Star tight end Spaeth will miss bowl game for Gophers

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Matt Spaeth's imposing physique looked a
little less so, as he walked into a room at Minnesota's football
facility with his right arm held in a sling.

His college career is over, though his dedication to -- and
impact on -- the Gophers won't soon be forgotten by his coaches or

Spaeth, a two-time first team All-Big Ten selection who has
become a promising pro prospect, recently had surgery to repair a
severely separated shoulder and will not recover in time to play
for Minnesota in the Insight Bowl against Texas Tech on Dec. 29 in
Tempe, Ariz.

Actually, he's not expected to heal fast enough to fully
participate in the NFL scouting combine, which runs from Feb.

After getting hurt in the Oct. 21 game against North Dakota
State, Spaeth could have chosen surgery immediately to hasten the
rehabilitation and avoid the risk of further injury with the
potential of a big payday looming.

But that wasn't the way he wanted to finish. Spaeth, one of
three finalists for the John Mackey Award that's given to the
nation's top tight end, came back in two weeks and contributed in
the last three games. All Gophers wins. All needed to qualify for
postseason play.

"In doing that, he showed the type of person he is," said
center Tony Brinkhaus, who lives with Spaeth. "He showed
tremendous character and I think it rubbed off on the rest of the

The school's all-time leader in receptions (109) and yards
(1,293) by a tight end, passing Ben Utecht who now plays for the
Indianapolis Colts, Spaeth is supposed to need four months to fully
recover from the surgery and two months before he can start
running. He is, however, aiming for less than that.

"It's the same people that told me I probably won't come back
and be able to play, so I think it'll be moved up a little bit,"
Spaeth said.

The team's medical staff was alarmed when he took his shirt off
in the training room the day after the NDSU game. Though it didn't
hurt him the night before, Spaeth woke up that Sunday in serious
pain and found a shoulder that had turned completely purple.

"Seeing their reaction really scared me," he said. "Usually
they're really optimistic about everything, because they want you
to stay optimistic."

Spaeth, who is listed at 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds, worked his way
back ahead of schedule, though, and clearly left an impression on
his teammates and friends. Quarterback Bryan Cupito's stated goal
is to win the bowl game for his buddy, and he said he understands
why Spaeth didn't want to wait any longer to have the procedure.

"He'll be successful, so hopefully he remembers me," Cupito
said, playfully hinting his desire to get a little piece of
Spaeth's expected signing bonus.

Spaeth will certainly be missed, but it's on defense where
Minnesota (6-6) could use the most help against air-it-out Texas
Tech. The Red Raiders (7-5) are led by quarterback Graham Harrell,
who completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 4,110 yards, 36
touchdowns and only 10 interceptions.

"It will be a big challenge for our defense, but also a
challenge that we welcome because it will help us prepare going
into next season," linebacker Mike Sherels said. "It's always
good to see different types of teams, especially being a young