MINNEAPOLIS -- The legend of Mitch Leidner's toughness grows on game day, but that might be nothing compared to what the Minnesota quarterback will go through just to practice.
Two dislocated ribs before hitting the field? He didn’t miss a snap.
A sprained knee that eventually prompted the coaches to force him to stay on the sideline for a game last season? He was back on the practice field two days after the injury to the shock of his teammates.
A broken left wrist that required surgery? Leidner didn’t even tell most of the Gophers he was hurt while going through an entire spring camp with the injury before getting it fixed last year.
Maybe he’s crazy, maybe he just possesses an unnaturally high tolerance for pain. But as long as Leidner can stand, Minnesota's quarterback isn’t just going to play in a game, he’s going to be in pads all week long getting ready for it.
“I’ve played through quite a few things, and I just figure, if I can move, I can probably practice,” Leidner said Wednesday morning. “I can usually get enough adrenaline going that it’s fine midway through anyway.
“Even with having a couple banged-up things, I feel like there’s a lot worse things going on in the world. It’s not going to stop me from playing.”
Just about the only way to do it is to order Leidner off the field, and the Gophers have had to pull the reins back on him at times in some ways just to protect the quarterback from himself.
If the normal wear and tear on a signal-caller isn’t enough in the first place, Leidner almost seems to go out of his way at times to embrace contact as a physical presence in the running game or a willing blocker down field, adding to the physical toll at the most demanding position on the field. That has produced a lengthy list of injuries throughout his career, including lingering turf toe that plagued him a year ago and his knee injury early in the season. But even the strained MCL only kept him on the sideline for a game, although he actually played on it for a week in a start against TCU before the Gophers held him out of the lineup as a precaution against overmatched San Jose State.
“He’s a strong sucker, and he’s just a competitive kid,” quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski said. “I think the training staff had said there was a small percentage of kids who would have played with what he had. Nobody even thinks about that or remembers that, because it’s always just like he’s going to play. A lot of kids would have had to sit out a while, he sat out one game -- and he actually could have played that game if we wanted to play him.
“He has a very high pain tolerance. He’s gone through some stuff, but he just doesn’t want to miss practice. That’s what’s great about him.”
Leidner certainly doesn’t do it for attention and definitely doesn’t look for any sympathy from his teammates, which explains why he wouldn’t even tell them about the broken wrist he dealt with all of last spring.
But when the injuries are on public display, like they were again last week after his pre-practice routine of throwing a medicine ball to get his hips loose somehow produced two dislocated ribs, the respect he commands from the Gophers only grows.
“He was holding his side before practice even started, looked like he wasn’t even going to make it,” wide receiver KJ Maye said. “I was like, ‘Bro, are you going to be all right?’
“Then he’s bouncing around, throwing balls on the money. This guy here is some kind of animal.”
Even when he’s a wounded one, the Gophers can still expect to find him on the practice field.