Photo by Allen Kee / ESPN Images(MINNEAPOLIS) –A walk-on special teams player at the University of Minnesota got the surprise of his life from head football coach P.J. Fleck during a team meeting on Wednesday.
Justin Juenemann sat alongside his teammates as Kyle Tanner, a friend and patient at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital whom the team visits regularly, joined Coach Fleck at the front of the room and announced the red-shirt senior kicker as his favorite player.
“I remember seeing one particular person a lot [at the hospital],” Tanner said. “That was Justin.”
As the team applauded, Coach Fleck handed Tanner a t-shirt cannon, which he used to launch a shirt to the already stunned and excited Juenemann.
The kicker made an excellent catch and, when he unfurled the white t-shirt, he saw that it had a special message printed in black writing that read, “Justin Congrats On Earning A Scholarship!”
The room erupted with cheers from his teammates and the coaching staff as Juenemann took a moment to process the exciting surprise.
“That moment in itself was very special,” he added. “Then when I got the shirt it took me a minute and everyone was cheering, my teammates I think even lifted me up a little. It was a surreal moment, it was so awesome.”
Coach Fleck spoke of Juenemann’s character as a representation of the team and university’s values and how he embodies the type of person they strive to develop on the team.
“We have a holistic approach for our culture academically, athletically, socially and spiritually and some programs don’t demand those things to be connected, but we do,” Coach Fleck said. “And Justin fit the bill for all four.”
Fleck, who was named head coach this past January, has instilled the mantra “row the boat” in his team, meaning they should never give up.
“You just have to be the best you that you can be and never ever stop,” Coach Fleck explained. “Someone like [Justin] has every reason to stay on the sidelines, but he doesn’t. I’ve never seen anybody serve and give more than that guy … he continues to keep his oar in the water.”
“I can’t thank Coach Fleck and the staff for what they’ve done since I’ve been here to grow as a person and a football player, throughout all four of those areas of my life,” Juenemann said about the four tenets of Minnesota’s program.
“They don’t have to plan these big special moments, but they want to,” he said. “Coach always says it’s not what you do, its how you do it and he’s the prime example of that.”
Fleck said he planned the surprise because the team has a close relationship with the children’s hospital and he wanted to create a special memory.
“I want them to remember 30 years from now how he received that scholarship,” the coach said.
“It’s something I will never forget with the memory and having that video to watch too,” the fifth year senior said. “All of the emotions running through me at the time and the fact that Coach Fleck and Kyle went through that effort to create a special moment is amazing.”
Minnesota football alum and current NFL wide receiver Eric Decker tweeted Juenemann after he caught wind of the story.
“It was awesome, I didn’t really know how to respond, but I was excited,” Juenemann said of Decker’s tweet. “It’s pretty cool for him to reach out and he didn’t have to, but he did and it means a lot.”
Coach Fleck said Decker has been “nothing but extraordinary in terms of being so open, so warm and so positive.”
“It’s really good for the players to see that [alumni] support” he said.
— P.J. Fleck (@Coach_Fleck) August 9, 2017
Juenemann appeared on ESPN’s Sportscenter to discuss the scholarship on Thursday.
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