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Q&A: New Gophers Commit Nate Umlor on Coach Fleck: "He is as elite of a person as I have ever met."

01/15/2017, 2:45pm CST
By Chris Monter

Nate Umlor, a 6-foot-5, 258-pound defensive end/tight end from Allendale (MI) High, switched his commitment Sunday from Western Michigan to Minnesota to follow head coach P.J. Fleck.


Umlor helped lead the Falcons to a 8-3 record, losing to eventual state champion Catholic Central 38-7 in the second round of the Division 4 Michigan state playoffs. He was named the Michigan Associated Press All-State team in Division 3-4. Umlor, a four-year starter, had six touchdown catches as a senior. He also had 70 tackles with six sacks on the defensive side.


They finished 5-4 in his junior season as Umlor had 14 catches for 230 yards and four scores.


Umlor also plays basketball and was named OK Blue All-Conference as a junior. He helped lead the Falcons to their second straight OK Blue All-Conference title last season as he averaged 15 points and 12 rebounds.


Umlor also throws the shot put and discus, making it to the MHSAA Lower Penisula regional. He had a season-best 44-4 in the shot and 129 feet in the discus.


Gopher Hole caught up with him to learn the latest on his decision.


Gopher Hole: It's been a crazy past few days for you. What is the feeling now that you are a new Minnesota commit?


Nate Umlor: It is relieving and it just feels good, because I know that I am in the right spot with the right coach that I wanted to be with since the day I meet him and it feels good and I am glad that I can pursue my dreams at a higher level than before and go against some of the greatest competition in college football. I am competitor. I love to play against the best, because I have been told that I am not the best and I have had people say that other people are better than me. I just can't wait to go in and change my best every day and become the best me I can be as a Golden Gopher.


Gopher Hole: You are now one of the Western Michigan commits who switched to Minnesota now that Coach Fleck has moved to Michigan. That obviously says a lot about Coach Fleck that he could convince to make that move. What is he like as a person?


Nate Umlor: He is as elite of a person as I have ever met. Everything he says comes from his heart. He means what he says. He is real. He doesn't blow smoke up your ass. He tells you how it is and he is honest with you. He is as honest as he can be. That is why I appreciate him. He tells me what he thinks I can be and what I can accomplish. He has been true to his word this whole recruiting process to me and we love the guy. He is obviously, an elite coach and he is going to be one of the best, if not the best coach in the country. In my opinion, he already is, but this is a higher platform for us and for him to become, what he wants and what we want to do. He is a great coach and an even better man, which speaks a lot.


Gopher Hole: That has to say about him that you are willing to go to a school that you have never been to. How far are you from Kalamazoo?


Nate Umlor: I'm an hour from Kalamazoo and eight and half, nine hours from Minnesota.


Gopher Hole: So obviously, for your friends and family, it was going to be a pretty easy trip to see most of your games. Now, it is going to take a little more effort. That shows that you are willing to change a lot of things in your life to come to Minnesota and follow him?


Nate Umlor: Right. There is no other coach in the entire country that I would do this for. He is the one. I knew that I was going to play for him ever since I met him. I said this before, I went there when I was going into my junior year and I went there on a visit. I saw everything and thought that it was nice. What changed it for me was I met Coach Fleck and he asked about my life story. He asked me how I got to where I am and who I am and he cared more about me as a person than me as a football player, which speaks volumes about his character and how he really is. People are going to say what they want. There are going to be people mad at him for leaving and there is going to be people happy that he is going here, but he made the right decision and I am glad that I took the leap of faith and I am going with him. 


Gopher Hole: There was a story in August where you were quoted as saying "Head Coach P.J. Fleck of Western Michigan told me to 'don't chase the offer, but chase the people." Is that something that you took to heart when you decided to switch your commitment from Western Michigan to Minnesota?


Nate Umlor: That's exactly. He sat me down. He said "Nate, this isn't a Big Ten school, at the time this was at Western. This isn't a Big Ten school. We don't have as nice of a facility at Michigan State or as Michigan, but the people here are the best people in the country and I promise you that and they will fit you and they fit and what he has, fits what I am." So, I chased the people, but not the conference. Not the logo. Now with this, I get everything I loved in Western Michigan with the people and everything I loved in going on visits to the Big Ten with the facilities and the things that I can't get all crammed into one with Minnesota. It is a perfect fit for me.


Gopher Hole: Have you ever even been to Minnesota before?


Nate Umlor: I have never been to Minnesota before. To be honest with you, I know where the proximity is on a map, but I wasn't sure how high up North it was. I didn't know it was so far up North. To me, I never really look outside of Michigan. I've been Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, but outside of that, I don't really concern myself too much. Minnesota. I have always heard great things about Minneapolis. It is a great city with 14 Fortune 500 companies just within the city and it is just a perfect fit to get one of the best business programs in the country, which I am looking to do marketing and managing. It just couldn't be a better fit. Academic-wise. Football-wise and obviously, culture-wise.  


Gopher Hole: Do you know when you are going to take your official visit to Minnesota yet?


Nate Umlor: Yes. I think that we are all set for the 20th. I'll fly out there.


Gopher Hole: Will it just be you or is anyone else from your family coming?


Nate Umlor: It will be me, my mom and my dad that will head out there to just learn a little bit about the university. I know Coach Fleck extremely well. I just want to learn more about the university. I have heard nothing but great things about it. My expectations are extremely high. I already know who my roommate is going to be. I was going to room with him at Western, but Kyle Sassack is going there, too. He commit today as well. He is going to be my roommate there, so that is going to be nice to have. It will be a home away from home for me. 


Gopher Hole: Speaking of Kyle and the other guys, have you had a chance to talk to the other guys who have now committed to Minnesota much yet? 


Nate Umlor: Yes, I think it is eight now because Tyrone Chambers, the big defensive tackle, he committed a few minutes ago. I have been talking to them ever since I met them, but the last few days, Tanner (Morgan) and Trenton (Guthrie) went first and Chris Bell went and Noah (Hickcox) and John Michael (Schmitz). Me and Kyle, we are like best buddies. We are sitting there and we are like "What do you want to do, man? Are we just going to wait to see if everything worked itself out. We are like, we kind of made our decision last night and we are going to try to commit around the same time, just to make Coach Fleck's morning a little bit better. Make it a little 1-2 punch, so we commit a little before noon and it has been awesome. We talked about it. We are super excited that we are going to be getting down for our official and obviously get there in June for the guys who aren't early enrolling. It is a great group of guys. Even the guys who are Western commits. That is still an elite group of kids, an elite group of guys, that are going to do good things as well and I can't wait to see what they have to do. I'll miss them, but I can't wait to look forward to my future with my new teammates that I have. 


Gopher Hole: When did Coach Fleck extend the Minnesota offer to you?


Nate Umlor: He called me the night before he took the job and he said that he was considering it and he asked what would I think about coming along with him and I was skeptical at first and I wasn't sure. I don't know anything about the place. It's nine hours away. I've never been to Minnesota before, so I said I don't know, I was a little skeptical. He took the job, obviously, in the morning and emotionally, I was what is going on, but then I texted him and told him that I was interested in coming and he said "if you want it, you can have it." I talked to my family a lot. Talked to my loved ones and made the decision last minute, but wanted to wait until the morning to let him know and I am glad that I made it. I'm not looking back and I can't wait to be in the Maroon and Gold. 


Gopher Hole: You had a very good senior season. You were 8-3 record and lost to the eventual state champion Catholic Central 38-7 in the second round and had some good honors like the Associated Press All-State team. What were your feelings about your senior year?


Nate Umlor: My senior season was the greatest year of football that I have ever had in my life. We had the best group of seniors you could possibly have. I loved every one of them. We struggled. We started out 1-2 and it was hard and we had to kind of find our identity a little bit. We said that we are going to be a physical football team and that is our identity and from that we won, we beat D5 state champ West Catholic (30-27), which was a big one for us, because they kind of beat us every year and they are one of the top dogs in the area and in the conference and we think that we are just as good, if not better than them and we went out and beat them. That was, as of right now, my greatest football memory was beating them. We made it to the playoffs and beat Kelloggsville in a game and then went to see Catholic Central, who is one of the best teams I've ever played and they kicked our tails a little bit, but that is how it goes sometimes. That's life. It was an extremely good season and it was so much fun with all my coaches. I'll miss it to death, but I am extremely excited to move on to the next chapter in my life in Minneapolis. 


Gopher Hole: How would you describe yourself as a football player?


Nate Umlor: I would describe myself as a football player as I am a big body. I am a versatile football player. I can run routes as a receiver. I am bigger. I have hands that are as good, if not better, than most receivers. Also, I am a blocker. I can block, just as good, if not better than most offensive linemen and I use my feet and my size and my hands to my advantage. I use my quickness I gained from basketball and throwing shot and disc and I just use all the gifts that God gave me and I try to use them on the football field. What I rely pride myself on is how I use my "How" on the field. If you don't know what that means, it is something that Coach Fleck uses. Your "How" is how you do something like how do you get something that you never had before, so I use my "How' on the football field to become the best player that I can be. Be the best Nate that I can be. That is how I can explain myself. Big, physical, smart football player who loves to just compete on every single down in practice. I love to practice. I love competition. I love to compete and I just love to win.


Gopher Hole: You played tight end/defensive end in high school. What have the coaches said about a position you would play in college?


Nate Umlor: Coach Fleck, since day one, has said. "Nate, you are a tight end." He has always told me "I think that you are a Big Ten tight end, but I want to come and play for me," and I did and now, he is a Big Ten coach and I get to be a Big Ten tight end. That is his plan for me and if something happens and I come in over weight, I could go play offensive line or defensive line, but I know how I am probably going to keep my body to where I want to play tight end, so that is what I am going to do.


Gopher Hole: Have you done much research on Minnesota and I know it is going to be a little bit different with a different coach, but have you looked at how they have used the tight end position?


Nate Umlor: I have definitely looked at it before and they have used the tight end extremely well. The University has put guys into the NFL. Max Williams, I think, is one, who played for them and is now with the Ravens. They have two good tight ends on the rosters. They know how to use the tight end and in my mind, it is "Tight End U." I think that I am going there to where putting the tight end into the NFL is a thing that they just do. I am excited to be a part of that.


Gopher Hole: Max was a second round pick two years ago.


Nate Umlor: Yes. The dude can ball. I didn't even follow Minnesota football and I knew who the guy was and that he could play. That is something I am going into like that where I can become that type of player, if I put the work in.

Gopher Hole: How about basketball-wise? You were All-Conference and averaged 15 points and 12 rebounds last year. How are things going so far this season?


Nate Umlor: Basketball-wise, we are having a good season. We are just trying to get better every day. We started the season 1-2. Not to our expectations, but we have won three in a row now against good quality opponents. We are just trying to get better. I am doing pretty well myself. I love basketball, but I couldn't care less about the points. I just want to win basketball games and I am having a lot of fun with it, because I know my last time playing organized basketball with the guys I have been growing up with, so I have been enjoying every single day.



Gopher Hole: You mentioned the shot put and discus. You made it to the regional and had a season-best 44-4 in the shot and 129 feet in the discus. Are you planning on doing track again this year?


Nate Umlor: Yes, I plan on doing track. I'm not a big-time track fan. I don't absolutely love the sport, but I love it because it keeps me active and gives me something to do. My track coach, I love the guy. He is flexible with my time. He knows that I am big-time football guy and I want to go workout and power strength, so he lets me go and work out. He is lenient. He is cool and understands that track isn't my number one, but I still give my best effort.


Gopher Hole: A lot of Gopher fans are excited about the new guys, but a skeptic might say that we are getting nine guys who were MAC school recruits at a Big Ten school. Is that something that you guys have talked about trying to prove some of the critics wrong that you could have played at a higher level and had higher level offers than Western Michigan? Is that something that you guys have talked about trying to prove that you are Big Ten players who maybe didn't get the looks that you needed. 


Nate Umlor: Yes. I'm telling you right now, that none of these guys are MAC level guys. We are all Big Ten level guys who are some of the best players in the country, in my mind. We all get along as if we were brothers and that carries a lot of weight and that takes you a long way. When you get along with your teammates, you have great chemistry and that means more than what a star means. We are all Big Ten guys and we all can play. I'll promise you, we can all play. I didn't like it when guys called me a "MAC guy" and Coach Fleck even said "Nate, you are not a MAC player. This is not a MAC program. This is a power 5 program that is in a MAC conference. That is how it acts. That is how it is run." He knows what he is talking about. That is what I think about that. All these guys think the same way I do.   

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