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Antoine Winfield Jr. Has Waited A Long Time for This Game

December 31, 2019

By Joey Johnston

The Minnesota Golden Gophers havewaited a long time for this. On Jan. 1, the Gophers (10-2) will face the AuburnTigers (9-3) in the Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium, hoping to completeone of the most successful years in the program's 137-season history.

But no one - no one! - has waited aslong as Gophers defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr.

Winfield had a brilliant regularseason, finishing as the team leader in tackles (83) and interceptions (seven).He was selected a first-team All-American by the Associated Press.

And that's not even close to beingthe most remarkable part of his story.

"Antoine Winfield is one of the besthuman beings you'll meet in your entire life,'' Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said."He has been through so much adversity in his life and he has overcome all ofit with a positive attitude.''

Winfield is a sophomore.

A fourth-year sophomore.

"Bad luck,'' Fleck said.

Not once, but twice, Winfieldsuffered season-ending injuries in games against Maryland.

After a breakout freshman season,Winfield injured his hamstring against the Terrapins in 2017, causing him tomiss the final eight games. In 2018, he suffered a season-ending torn footligament against the Terrapins in the fourth game.

Winfield successfully petitioned theNCAA for a sixth year of eligibility, meaning he can play in the 2020 and 2021season. Who knows if that will happen? Winfield already has established himselfas an NFL-ready talent.

For now, though, he's intent onwinning a New Year's Day bowl game.

Even then, he might still be firmlyin the shadow of his father's career.

Antoine Winfield Sr., played at OhioState, capturing the 1998 Jim Thorpe Award, which is given to the nation's topdefensive back. The elder Winfield played 14 NFL seasons, making the Pro Bowlthree times during nine years with the Minnesota Vikings.

Like father, like son?

Pretty much.

Winfield might be the Gophers' bestoverall performer. He was a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, named forone of the all-time Gopher greats and given to the nation's best defensiveplayer.

It will be challenging for Winfieldto match the NFL longevity of his father, but one thing is certain. He will bewell-prepared.

Winfield, 5-foot-10, 205 pounds, isoften described as an instinctive player by his coaches. Clearly, though, theinstincts were honed and developed by learning from his father. Some ofWinfield's earliest memories involve watching film, learning footwork and gettingtips from his pro-playing dad.

"I got a whole bunch of things otherpeople don't get,'' Winfield said during the season. "The extra knowledge wasgreat. It pretty much made me the player I am today.''

Fleck said Winfield is a natural.

"He has such a knack to play thegame,'' Fleck said. "If you grow up with a farming father, you're probablygoing to grow up with a knack of farming. If you grow up with a painter father,you're probably going to have a knack for painting corners and being a little moremeticulous.

"He grew up with a father who played14 years in the NFL. There's a reason why he has the instincts he does. It'snot based on me coaching him. We've been able to put him in the right positionsto use his talents at an elite level. It's wonderful to have Antoine on theteam. It makes you a better coach.''

It has all come together forWinfield.

And it was a long time in coming.