, we've got our latest candidate: student athlete -- a phrase you surely heard if you watched but a few minutes of the men's or women's college basketball tournaments in March and April. Can't pin this one on the cynical media, though. It came from the NCAA's incessant ads.

Since the stakes are so high and the priorities so disordered at seemingly every school that plays big-time athletics these days, the very concept of a student athlete seems laughable.

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Find me one, I say!

"My first semester, I got a 4.0," Mark Losli said, as he detailed his impressive academic progress through the University of Minnesota. A management information systems major, Losli was on track to graduate this December -- after 31⁄2; years -- until he added a second area of study, finance.

And, yup, he's also starting for the Gophers at defensive tackle.

"That's our big brain up there," defensive coordinator Greg Hudson said, smiling.

Though Minnesota went 10-3 last season, the defense was ordinary -- fifth in the Big Ten in yards allowed and sixth in points given up.

Hudson and coach Glen Mason want more speed this year, so they've done some shuffling -- including the switch of Losli from end to tackle and Darrell Reid from tackle to end.

Losli is one of six returning players who spent the whole season as starters, and several others with significant experience are also back. It's a group that's eager to make an impact and steal some spotlight from the Gophers' dominant running game.

"I like where we are," Hudson said.

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He likes where Losli is, too. The 6-foot-6 Spring Lake Park High School grad is up to about 290 pounds this spring, forming an imposing inside duo with 6-foot-5 Anthony Montgomery.

"We think we could be the leading rebounding team in Big Ten football," Hudson joked.

Losli worked his way into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman in 2002, recording six sacks, and he had five sacks as part of his total of 101⁄2; tackles for loss in 2003.

He was moved to tackle for the Sun Bowl, and the switch was made permanent this spring. Quite the accomplishment for a kid that came to college with a basketball body, weighing about 240 pounds.

"We really didn't ever know if he was going to be big enough to be a defensive lineman," Hudson said.

Losli's first love was hoops, but he soon realized where his future was.

"I could've gone D-2 and played basketball at St. Cloud State," he said, "but football is more what I've turned out to love just as much."

Actually, it seems Losli had his future figured out all along. The guy was going to graduate too fast, so he decided to take more credits. Wow -- what a concept.

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For the past two autumns, Losli has traveled with his teammates to many a Midwestern campus, played a grueling game for three hours in front of thousands of fans and flown back to the Twin Cities on a Saturday evening -- facing the prospect of another long week of classes, workouts and practices.

"As soon as he gets on the plane, he's got a book out and he's studying," Mason said. "The 'C' students are playing with their Gameboys."

Losli shrugs off his classroom prowess -- "It's just always come naturally to me," he said -- but his coaches don't.

"It's mind-boggling to me," said Mason, a proud man who doesn't often admit when his mind is boggled. "I went through college. I couldn't have done it. I had trouble with one major."

Losli plans to get his MBA from Minnesota's respected Carlson School of Business, but for now he'll wrap up the MIS degree and work toward finishing his finance major -- so he can complete his final two years of football. He's got an internship lined up for the summer with American Express.

"There's not a better kid out there," Mason said.

It's always interesting to discover these anomalies. In fact, the Gophers had seven players on last fall's team who had already graduated, an obvious and understandable source of pride for Mason.

So maybe that student athlete concept isn't so far-fetched?

"We take a lot of pride in that," Losli said. "It's possible. You've just got to put your mind to it and make it a goal."

Dave Campbell is the Minnesota Associated Press sports editor. He can be reached at dcampbell@ap.org

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