MINNEAPOLIS -- College coaches, especially those coming off winning seasons, usually abhor handing over their offenses to a freshman.
Minnesota quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq isn't your ordinary freshman, though.
Abdul-Khaliq is 20. He didn't get a high enough score on his SATs coming out of Elizabeth (N.J.) High School in 1997, so he spent a year at Fork Union Military Academy, an academically demanding prep school in Virginia, in 1998-99.
After redshirting last season behind Billy Cockerham and watching senior Andy Persby opt for a pro baseball career, Abdul-Khaliq emerged as the Golden Gophers' new starter.
"He's already been through two spring practices here," coach Glen Mason said. "He has not taken a live snap in major college football. There's some anxiety involved with that. He's got a pretty good supporting cast, which really helps a young, inexperienced quarterback."
Abdul-Khaliq gets his first start Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe, a school the Gophers thumped 35-0 last year on their way to an 8-4 season and their first bowl berth since 1986.
Abdul-Khaliq said he's got the normal nerves you'd expect, but he certainly doesn't feel like a freshman.
"I've been through two spring balls, a football season, I've been through stuff that a lot of freshmen haven't gone through," he said. "And I'm glad that I went through it because it has matured me as a man and as a football player."
When he first committed to the Gophers, Abdul-Khaliq was signing up with a team that didn't exactly scare anybody.
"When I first got here, the Gophers weren't as prestigious as they are now," he said. "And a lot of that has to do with Billy Cockerham, Tyrone Carter. I'm just trying to keep that going. Hopefully, I can keep it going the next four years."
Abdul-Khaliq, 6 feet and 200 pounds, said he realizes that opponents will treat him like a freshman, blitzing and stunting to rattle him.
And guiding a winning program is a lot to ask of somebody so unseasoned.
"I'm sure people will see the F after my name," he said. "They don't realize what I've been through and how it has matured me."
Abdul-Khaliq didn't have to beat out Persby in two-a-days because Persby, who was drafted by the Minnesota Twins, decided to stick with baseball rather than return to campus, where, given Abdul-Khaliq's talents, he might have been carrying a clipboard more often than the football.
"When he left, it was kind of a relief," Abdul-Khaliq said. "But it didn't mean that I could slack up or calm down or anything."
All-America center Ben Hamilton said the stout, veteran-laden offensive line will take care of Abdul-Khaliq, but he's pretty sure he could fend for himself, too.
"He's 20. He's a very mature player for a freshman and he's been with us for two springs and really has a grasp of this offense," Hamilton said.
Another redshirt freshman, running back Thomas Tapeh, won't play against the Indians. Mason is being cautious with Tapeh, who is recovering from a foot operation.
"If you watch him, you'd say, 'Hey, there's nothing wrong with him,"' Mason said. "I think the answer is there is nothing wrong with him. However, I do not anticipate him playing Saturday.
"Why? I'm just going to err on the side of caution. But I don't think it will be too long before you see No. 44 out there."
Until then, sophomore Tellis Redmon will be the Gophers' primary ball carrier.
Indians second-year coach Bobby Keasler, whose team will join the Sun Belt Conference next season, takes his team to Minnesota, Tennessee and Arkansas in the first six weeks.
"We can't worry about Minnesota, Tennessee and Arkansas," Keasler said. "In 2001, we have the opportunity to play for a conference championship."
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