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Father, Like Son: Gophers’ DB Antoine Winfield Jr. is chasing his


by: Daniel House (originally on

A boy grips a football tightly, eyes his opponent in space and has one man to beat on his way to
the end zone. With a Deion Sanders bandana wrapped around his head, a family bedroom
became a stadium for the four-year-old. The only thing standing in the way of a young football
player was the loving arms of his father – a top NFL cornerback.

For Gophers’ defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr., football is part of his earliest childhood
memories. The young defensive back has always shared a love for the game with his father,
former Minnesota Vikings cornerback, Antoine Winfield Sr.

“I used to dress him up, put a helmet on him, a do-rag, my jersey and we’d play football up in
our bedroom all the time,” Winfield Sr. said. “I knew he was destined to be a great football
player. From the time he could really walk and run, I put a football in his hands.”

Whether it was an afternoon in the backyard with his brothers or a Vikings game at the
Metrodome, Winfield Jr. always had eyes on his father, No. 26.

“The first thing that comes to my memory is going to all the home games,” Winfield Jr. said.
“When the Vikings played here, we would always go up here and watch him play. I just
remember it being exciting just to watch him on the field. Every time the defense went out
there, I would look for his number.”

When he wasn’t on the field, Winfield Sr. would take his young son to the field and teach him
techniques like staying low, playing fast, having the right leverage and keeping his eyes in the
right place. He set up ladders to improve his agility, footwork and transition quickness.

“Ever since I was young, [my father] has always helped me,” Winfield Jr. said. “We would
always go to the field and do footwork. He would just give me tips on what I need to do to get
better and just different things to look forward to as my football career elevates.”

Winfield Jr. would also spend time learning from Winfield Sr.’s Vikings teammates on Monday
nights. The veteran cornerback always invited friends to his home for Monday Night Football.
Winfield’s wife, Erniece, would cook dinner for the players, and Winfield Jr. lounged with NFL
players in the basement. He remembers playing Madden games against the likes of Adrian
Peterson, Harrison Smith and Bobby Felder.

“I would always be down there playing Madden, so whoever would come in the house, I would
challenge them to Madden and just run through everybody,” Winfield Jr. said with a smile.

Winfield Sr. is now retired and watching his son follow a similar path. He was a stand-out player
at Ohio State before being selected by the Buffalo Bills in the first-round of the 1999 NFL Draft.

The Vikings signed Winfield Sr. to a six-year contract in 2004. The acquisition turned out to be
one of the top free agent pickups in team history. The 5-foot-9, 190-pound cornerback was
often the smallest player on the field, but packed the biggest punch. During his nine seasons in
Minnesota, Winfield Sr. would stick his nose into the backfield and blow up a running play or
blitz off the edge to destroy a quarterback. He was also tasked with shutting down some of the
most talented and speedy wide receivers in the league. In the process, Winfield Sr. posted 901
tackles, 27 interceptions, 7.5 sacks and 11 fumble recoveries in 14 NFL seasons with the Vikings
and Bills.

After watching his dad and learning through the years, the football torch has now been passed
from Winfield Sr., to his son.

A star player at Woodlands High School in The Woodlands, TX, Winfield Jr. slowly improved his
physical build. The young defensive back spent time working with his father in the gym to
become faster and stronger. Winfield Sr. always told his son he could never be too strong or

“When he was playing in Minnesota little league, I could see little flashes, but once he got down
here to Texas and I would say his junior year, I was like, wow, he is going to be special,”
Winfield Sr. said.

“I have a gym at the house and I didn’t have to say anything. Usually I had to take the kids up
there and make them work out, but with him, every day after school, he just lifted in the gym.
He was a gym rat…he put on about 20-25 pounds of straight muscle and he took off.”

During the recruiting process, Winfield Jr. didn’t even have the Gophers on his radar. He was
receiving interest from Purdue, Northwestern and Houston, among others. The University of
Minnesota wasn’t under consideration until pass rusher Carter Coughlin committed and urged
the Texas defensive back to visit Minnesota.

“[Coughlin] told me to come up here and check it out and stuff like that,” Winfield Jr. said. “So,
I’m like, ‘ok, I’ll come and check it out.’ I came up here for a visit and I just ended up falling in
love with the place and they offered me when I came up here, and then after that, I just

Now, Winfield Jr., a redshirt sophomore, is carving out his own career in the Big Ten conference
at Minnesota. A 5-foot-10, 205-pound defensive back with position flexibility, Winfield Jr.
closely mirrors his father on the field. When Winfield Jr. studies his father, he tries to emulate
the way Winfield Sr. tackled.

“I just remember [my father] being the smallest player on the field, but him hitting the
hardest,” Winfield Jr. said. “He is somebody that I always looked up to, so everything that he
does, I’ve always tried to just be better than he was.”

Winfield Sr. notices similarities between the two when junior is wearing maroon and gold on
Saturdays. There is only one word the former NFL cornerback can use to describe his son’s
playing style.

“I would say a warrior,” Winfield Sr. said. “He plays physical. I love his style of play. He is bigger,
faster and stronger than I was. The way he comes down and delivers a blow, I love it. And then
how he looks at him, just that nasty look. I tell him to play nasty — always. If you hit somebody
run through them.”

Winfield Jr. played in 12 games as a true freshman, recording 52 tackles and an interception. He
made a quick impact and transitioned into the Big Ten with ease. His swift developmental
trajectory even surprised Winfield Sr. himself.

“I would say it was really surprising to me - I didn’t know he was going to be that good as a
freshman,” Winfield Sr. said. “The difference from high school to college - I mean you’re playing
against better talent, the game is a lot faster. And for him, he didn’t look like a freshman to me.
I was like — woah — he was out there making plays, coming up making tackles, interceptions,
scoring touchdowns.”

Last year, the Gophers’ star defender appeared in just four games as he battled a hamstring
injury. With inexperience in the Minnesota secondary, Winfield Jr. will be one of the team’s
most valuable players in 2018. He knows studying tendencies can make a big difference in
elevating his play.

Winfield Jr. will often go out to dinner with his father after home games to review his
performance and discuss areas he can improve. The duo also watches film together, something
Winfield Sr. believes is the most important aspect of being a defensive back at any level,
especially in the NFL.

“If you study a lot of film, you recognize formations, you expect routes, you see where your
receiver is lining up — he can only give you a certain amount of routes,” Winfield Sr. said. “And
that’s the way you play fast. That’s the only advantage you have as a secondary player because
the quarterbacks and receivers are too good, especially in the NFL when you get there. Right
now, I see [Winfield Jr.’s] film study has improved, just his route recognition and playmaking

With geographical distance separating them, the father and son will Skype to discuss technical
improvements Winfield Jr. can make in practices or games.

“He sent me a couple plays today. He had an interception in practice and a breakup in the end
zone in 1-on-1’s. Any film he can get to me, I’m definitely critiquing and he receives it,” Winfield
Sr. said. “It’s a great feeling for me to see where he is and how far he has come.”

Winfield Jr. said the tips he receives from his father are invaluable when he is studying for
opponents or making adjustments. His advice came in handy when the Gophers played Penn
State in 2016.

“We [study film] a lot. I remember we were playing Penn State and we were playing against
Saquon Barkley that year, obviously,” Winfield Jr. said. “I just remember him telling me that he
was a good player and that I need to wrap up when I tackle him and stuff like that.”

Given his unique ability to tackle in the box and cover the deep half, head coach P.J. Fleck and
the coaching staff will be taking advantage of Winfield Jr.’s versatility this season.

“We’re going to play [Winfield Jr.] at corner this year, safety, you might even see him come of
the edge in an “R” rush end type position. He’s a heck of an asset to have on your football team
because he’s so versatile, so smart, so athletic,” Fleck said in a spring press conference. “Our
players respond to him and I think that’s contagious on defense.”

Senior safety Jacob Huff plays alongside Winfield Jr. and knew he was special from the minute
he walked on the field. He said Winfield Jr.’s unique ability elevates the play of everyone
around him.

“The moment he got here, I knew he was a guy. Some of the older coaches always gave him the
freedom to do whatever he wanted and just seeing that and his athleticism, and his ball skills,
and his discipline, it’s pretty incredible,” Huff said. “I try to compete with him every day.
Sometimes I try to tie my shoes better than Antoine.”

Many people notice similarities between the father and son’s personality. Both of them have
reserved, yet fiery mentalities on the field. It’s something Winfield Jr. recognizes, too. However,
as he studies current NFL players, he strives to find the perfect balance between being reserved
and passionate on the field.

“Jalen Ramsey has swag, so I want balance, that perfect mix,” Winfield Jr. joked. “Ramsey is the
one that I’ve been watching recently. Just his mentality is crazy. That’s how I’m trying to mold
my game. Just his passion that he has for the game and how he works, it means a lot to me.”

As Winfield Jr. focuses on his technique, he is studying the coverage skills of Seahawks safety
Earl Thomas, as well.

“Just watching [Earl Thomas] play in the middle of the field is crazy, how he covers so much
field and just watching him play back there is amazing,” Winfield Jr. said. “I’ve been working on
everything in terms of trying to improve my game. Whether it’s watching film, whether it’s
breaks and just covering receivers and things like that.”

When studying, the defensive back shifts his attention to a variety of players, including his
father’s high school film. Winfield Sr. uses it to show his son what it takes to elevate to the next

“I would always show him that if you get out here and you just make plays every now and then
-- you come down and make a big play, interception, cause a turnover -- you have an
opportunity to go to the next level,” Winfield Sr. said. “It’s all about making plays.”

In the future, the young Gophers defensive back has aspirations to play on the big stage.

“My goal is to play at the National Football League and my goal there is to win a Super Bowl.”
Winfield Jr. said. “My goal here – the first thing is to win the West, and win the Big Ten, and
then, obviously a National Championship.”

Playing at the next level is a long-term goal Winfield Sr. knows his son can achieve because of
his dedication to the game.

“There is no doubt he has what it takes to play in the league. He has it all,” he said. “He has the
knowledge of the game, definitely has the skill-set. He’s fast, he’s strong and he always wants
to learn. That’s the thing — he’s a great learner.”

As Winfield Sr. watches his son develop and reach for his dream to play in the NFL, it helps him
hang onto the game he loves. The satisfaction of seeing his son succeed brings back so many

“I’m telling you, he is 100 percent about ball and I love it. To see him grow into the player he is
now, I’m so excited for him,” Winfield Sr. said.

“I’m living through him.”

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