Gophers football: Ski-U-Jah! Minnesota celebrates breakout play of Jah Joyner

Jah Joyner took an unexpected ride on the coaching carousel during his recruiting visit to the Gophers in December 2019.

Then-Minnesota defensive line coach Jim Panagos, with East Coast recruiting connections, brought Joyner onto the U campus from Danbury, Conn. Panagos and others showed Joyner around the U, but Panagos left to be Rutgers’ D-line coach during that same weekend.

“It was definitely crazy; I didn’t expect it,” Joyner reflected on his recruiting visit during an interview in July. “But it was really that relationship with coach Fleck. It was the best decision of my life.”

While Joyner dealt with whiplash to the realities of college football before he even signed his letter of intent to the U, the fourth-year defensive end is now spinning the heads of offensive tackles.

Joyner has led the Gophers in quarterback pressures for the past two seasons, but he acknowledges last year wasn’t the most refined body of work.

“I was just out there running around,” he admitted last week.

Joyner’s success this year has come with greater understanding, an improvement fostered, in part, by new D-line coach Winston DeLattiboudere and senior defensive analyst Dennis Dottin-Carter.

“It’s more so the details, knowing the situation, knowing the call and just pocket presence, meaning knowing how to rush, knowing what quarterback you are going against, knowing the dropping point,” Joyner explained. “I think us sitting with each other every week and going with the rush plan has helped me with that.”

Joyner has produced 23 pressures, 4 1/2 sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery this season. Last year, Joyner had 32 pressures but only 1 1/2 sacks.

At 6-foot-5, 265 pounds and a 6-9 wingspan, Joyner still has two years of eligibility remaining after this season.

“I think he has even more there, where he could become a real force, a true force,” defensive coordinator Joe Rossi said. “… He’s just got to continue to put in the work and the time. If he does, I think he can be a special player.”

Minnesota defensive lineman Jah Joyner (17) celebrates after forcing and recovering a fumble during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Michigan State, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

Given Joyner’s athleticism off the edge, he has forced opposing offensive lineman into holding him — penalties either flagged or not.

“I just think fighting against that, not looking for the holding call,” Joyner said. “I feel like I always get this question, but I am always getting held. It’s not my job to look for the holding call. Just continue to rush.”

When Fleck was able to hold onto Joyner in the 2020 recruiting class, he joked that the U’s phase “Ski U Mah” should be altered to “Ski U Jah.”

“I’m not sure if anybody has grown more, maybe on the field or off the field,” Fleck told the Pioneer Press on Monday. “He’s a dominating player, and the sky is still the limit for him. He is only scratching the surface still. Over the last three or four games, you can see this massive turn of events just start to take shape.”

Getting after it

Gophers’ QB pressure leaders through nine games this season:

Jah Joyner — 23
Kyler Baugh — 16
Danny Striggow — 15
Anthony Smith — 13
Jalen Logan-Redding — 12

Source: Pro Football Focus

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