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Andy Greder | September 12, 2018

Minnesota football: Heisman winner Baker Mayfield called freshman QB Zack Annexstad before debut

Fleck of gold for Minnesota's new unis

The Gophers football team was preparing to do yoga on the eve of the season opener last week when a special phone call came in for starting quarterback Zack Annexstad.

Baker Mayfield was on the line.

The Heisman Trophy winner and the Cleveland Browns' No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL draft spoke to Annexstad for 15 to 20 minutes.

The pair have been distinguished as the only true freshmen walk-on quarterbacks to start a Division I game in Week 1. Mayfield did it at Texas Tech in 2013 before he transferred and became a star at Oklahoma.

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"It was good for Zack to hear from him because people had mentioned him," Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said Monday. "Any time you can get advice from a guy who has been through what you've been through -- it was a good moment for him to start his career."

Annextstad had a succinct response to his coach about the call: " 'That was cool.' "

Fleck had met Mayfield at a few college football awards banquets over the years and set up the call to Fleck's phone.

"I'm very appreciative of Baker doing that," Fleck said. "It says a lot about Baker Mayfield, too."

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Annexstad's label as a walk-on isn't a traditional one because he turned down scholarships to Illinois, Cincinnati and others. The Noresland, Minn., native wanted to play for his home-state school, but while he's the starting QB, he will remain a walk-on until next year, Fleck said.

"He was a recruited walk-on, so he's eligible after a year to have that (scholarship)," Fleck said. "He's got to come out of the initial pool, and I filled the initial scholarships by signing 25 (recruits) in the (2018) class. If you don't have (all) of you initials signed, you can give somebody one of your initials, whether it counts backwards from last year or you can count it forward. We don't have the ability to do that."

After the call from Mayfield, Annexstad completed 16 of 33 passes for 220 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in Minnesota's 48-10 win over New Mexico State. He bounced back from a lost fumble on a shotgun snap in the first quarter that led to the Aggies tying the game, 7-7.

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Annexstad, however, struggled with passes longer than 15 yards against New Mexico State. He completed none of those throws, but was close on deep connections to Rashod Bateman and Demetrius Douglas.

During Big Ten Network's visit to Minnesota during training camp, both commentators Gerry DiNardo and Glen Mason liked Annexstad's accuracy but questioned his arm strength on long throws. 

Against New Mexico State, Annexstad had success throwing "one balls," meaning shorter throws like slants with a straight-line trajectory, but had less luck with "two" throws, which arc over defenders, and the longest "three" balls with the biggest curve.

"That is going to develop," Fleck said.

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Completion percentage on deep passes are lower because of the higher risk they entail and aren't worked on in practice as much.

"Most of it is the quarterbacks working (on throws) in buckets and trash cans because if you run your wideouts on go routes, they are going to have nothing left," Fleck said. "So, it's working on those fundamentals in throwing deep balls over and over." 

This article is written by Andy Greder from St. Paul Pioneer Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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