Minnesota star Rashod Bateman, likely first-round draft pick, opts out of 2020 season

Andy Greder
St. Paul Pioneer Press

Minneapolis -- Minnesota star receiver Rashod Bateman has opted out of the 2020 college football season and will prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft, he announced Tuesday on Instagram.

Bateman, the reigning Big Ten Receiver of the Year and a projected first-round draft pick, called it “the hardest decision” of his life. He joins a growing list of college players deciding not to play — if there is a season this fall — including Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley and Illinois running back Ra’Von Bonner.

Rashod Bateman

As a sophomore, Bateman helped lead the resurgence of Gophers football in 2019. He had 60 receptions for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns during Minnesota’s 11-2 season, which was capped with a win over Auburn in the Outback Bowl. He said he wanted to bring a Big Ten championship to Minnesota, but the situation has changed.

“Unfortunately, in light of the uncertainty on the health and safety with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Bateman said in a video. “I have set my wishes aside for the wellness of my family, community and beyond. Because of this I have decided to opt out of the 2020 college football season. I will be taking the next steps in my journey by declaring for the 2021 NFL Draft. Minnesota will forever be a place I was lucky enough to call home. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, I love you all.”

Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said Bateman told the team about his decision on Tuesday morning.

“Rashod played a pivotal role in helping mold the University of Minnesota into an elite Big Ten program,” Fleck wrote in a message on Twitter. “He was a joy to coach and has developed into an NFL caliber of player. We could not be more proud of Rashod’s historic and All-American career at Minnesota.

“My job as a college football coach is to teach, educate and help our players live out our dreams,” Fleck continued. “We will certainly miss him. Our program will always support a teammate who makes a decision that he feels is best for him and his family. I love Rashod and will always be there for him.”

Bateman, a four-star recruit from Tift County, Ga., showed gratitude throughout his nearly two-minute video.

“Minnesota you have my heart forever,” Bateman said. “Moving from a small town to the big city I was very nervous and you all have accepted and embraced me with open arms and have helped me find myself.”

Bateman played all 26 games in his two-year Gopher career, catching a pass in every game, and he finished with 111 catches for 1,923 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Gophers receivers coach Matt Simon bid farewell to Bateman on Twitter: “Hard for anyone to fully comprehend the impact you have had on our program, university and state, both on and off the field. You have made MN a better place. personally I am grateful to have been around daily to watch you grow and learn. I love you like family, forever.”