When Jake Krause bench-pressed 225 pounds an impressive 33 times at the Gophers’ pro day March 28, it was more reps than 11 former University of Minnesota players managed in front of NFL scouts.
And you’d better believe Gophers coach P.J. Fleck took notice.
When the unknown 6-foot-3, 305-pound guard backed that up with a vertical jump of 30 inches, the Gophers head coach started asking questions.
Where did Krause go to school? Bemidji State, a Division II program.
Is he from Minnesota? Yes, Wadena, about 160 miles northwest of Dinkytown.
This is parcel to what’s become a rite of spring as Fleck continues to mention a glaring hole in the program he inherited in January 2017: No U offensive linemen has been selected in the NFL Draft in 11 years and counting. Center Greg Eslinger and guard Mark Setterstrom were the last to be drafted, in 2006.
“This is the University of Minnesota,” Fleck said incredulously after a March 20 spring practice . “We need to rebuild that whole thing, and that takes a little while. You can’t fix a lot of problems with one class, or a lot of depth issues or attrition with one class.”
Fleck wants a one-way street for top Minnesotans to attend the U, but it is understandable that former head coach Jerry Kill and offensive line coach Matt Limegrover did not make Krause, pronounced KRAU-zee, part of their 2013 recruiting class. He weighed in at an undersized 235 pounds, and having played fullback, offensive line, tight end, linebacker and defensive line at Class 2A Wadena-Deer Creek, he was difficult to project at a position.
Krause’s initial college aspirations were to follow a family legacy at North Dakota State before he ended up capitalizing on a family-friend connection at Bemidji State. Last fall, representatives from all 32 NFL teams traveled to northern Minnesota mainly to see Krause, one of three small-school prospects at the Gophers’ invitation-only pro day.
While he figures to go undrafted in the April 27-28 draft and head onto the open market as a free agent, it’s still a better position than recent Gophers prospects have managed.
Plus, Krause’s personal journey won’t hurt his draft stock.
In October of his first year at Bemidji State, Krause started feeling weird symptoms. “I was itching all over the place, and I would itch until I would scab almost, and I would get high fevers and night sweats, and then they were gone the next day,” Krause said. “I developed a mass on my neck.”
A biopsy revealed Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Krause underwent six sessions of chemotherapy from November through May. As a redshirt that first year of college, he lost his hair and his weight ballooned from 270 to more than 300 pounds - an unwelcome sight even for offensive lineman looking to add bulk.
There was one main objective that pushed him through the bout with cancer. “Football was that driving factor, and I was just like, ‘This is what I have to get back to,’ ” Krause said.
Krause returned to Bemidji State, behind in his development as a guard and needing to bulk up the right way. But as a redshirt freshman in 2014, Krause started all 11 games for the Beavers, with flowing curls coming out the back of his green-and-white helmet. He went on to play in 44 of 45 career games.
“He has that mean streak and is a throwback type of guy,” said Bemidji State coach Brent Bolte, who personally recruited Krause out of high school.“He plays through the whistle and has some nasty to him. And the other thing is he is extremely athletic.”
Bemidji State offensive line coach Ryan Olson spent the 2016 season at Buffalo, the Gophers’ season-opening opponent in 2017 and a member of the Mid-American Conference. He said Krause would have started for the Bulls.
The Beavers have produced NFL-caliber players before. Spring Lake Park alum Brian Leonhardt was a standout tight end for the Beavers who caught on with the Oakland Raiders as an undrafted free agent before brief stops with the San Francisco 49ers and Vikings.
After Krause turned Fleck’s head in the weight room, he and the 13 other prospects went into the Gophers’ new indoor practice facility. Krause ran through a hamstring tweak in the 40-yard dash, then pulled it during a position drill, ending his workout.
Bolte said Krause ran a 40-yard dash near 5.1 seconds during the season, and that interest from NFL teams remains.
“I think more came out of his Gopher pro day,” Bolte said. “I think he’s going to be busy running around, meeting with different representatives. There has been a lot of strong interest from teams at this point.”
Krause said it would be “unreal” to catch on with an NFL team. “Hope to be drafted and expect to be undrafted,” he said. “If I just get an opportunity in general, I will be happy.”