COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Gophers seventh-year senior Clay Geary receives long-awaited awards – InForum

MINNEAPOLIS — Their nickname isn’t exactly creative, but the bond they formed has become unique.

A group of injured University of Minnesota football players were brought together in a group for rehabilitation and off-season workouts over the past year. The collection included star Mo Ibrahim, key contributor Trey Potts and a handful of lesser-known actors – Clay Geary, Preston Jelen, Josh Aune and others.

Ibrahim called them “rack buddies”, based on a weight rack used to get stronger within the Larson Football Performance Center. Two of these lesser-known buds have had their own moments to shine in front of everyone this season.

Geary and Jelen are two former skill position players who returned from ACL injuries to score touchdowns in the Gophers’ non-conference portion of their schedule this fall. Jelen, of Prior Lake, Minnesota, scored in the 62-10 win over Western Illinois on Sept. 10; Geary, of Lakeville, Minnesota, scored in Saturday’s 49-7 win over Colorado. The two TDs were collegiate premieres.

Geary had been waiting a very long time.

“It was all the more worth the seven years,” Geary said Tuesday. “It’s something I’ve been preparing for since I came here as a freshman, and to see it finally come to fruition, it felt good to get rid of it. Take the first one and move on to the next.

Geary will be part of a wide group called in as No. 1 passing target Chris Autman-Bell was lost to a season-ending leg injury against the Buffaloes. After Autman-Bell’s surgery on Wednesday, and apart from his bespoke rehabilitation, he too will likely join his own little group.

Gophers head coach PJ Fleck said he wants to group rehab players not with their closest friends on the team, but with others who have the same needs.

“It defines the legacy of how you overcome an injury,” Fleck said. “…They all came back stronger, better, more equipped for the season, with better attitudes. …Who will get the most out of each other, and why?

Ibrahim said “the rack” is where he tried to be supportive as Potts made his decision to return after an undisclosed injury.

“We bonded pretty well, just by kissing,” Geary said. “We fail to embrace the same grind as everyone else on the team. We kind of do our own thing. Having these guys with me going through rehab was special because it’s easy to feel isolated during that. You’re separated from the team and if you have a bunch of guys pushing you, it’s fun.

Minnesota Golden Gophers wide receiver Clay Geary, right, celebrates his touchdown against the Colorado Buffaloes with teammate Bryce Williams on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022 in Minneapolis.

Matt Krohn / USA Today Sports

Geary said he couldn’t help but smile after catching Tanner Morgan’s TD pass in the third quarter on Saturday. He had not one, but both feet in the end zone.

Geary is the team’s longest-serving player, with a seventh year made possible by a redshirt season in 2016, the COVID year in 2020 and a medical redshirt in 2021. That’s the same length as Autman -Bell is considering for a possible return in 2023.

Geary kept adding majors during his time at the University of Minnesota and transitioned into a graduate degree and internship. He majored in finance, marketing and entrepreneurship at the Carlson School of Management, then pursued a postgraduate degree in managerial leadership before moving into entrepreneurship.

“I don’t know how it works; I keep adding majors,” Geary said with a laugh. He now works part-time for True North Equity Partners.

“I never did senior slide, simply because I appreciate the education I received at Carlson,” he added.

Geary was a standout running back at Lakeville South who gave up hockey and chose the track to focus on improving his running form and speed. He had no scholarship offers out of high school, not even Division II, and attended skills camp at U when Jerry Kill was the coach.

“I just kind of dated myself,” Geary said, referring to the Minnesota coach from 2011 to 2015 who is now the New Mexico State coach. Kill and state recruiter Mike Sherels offered him a favorite date spot. He said it was a “no-brainer” to come and play for the program he grew up on.

While in college, he became roommates with some of the program’s top players – Antoine Winfield Jr., Carter Coughlin, Kamal Martin and Thomas Barber. During a team outing at a Twins game in 2019, Geary was surprised with a purse while throwing the ceremonial first pitch. His housemates mobbed him in celebration.

“It was special; I get chills just thinking about it,” Geary said.

Winfield and Coughlin now play in the NFL; Martin’s professional career was cut short by injuries; and Barber is a graduate assistant in Minnesota.

“It’s pretty wild,” Geary said. “We are all on completely different timelines. God had a different path for me. Each of my roommates is doing very well. It’s so fun to see Thomas every day. I miss all those (other) guys. I look forward to each offseason when they come back to see them and catch up. They are my brothers.”

Geary suffered a knee injury in the days leading up to the 2021 season opener against Ohio State, and what was supposed to be his senior season turned into a grueling year, with bonds formed with his “buddies from rack”.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Geary said of his story. He said that days before scoring his first career touchdown.

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