When Zack Annexstad was a young football player, he attended camps at the University of Minnesota, hoping one day to wear the maroon and gold.
It took a couple of years in Florida, concentrating on football at a private school, but on Wednesday, Annexstad took a big step toward realizing his dream, signing a national letter of intent to accept a preferred walk-on offer from the Gophers. He rejoins his brother, who was a redshirt receiver with the Gophers last season.
"It's exciting to be part of the Gophers program," said Zack, who was flying back to Minnesota on Thursday and will enroll at Minnesota on Jan. 8 so he can participate in spring practice. "It took a lot of effort, and my family has had to make sacrifices. I'm ready to get back there and represent the state of Minnesota."
Annexstad was a sophomore quarterback at Mankato West in 2015 and started the first couple of games. But he suffered a sprained ankle early in the season and never regained the starting job as Rob Meidl led the Scarlets to the state semifinals.
He met with contacts from IMG Academy through social media, and he and his brother Brock visited the campus at Bradenton, Florida. The football-centric school was just what they were looking for as they pursued a dream of playing college football.
"It was a great opportunity for my brother and I," Zack said. "You can make a lot of connections there."
So for the past two years, Zack has competed and studied at IMG, all with the goal of gaining a college scholarship. The typical day starts at 6:30 a.m., with breakfast at 7. There were football meetings for 90 minutes, followed by two hours of practice. After lunch, he attended classes until 5:30 p.m., then there was rehab, studying or relaxation until it was time to fall asleep.
He also had to do his training, and he's up to 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, a bigger, stronger and faster version of the player who once wore the Scarlets' red and white.
And the work paid off. Surrounded by other Division I talent, Annexstad was able to draw the interest of several colleges. Western Kentucky was the first to offer a scholarship. Then Cincinnati and Southern Mississippi. A late offer came from Pittsburgh.
But the rapport Annexstad gained with Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck and his staff, especially offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Kirk Ciarrocca, was "elite," to borrow the Gophers' catch phrase.
"I built a relationship with coach Fleck and with the other commits," Annexstad said. "I put all my trust in (Fleck). He's my guy."
The Gophers' quarterback situation is iffy, with no one on the roster having any Division I experience. Seth Green, a highly touted high-schooler from Minnesota who first went to Oregon, is a redshirt sophomore, and there are three freshmen who redshirted last season. One of the most touted signings Wednesday was junior-college transfer Vic Viramontes, who is expected to open the season as the starter.
That's potentially a deep field, yet there is enough uncertainty to create an opportunity. That's all Annexstad is hoping for.
"It's always been my dream to be a Gopher," he said. "It's exciting that it's finally come true. My family and friends can come to my games. I'm really excited to get started."
Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. To contact him, call 507-344-6353, e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow his Twitter feed @ChadCourrier.