MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - New concerns about the University of Minnesota football program rise as the National College Players Association is speaking out, along with a former employee who worked inside the Gopher program.
A former student who worked for Gopher football under P.J. Fleck for two years agreed to speak out if we didn't show his face.
"I see what happens when you speak up at the U," he mentioned. "I was shocked at how Coach Fleck and his coaching staff really treated people," he said.
He says what he witnessed on the practice field still troubles him.
"I feel like a lot of these injuries are because of the high intensity at every practice," he said. "Why are these players having these injuries when you want them for a game."
The former employee is one of two dozen former players, parents, trainers and coaches who have corroborated claims about the U's current football program over the course of our investigation.
"I was doing flashcards with doctors with basic animals in the hospital," said Alex Reigelsperger, a former player who suffered a serious neck injury at practice.
"Someone could be speaking and I'd forget two or three seconds later what someone said," said Nolan Edmonds, another 2018 recruit to take a medical retirement.
Our reporting on Gopher medical retirements also got the attention of the National College Players Association.
Ramogi Huma has spent two decades fighting for student-athletes as a former UCLA football player himself.
"I definitely think there are some red flags there," Huma said. "There are injuries in football for sure. I think career-ending injuries, five people in the same class in such a short period of time that's not so normal," He said.
Edmonds, a running back recruit, told WCCO he suffered a concussion at practice two years ago and felt pressure to get back to the game sooner than he should have.
"For someone like me to feel their health wasn't worth anything," Edmonds said.
"It was shocking that players were still playing," the former worker also told us.
This former worker said he saw for himself a player's eyes spin, unable to walk straight after a powerful hit, only to be pushed back on the field.
"When you see concussions possibly being mishandled that's a big red flag," Huma said.
Another 2018 recruit's online story stood out to Huma. Punishment workouts Grant Norton said he endured for dropping 50 pounds in five weeks after a throat injury at practice.
"When the National Athletic Trainer's Association says you can kill a player with punishment workouts and not to do that it needs to be taken seriously," Huma said.
The U did not answer our questions about punishments in practices but said in statements that the football team follows concussion policy and that its football program is very transparent.
"I think that an internal review isn't going to cut it. You have to have a review that is as independent as possible," Huma said.
Huma believes it's time fans look at athletes as people, not players. Pushing the NCAA to better track students who leave sports and to enforce health and safety standards on college campuses.
"This is a $15 billion industry, there's no reason that players shouldn't be able to go somewhere if they feel like they're being mistreated or they are hurt physically, mentally. There needs to be support," he said.
The NCAA is considering changes to preseason practices after a committee found higher concussion rates compared to games. That could include prohibiting drills with unneeded contact, cutting the number of contact practices, and new rules for when full practices are allowed.
In previous statements, the U told us that injury complaints made by a former U of M professor were thoroughly reviewed and that no finding of rule violation was found.
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