The somber look on P.J. Fleck’s face revealed the seriousness of the situation — and it was not what was happening in front of him on the field at Ross-Ade Stadium on Oct. 2.
Immediately after Gophers safety Tyler Nubin’s last-minute interception sealed a 20-13 win over Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind., Minnesota’s head coach was told by an athletic trainer what was going on behind the scenes: starting running back Trey Potts was seriously injured and was headed to nearby hospital.
Potts remained in two hospitals in Indiana for a total of six nights; he was released Friday and returned to Minnesota.
On Monday, Fleck — who followed his standard practice of not sharing specific details on a player’s injury — said Potts’ ailment is severe enough to sideline the third-year player for the rest of the 2021 season.
“It’s unfortunate what happened and really scary,” Fleck said.
On the sideline during the Purdue game, medical officials took Potts to the injury tent after he came out of the game and then carted off the field before he was transported by ambulance to a nearby hospital. He was later moved to Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.
“I thought our medical team did an unbelievable job and handled it perfectly, especially in a very, very stressful and chaotic situation towards the end of the game, too,” Fleck said.
After the game, Fleck called Potts' mother, Georgia. She and his father Jerome were not at the game but the U arranged immediate travel from their home in Pennsylvania to Indiana to be with their son.
“Obviously, she was really upset,” Fleck said. “Those are the parent phone calls you never want to have — ever.”
Before the team flew home to Minnesota, Fleck went to each of the team’s buses to give a first-hand update on Potts, wanting to avoid details shifting or falling by the wayside in a game of “telephone” — where a story’s elements change as more and more people relay it to someone else.
“I told them all the facts that were coming out about him and what he was doing and what they were going to do with him, where he was getting transported, but that he was going to be OK,” Fleck said.
Athletics Director Mark Coyle and two medical staff members stayed with Potts on that Saturday night. Fleck and wife, Heather, traveled back with the team but returned to Indiana last Monday to visit the Potts family. The family has expressed gratitude to all the support and well-wishes they have received since Trey’s injury.
“I’m never one to ignore my emotions,” Fleck said Monday. “I’m a parent just like his parents. I have a responsibility to everybody on this football team. When they hurt, you hurt.”
Potts suffered an upper-body injury, but Fleck said “it’s too early to tell” if the ailment could end Potts’ collegiate career.
“I have just been told don’t expect him back for the rest of the year,” Fleck said. “I think that’s positive for him, if football is something that he wants to do with the options he has. But I think that if (retirement) was the only option, that would have been said by now.”
Potts overcame ligament damage in both his knees during his playing days at his Pennsylvania high school. In an Instagram post Sunday, he referenced where he has been and where he is now: “Back been against the wall.”
Besides the severity, what made Potts’ situation in the Boilermakers game so surprising was there were no immediate signs on the field that he had been hurt in the first place.
On a crucial third-and-3 play with the U leading 17-13 with three minutes left, Potts plowed ahead for a 6-yard gain. After being tackled, he quickly got up and went back into the huddle before being subbed out as the Gophers went to their wildcat package.
“He’s a competitor,” Fleck said. “… He’s devastated though because of the seriousness of his injury. I mean, we’re just thankful he’s OK.”
Fleck said Potts was planning to stop by the Larson Football Performance Center on Monday or for Tuesday’s morning practice as the team prepares to play Nebraska at Huntington Bank Stadium on Saturday.
When the Gophers lost running back Mohamed Ibrahim to an Achilles injury in the season opener against Ohio State, Potts took over the leading role and was the nation’s leading ball-carrier for a few weeks. Across five games, Potts had rushed 112 times for 552 yards and six touchdowns.
Now the Gophers have lost Ibrahim and Potts to season-ending injuries before the season has reached its halfway mark.
Minnesota has handed the ball off to Potts or Ibrahim on 77% of rushes this season. The remaining 23 percent have gone to Mar’Keise “Bucko” Irving, Ky Thomas, Bryce Williams and Cam Wiley
Irving, a true freshman from Country Club Hills, Ill., has 25 carries for 112 yards in four games. His best game was the 30-0 win over Colorado on Sept. 18 when he rushed for 89 yards on 15 carries.
“When your best players are injured and get banged up, it provides opportunity for someone else,” Fleck said. “ … That is why Bucko is here. That is why Ky Thomas came here, to eventually be the guy. Cam Wiley. Bryce Williams. We have Cole Kramer with the wildcat package. We have ways to do it.
“Is it your first option going into the season? No. Is it your second option? No. But as you start to go through this, this is not all or nothing in a year. … There is another game this week, and it just keeps moving. We are going to do everything we can to put our players in the best position to be successful, no matter who is in the backfield.”
Gophers receiver Dylan Wright has returned to Minnesota. He was excused from the Purdue game to go back home to Mesquite, Texas, to mourn the death of good friend Aaron Lowe, the Utah cornerback who was killed on Sept. 26. … Minnesota’s game against Maryland on Oct. 23 will kick off at 2:30 p.m. It will end a streak of five straight 11 a.m. or noon kickoffs for the U.