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Minnesota Football: Max Shortell was a casualty of the quarterback carousel

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Shortell found himself the middle man between the end of one quarterback and the beginning of another

Minnesota v Michigan Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

No position group has bedeviled the Minnesota Golden Gophers over the last decade quite like the signal callers under center. This fall, the team’s fate would seems to rest in the inexperienced hands of redshirt freshman Tanner Morgan. Should he turn out to be competent, it will have been a long and strange road, riddled with the unfulfilled potential of countless Gopher quarterbacks.

Today we turn the spotlight to: Max Shortell.

As a Prospect

247 Sports Composite Rating: .8447
Scholarship Offers: None

Shortell was a three-sport athlete at Bishop Miege High School in Kansas. As a junior, he completed 144-of-250 passes (57.6%) for 2,524 yards with 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, leading his squad to the 2009 Kansas Class 4A State Championship. As a senior, Shortell was 147-of-277 (53.1%) for 2,643 yards with 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

As a Gopher

It didn’t take long for Shortell to see the field as a Golden Gopher. In his first game as a true freshman, Shortell was inserted in the fourth quarter against USC when starting quarterback MarQueis Gray went down with leg cramps. He led a nine-play scoring drive — converting on 4th and 7 with a 12-yard pass to Da’Jon McKnight to keep it alive — and connected with wide receiver Brandon Green for a 12-yard touchdown to pass to cut the deficit to 19-17. But on their next offensive possession, Shortell was intercepted and the Trojans were able to run out the clock.

Four weeks later, Shortell earned the starting nod on the road against Michigan, with Gray sidelined due to a toe injury. It did not go well. He was sacked three times and the Gophers failed to convert a single third down. Shortell finished the game 11-of-22 for 104 passing yards. The Wolverines prevailed 58-0. He would only see limited action in two games the rest of the season, which was the first under then head coach Jerry Kill.

As a sophomore, Shortell was brought in for mop-up duty against New Hampshire, but found himself under center the following week when Gray went down (again) with a sprained ankle in the second quarter against Western Michigan. The Gophers trailed 10-7, but two touchdown passes to A.J. Barker (remember him?) in the final two minutes of the half allowed Minnesota to take a 21-10 halftime lead. Shortell was 10-of-17 for 188 passing yards with three touchdowns and one interception in a 28-23 Gopher victory over the Broncos.

Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there for Shortell.

He was, for the most part, ineffective in a 17-10 win over Syracuse, in which Minnesota rode running back Donnell Kirkwood in a close contest. But the wheels came off a week later in Iowa City against the Hawkeyes. The Gopher defense couldn’t figure out how to tackle Iowa running back Mark Weisman, and Shortell did them no favors with three interceptions, including a pick six near the end of the game. He started again the following week versus Northwestern, but left the game in the first quarter after injuring his left hand.

Gray replaced Shortell in the Northwestern game, but was hobbled when he re-injured his left ankle in the third quarter. Neither Gray nor Shortell were believed to be 100 percent after that game, so Kill and co. had a tough decision to make.

At the time, true freshman Philip Nelson was believed to be the Gophers’ quarterback of the future. Kill had hoped to redshirt Nelson, but with six games left in the season and his top two quarterbacks sidelined with injuries, he decided to grit his teeth and burn his redshirt. Nelson struggled for the most part the rest of the season, but the writing was on the wall and Shortell announced in December that he intended to transfer.

He would end up at Jacksonville State.

His career statistics from two seasons at Minnesota:

2011: 26-for-54 (48.1%), 309 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT
2012: 65-for-116 (56%), 853 yards, 6 TD, 5 INT

Where is he now?

In Switzerland, apparently, hoping to catch on with a European American football team.

Final Word

At Jacksonville State, Shortell was a second-team All-Ohio Valley Conference selection as a junior, completing 102-of-178 passes for 1,435 yards and six touchdowns. He appeared in nine games and started six of them. As a senior, he was supplanted as starting quarterback by redshirt freshman Eli Jenkins. In six games, Shortell started five of them and was 40-of-65 for 463 passing yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions on the year.

At Minnesota, he ultimately amounted to a stop-gap between Gray and Nelson. He had two quarterback battles with Gray, but failed to win either of them. Had he not injured his hand as a sophomore, I imagine that Kill and co. would have rode him the rest of the season, allowing Nelson to redshirt and setting up another quarterback battle for the fall. But even under those circumstances, I have doubts that the end result would have been much different. Based on how he fared at Jacksonville State, I’m not sure he was cut out to quarterback in the Big Ten.

Next: Philip Nelson.