Minnesota’s Ibrahim quickly returns to form after Achilles tear

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 10 Western Illinois at Minnesota
Getty Images

MINNEAPOLIS – At first, Mohamed Ibrahim believed his injury in last year’s opener was just a cramp in his calf muscle, a seemingly minor setback the Minnesota star could brush off like a would-be tackler.

By the time Ibrahim reached the locker room that night, while the Gophers were pushing a potent Ohio State team in an eventual 45-31 defeat, he was informed his recovery would require much more than some stretching and hydration.

The torn Achilles tendon in his left leg, vividly revealed for a national television audience in super-slow-motion replay, ended his 2021 season as it was just beginning. His career with the Gophers was widely assumed to be over, too.

There were still several chapters left in this story, as it turned out, for the Baltimore native who was part of coach P.J. Fleck‘s first recruiting class at Minnesota. The way Ibrahim approached the months that followed made quite an impact on his team, perhaps as much as the 262 yards and four touchdowns he has racked up over 44 carries in the first two games.

Going into the game against Colorado on Saturday for the unbeaten Gophers, Ibrahim has 37 career rushing touchdowns – three short of all-time program leader Darrell Thompson.

“Getting better every day as a person before I’m even thinking about being a football player, that’s what I’m most proud of,” said Ibrahim, whose decision to return for a sixth year was matched by quarterback Tanner Morgan, center John Michael Schmitz and wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell.

Rolling around on a scooter to keep the weight off his surgically repaired leg, Ibrahim maintained his captaincy and came out for the opening coin toss as the Gophers endured several more injuries in their backfield but managed to finish strong with a 9-4 record.

“He learned how to coach the running backs, not just be a running back, served and gave to his teammates and never made it about himself,” Fleck said.

Ibrahim dived into Achilles tendon research and was heartened to learn that late NBA great Kobe Bryant once suffered that injury, his favorite basketball player serving as posthumous inspiration. Ibrahim leaned on his mother and his Muslim faith for encouragement and support.

Then there was his friend, teammate and backup Trey Potts, who exactly one month later endured his own devastating injury – the nature of which the Gophers have never disclosed out of respect for his privacy. Potts was hurt badly enough to require a six-day hospital stay in Indiana after the game at Purdue, putting his football future in obvious jeopardy.

“He had a hard decision to make, and when he made it, we were just together the whole time. We were just locked in. It was more than just football,” Ibrahim said. “Anything he ever needed, I always had him.”

The Gophers have not made Potts available for interviews since then, but his decision to follow Ibrahim’s lead and return to the field this fall provided another source of inspiration for this mature team that Fleck has repeatedly praised for its connectedness.

“It’s first and foremost a very important lesson for everybody to learn from those two guys about how to respond from two very adverse situations, how to come back,” Morgan said.

During those “dog days” of preseason practices last month, the way Ibrahim felt physically told him he was all the way back – without restriction or hesitation.

“At first I just wanted to walk again. I was on the scooter, and I just wanted to walk again,” Ibrahim said. “Then I had to run again. It was like little steps, steps, steps, and then you look down and you realize you’re on the top of Mount Everest.”

Georgia extends contract for AD Josh Brooks, plans two new football practice fields

1 Comment

ATHENS, Ga. – On the heels of a second straight national football championship, Georgia has rewarded athletic director Josh Brooks a contract extension that ties him to the Bulldogs through at least 2029.

The athletic association board, wrapping up its annual spring meeting Friday at a resort on Lake Oconee, also announced plans for a new track and field facility that will free up space for two more football practice fields.

Brooks’ new contract will increase his salary to $1.025 million a year, with annual raises of $100,000.

The 42-year-old Brooks, who took over the athletic department in 2021 after Greg McGarity retired, called the Georgia job “a dream for me” and said he hopes to spend the rest of his career in Athens.

“I am extremely grateful,” Brooks said. “I got into this business 20-plus years ago as a student equipment manager. My first job at Louisiana-Monroe was making $20,000 a year in football operations.”

The Georgia board approved a fiscal 2024 budget of $175.2 million, a nearly 8% increase from the most recent budget of $162.2 million and the sign of a prosperous program that is flush with money after its success on the gridiron.

The school received approval to move forward with its preliminary plans for a new track and field facility, which will be built across the street from the complex hosting the soccer and and softball teams.

The current track stadium is located adjacent to the Butts-Mehre athletic facility, which hosts the practice fields and training facilities for the football program.

Georgia lost a chunk of its outdoor fields when it built a new indoor practice facility. After the new track and field stadium is completed, the current space will be converted to two full-length, grass football practice fields at the request of coach Kirby Smart.

“He wants to find efficient ways to practice, and there is a lot of truth to the issues we’ve had with our current practice fields,” Brooks said. “There is a lot of strain on our turf facilities staff to keep that field in great shape when half the day it is getting shade, so that has been a challenge as well. For our football program, it is better to practice on grass fields than (artificial) turf, so to be able to have two side-by-side grass fields is huge. It makes for a much more efficient practice.”

The new track and field complex, which will continue to be named Spec Towns Track, will also include an indoor facility, the first of its kind in the state of Georgia.

Iowa AD Gary Barta announces retirement after 17 years at Big Ten school

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa athletic director Gary Barta will retire on August 1 after 17 years at the university, the school announced Friday.

Barta, 59, is one of the longest-tenured athletic directors in a Power Five conference. He was hired by Iowa in 2006 after being the AD at Wyoming.

An interim director will be announced next week, Iowa said.

In September, Iowa hired former Ball State athletic director Beth Goetz to be deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer, putting her in position to possibly succeed Barta.

“It has been an absolute privilege and honor to serve in this role the past 17 years,” Barta said in a statement. “This decision didn’t come suddenly, nor did it come without significant thought, discussion, and prayer.”

“That said, I’m confident this is the right time for me and for my family.”

Iowa won four NCAA national team titles and 27 Big Ten team titles during Barta’s tenure. The women’s basketball team is coming off an appearance in the national championship game and the wrestling team is coming off a second-place finish at the NCAA championships.

Barta served as the chairman of the College Football Playoff committee in 2020 and 2021.

He faced heavy criticism over more than $11 million in settlements for lawsuits in recent years alleging racial and sexual discrimination within the athletic department.

Lawsuits filed by former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and associate athletics director Jane Meyer led to a $6.5 million payout.

Iowa had to pay $400,000 as part of a Title IX lawsuit brought by athletes after it cut four sports in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the agreement, Iowa reinstated the women’s swimming and diving program and add another women’s sport.

Iowa added women’s wrestling, the first among Power Five schools to compete this year.

A lawsuit brought by former football players alleging racial discrimination within the program was settled for $4.2 million last March, which prompted state auditor Rob Sand to call for Barta’s ouster.

“Gary Barta’s departure is a long time coming given the four different lawsuits for discrimination that cost Iowa more than $11 million,” Sand posted on Twitter.

The university did not allow taxpayer money to be used for the settlement with the former players.

Barta led Iowa through $380 million of facility upgrades, including renovation of Kinnick Stadium, the construction of a new football facility, a basketball practice facility and a training center for the wrestling teams.

Under Barta, Iowa has had just one head football coach (Kirk Ferentz), women’s basketball coach (Lisa Bluder) and wrestling coach (Tom Brands). All were in place when he arrived.

Barta has also come under scrutiny for allowing Ferentz to employee his son, Brian Ferentz, as offensive coordinator. To comply with the university’s nepotism policy, Brian Ferentz reports to Barta.