MINNEAPOLIS — At the start of every week, the routine is the same: Running back Mohamed Ibrahim will stop by Gophers coach P.J. Fleck’s office for a gab session.
Nicknamed “Mo Mondays,” sometimes these chats are lively debates, sometimes they’re story-swapping, and sometimes they’re even a little bit like therapy.
“We talk about everything. Financial, relationships, religion, anything of that nature. So anything but football,” Ibrahim said. “I can learn from his mistakes. I can learn from what he did. He can give me tips, like, ‘I’ve seen, you’ve been doing this, you probably want to do that.’ … It’s definitely a learning relationship.”
Learning could be the theme of Ibrahim’s tenure with the Gophers so far. The sophomore running back learned how anything could happen during his redshirt year in 2017 when third-stringer Kobe McCrary ended up as the No. 2 back following an injury to Shannon Brooks.
The next season, Ibrahim knew he would be playing as a backup, giving starter Rodney Smith some breaks, with the Gophers planning on playing the recovering Brooks only four games. But then when Smith’s season was cut short by an injury, and when Brooks only returned for one game before more injury woes, Ibrahim was suddenly the guy.
“OK, it’s my turn,” is what Ibrahim told himself. He went on to rush 202 times for 1,160 yards and nine touchdowns as a freshman, including a single-game freshman record of 224 yards in the Quick Lane Bowl that earned him game MVP honors.
Ibrahim accomplished all that despite missing three games himself to injury and having to endure the death of a close childhood friend during the season. But according to Fleck, the Maryland native is familiar with persevering.
“Mohamed Ibrahim was a guy who was the king of the toos,” Fleck said. “Too small, too short, too young. Not this, not that. And all he does is produce. All he does is keep coming back up. All he does is stay healthy. All he does is make plays.”
Fleck said that extends off the field as well into “one of those human beings that you wish was your son, like, your blood son. Or dating your daughter.”
Ibrahim said it’s easy to tell how much Fleck cares about him, since the coach will let him know he loves him and kiss him on the forehead.
“You can tell by the way he plays, he’s tough,” Fleck said. “He plays the game the right way. He respects the game of football. He respects his teammates. … And this game, if you’re good to it, it’ll pay you back in good ways.”
Ibrahim, though, defers a lot of the credit to Smith, who has acted as a mentor to him. Even with the pair battling for carries this year, along with Brooks once he returns from a knee injury, there isn’t a shred of animosity between them.
“I was very excited to see the work that he put in come to the light,” Smith said of Ibrahim. “I made sure that we pushed him his redshirt year, down on the scout team, because we knew that one day, as always, somebody is going to have to step up. And he was put in those starter shoes, and it came earlier than he expected, but he adapted well. (I) was just happy to see him go out and run hard, play hard.”
Since his breakout season, Ibrahim has become one of the faces of the Gophers. He represented the team at Big Ten Media Days along with seniors Tyler Johnson and Carter Coughlin. And he has become one of the main players for news conference duties.
That’s a notable task, considering Ibrahim isn’t quite as comfortable in front of a group of people as he is one-on-one. But once he’s at ease, his sunny nature shines.
“If you were looking at Mo from the outside, you would probably think he’s quiet, kind of to himself,” Coughlin said. “But once he gets a little more comfortable around you, he turns into a little ball of energy. He’s got a huge smile, a huge personality. He laughs a lot. So he’s one of those guys that just brings joy to your life whenever you’re with him.”