IOWA CITY, Iowa — Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner sat at a Big Ten podium and described in detail how badly he wanted a scholarship offer from Iowa.
It was July 2015, 90 degrees outside and seemingly 55 degrees inside this Chicago ballroom. Leidner’s mannerisms hit both ends of that temperature spectrum when he discussed the Hawkeyes. He coolly recalled how he drove on consecutive weekends from the Twin Cities suburbs to Iowa football camps before his senior year at Lakeville South High School.
Then he ran hot when he brought up how Iowa brushed him off after his second visit.
At the time, Minnesota hadn’t offered Leidner a scholarship because it already had a quarterback in his class. Nobody except FCS Northern Iowa wanted Leidner as a quarterback. He even attended a Gophers camp as a tight end. But in late December 2011, the Gophers extended an offer and Leidner quickly accepted.
Leidner carried an inner anger early in his Minnesota career directed toward almost everybody. He’s kept the same emotion, but channels into motivation and focus. Leidner’s freshman roommate, linebacker Jack Lynn, described how the quarterback’s efficacy grew from brooding to confident. It almost makes Lynn laugh in retrospect.
“It’s gone from ‘Chip-on-the-shoulder Mitch’ and ‘I’m-upset-I’m-not-starter Mitch’ and ‘Don’t-talk-to-me Mitch’ to he’s growing,” Lynn said. “He’s matured through this whole process.
“What he is now is levelheaded. You-don’t-really-know-what-he’s-thinking type. But he’ll let you know what’s on his mind if you ask him.”
The way Iowa ignored Leidner still burns with the senior quarterback. In a weekly news conference this week, Leidner told reporters, “I wouldn’t say I like them one bit. There’s a lot of hatred between the two states and two teams.”
“I think everyone on this team understands that,” Leidner said on a video posted by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The Gophers play host to the Hawkeyes at 11 a.m. CT (noon ET) Saturday on ESPN2.
No Gophers quarterback in modern history has been as prolific against the Hawkeyes as Leidner. While he’s 1-1 as a starter against Iowa, Leidner has led Minnesota to 86 points in those meetings. That’s the most combined points the Gophers have scored in consecutive games against the Hawkeyes since 1936 and 1937.
|Leidner vs. Iowa||Passing yards||Passing TDs||Rushing yards||Rushing TDs||Total points|
Leidner’s performances are just as dazzling as the point output. Two years ago in a 51-14 beatdown at TCF Bank Stadium, Leidner completed 10 of 13 passes for 138 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also rushed for 77 yards on 11 carries.
Last year in a 40-35 loss, Leidner passed for 259 yards and a score. He also rushed for 32 yards and a touchdown. In total against the Hawkeyes, Leidner has 29 completions in 40 attempts for 5 touchdowns, 397 yards and no interceptions. He also has rushed for 109 yards and a score.
In the fourth quarter last year, Leidner ignited a comeback bid. He passed for 125 yards on 7 completions that nearly ended the Hawkeyes’ unbeaten record.
“He’s big, he’s physical. He can run, throw and he’s a leader,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “At least from our vantage point he looks to be a very strong leader. That’s everything you want in a quarterback and that’s going to be a big challenge for us.”
Leadership never was Leidner’s problem with the Gophers. But he sometimes let emotions run away with him. He often was often frustrated with his performance. Leidner was inconsistent as a passer and split time as a freshman with Philip Nelson. After Nelson left Minnesota, Leidner thrived as the the permanent starter. He’s now developing into one of the Big Ten’s best quarterbacks.
Minnesota coach Tracy Claeys complimented Leidner, who became a captain as a sophomore, for his maturity and growth as a person. So have his teammates.
“Mitch has had a lot of growth, ever since his sophomore year as far as his accuracy, his confidence, and just his willingness to win and just compete at a high level,” Minnesota safety Damarius Travis said.
Last year Leidner set Gophers records for completions (242) and passing yards (2,701). He ranks first in Minnesota history in completion percentage (57.3) and is top six in passing yards, touchdown passes and completions.
Still, Leidner carries a desire to show everyone what they overlooked five years ago. That starts with Iowa this Saturday.