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Gophers quarterback Demry Croft to be away from team

Minnesota Golden Gophers quarterback Demry Croft throws the ball before Buffalo Bulls cornerback Cameron Lewis can make a tackle in the second half at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Aug. 31, 2017. Jesse Johnson / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — Backup quarterback Demry Croft will be away from the Gophers football team for Saturday's game against Middle Tennessee State at TCF Bank Stadium, coach P.J. Fleck said Tuesday, Sept. 12.

"He is dealing with some personal issues that are way, way more important than football, so it's my job as a head football coach to get him what he needs," Fleck said. "We are going to help him any way we can. I'm not going to get into that, in respect to his privacy and his personal life."

Fleck did not say why Croft will be away, but followed his comments with forceful explanations about the culture he's trying to instill in his first year at Minnesota.

"If you do not do the right thing academically, athletically, socially and spiritually, and you do not uphold the high, high expectations of our culture on and off the field, you will not play," Fleck said. "And it does not matter who you are."

On Monday, Fleck named Conor Rhoda the starting quarterback after a battle with Croft that lasted throughout preseason camp and into the first two games of the season. Fleck said the decision to start Rhoda was made prior to Croft's issues.

"Absolutely, this is not a reaction to what had happened," Fleck said. "... Conor was informed of (being named the starter) before."

Croft has not been named in any Minneapolis police reports within the last week, a department spokesman emailed the Pioneer Press.

Fleck did not explain whether respecting Croft's issues followed by comments about doing the right thing can be looked at collectively.

"I want to respect his privacy as much as I can, but again, I've made myself clear from Day 1 when I walked in the door that nothing is more important than the culture," Fleck said. "If you need help in other ways, whatever those ways are, it's my job as an educator to get you those resources. And that is what I will continue to do for every kid on this football team, if they need that, whether that is a learning specialist or whatever it is. Nothing ever will sacrifice the culture. Winning won't either, or having two quarterbacks; that will never compromise our culture."

Fleck said Seth Green, a former East Ridge quarterback who finished high school in Allen, Texas, likely will be Rhoda's backup against Middle Tennessee State, adding he won't sacrifice freshman QB Tanner Morgan's redshirt.

"This is Year Zero and the culture is the first thing in everything we do," Fleck said. "If you can't abide by the culture, then you're not going to play, so if we have no quarterbacks by Week 5, we have no quarterbacks. I'm not going to say, 'I'm going to play this quarterback because he's not doing the right things, but he's going to play,' I'm not going to do that whatsoever."

A reporter asked Fleck if "culture" is euphemism for "team rules."

"I think it's a way of life within your culture," he said. "It's the habit, it's the instincts, it's the importance. ... I think team rules are — we follow the player handbook that the University of Minnesota has. We have our own team rules, but the biggest rule we have is: do the right thing. If you do the right thing, you never have to worry about anything."

Croft, a sophomore from Rockford, Ill., played in his second game this season against Oregon State on Saturday night in Corvallis, Ore. After playing a few first-half series, he had a 64-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter of the 48-14 victory over the Beavers. Croft also shared snaps with Rhoda in the season opener against Buffalo, completing 7 of 12 passes for 63 yards, with six rushes for 32 yards.

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