Gophers OL Blaise Andries’ NFL Dream Took Root in Marshall

Joe and Helen Andries remember all of the sounds vividly. Swishing basketball nets, whizzing footballs and snapping baseball mitts became a fixture of their tight-knit neighborhood in Marshall, Minnesota.

By 10 a.m., the Andries family’s backyard turned into a makeshift sports stadium. Young offensive lineman Blaise Andries, along with other kids in the neighborhood, emulated star athletes during morning pickup games. 

“When Blaise was really young, it was 10 a.m. in the morning and you had 10 kids out goofing around and playing whatever sport was out there,” Blaise’s father, Joe, said. “Every day, that group of kids got together. It was either our basketball court in the back, they were playing football out in the park, or baseball somewhere. They were always doing something.”

Years later, four of those neighborhood kids joined Blaise as future Division I athletes.  Mitchell Sueker played basketball at North Dakota, Reece Winkelman developed into a starting defensive end for South Dakota State and Nolan Schaeffer became a hockey player at Robert Morris. 

While playing with his childhood friends in Marshall, Andries developed a deep passion for sports. He eventually knew he wanted to play college and NFL football, but did not know it would be possible until his freshman year of high school. 

“I never realized that I would have the opportunity [to play Power 5 football] until the beginning of high school or late eighth grade where I realized, hey, I’m a little bit bigger than everyone else around here, so it became a reality to me that if I continue to put in the work and I continue to do this and do that, I could make that dream come true,” Andries said.

Marshall Football, Mud and Pancakes

Marshall head coach Terry Bahlmann saw Andries’ potential and provided him with all of the resources he needed as a young player. As an eighth grader, Blaise attended a team camp at the University of South Dakota and was already generating college interest. 

“We went to the University of South Dakota and the coach there was ready to offer him a scholarship then just based on his size,” Bahlmann said. “So he stood out the whole way, but as he was progressing during his junior year in high school, we always sat and talked about the size of the guys in the draft, the opportunities there.”

Andries only suited up as a freshman, but it did not stop him from making an early impression. Marshall football purchased brand new white uniforms and tested them out during a mud bowl in Worthington. Andries watched from the sideline, but did not leave the stadium without joining in on the fun. 

“When he was a freshman, he dressed on varsity for us. And Blaise did not play, so we had brand new beautiful white jerseys on and after the game, the big freshman decides to run down and do a belly flop right through about the 10-yard line to the goal-line on somebody else’s field,” Bahlmann said. “So as I got down there to address the team, I reminded Blaise that freshman should be seen, not heard. He would always laugh about that one.”

Mud eventually became a defining characteristic of Andries’ playing style. Once the Marshall offensive lineman, gained more strength, he frequently pancaked defenders into the turf. Bahlmann said Blaise’s size, physicality and mobility fit perfectly within Marshall’s offensive system. Each week, Andries’ head coach enjoyed watching him make highlight reel blocks in space. 

“The fun part for us is his playing ability, we’re a version of the Wing-T there, he got to play a lot of guard for us, so he got out in space and trapped and did that,” Bahlmann said. “When you see 6-foot-6, about 315 in high school coming at you on the trap block and pulling in space, that was always fun to watch.”

Managing the Mail and Texts

After years of hard work and dedication, Andries was named Minnesota’s top-rated 2017 recruit. Blaise earned more than 22 offers, including one from the home state Gophers. Texts, calls and mail quickly poured in from every corner of the country. 

“It was kind of fun to get the mail every day to see who was sending what in the mail,” Blaise’s mother, Helen, said. “He’d be getting text messages and I just remember whenever the eligibility period was where they could contact the student-athlete directly vs. having to go through a coach, that night at 11 p.m., because it was midnight eastern, there were messages starting to come through. And then at midnight, messages started to come through. And he worked really hard to respond to everybody, to get back to people while still trying to do the sports and the grades and school too.”

Blaise received extensive interest from many schools, but knew the University of Minnesota was the right school for him. Outside of the football fit, Andries fell in love with the mathematics program and wanted to play in front of his family and friends. Minnesota also underwent a coaching change before his freshman season, however, he never wavered from his commitment. Andries was ready to play for head coach P.J. Fleck and offensive line coach Brian Callahan.

“He had committed to the Gophers already and then the coaching change happened. I remember him sitting here in the chair,” Joe said. “Somebody from the media was asking, are you still going to stay with the Gophers? Because some kids opened up their recruitment. And he was like, ‘Nope, I’m not changing my mind.’ He was set on coming to the Gophers.”

Representing the Maroon and Gold  

Andries arrived in Minneapolis and soaked in every detail from new offensive line coach Brian Callahan. He gained strength in the weight room, learned techniques and immersed himself in the culture. Then, after just one year in the program, Andries became a full-time starter. Andries credits Callahan and the entire coaching staff for making that possible. 

“Coach Cally was probably one of the best coaches I’ve ever had in my life. He would be right up there with Coach Bahlmann who was our head coach at Marshall, but basically ran the O-Line,” Blaise said. “Coach Cally and I will still talk like every other week and catch up. The cool part about him is he’s always trying to learn, so he’ll ask me what these O-Line coaches are teaching me and what I would bring back to the program to help things that we’ve been struggling on in the program and what not. So it’s kind of fun being able to do all of that stuff.”

Callahan helped Andries morph into a versatile offensive lineman. He started 46 career games and played every position except center. His strong performance on the field was only part of the story though. Andries’ love for mathematics immediately reached new heights at the University of Minnesota. Blaise walked into the department during a recruiting visit, looked at the wall and started going through all of the equations with adviser Amy Gunter. At that moment, Joe and Helen knew he was in the right place. 

“He and Amy started talking for a good hour about the degree and how you do it and how it would work with football. You could just tell they connected,” Helen said. “I always give Amy Gunter credit because he’s a student-athlete. The student piece really helped solidify where he wanted to get his degree from as well.”

Andries flourished in the program and earned a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Actuarial Science). Then, once he completed his bachelor’s degree, he entered the Carlson School of Management’s Applied Business Analytics MBA program. Andries enjoyed all of those experiences and even found ways to combine his passion for numbers and sports. 

“Every NFL team asked me what I wanted to do after football, I said, hey, I could really go be an actuary today if I wanted to because I passed two of the exams. I would probably have to pass a couple more since I’ve been out of practice in it,’ Blaise said. “I tell people the reason I chose that master’s program was because I wanted to take the same math, coding and statistics that I do in actuarial science and apply it to more than just insurance.”

Life Lessons and Football

The entire Andries family will never forget all of the moments they shared together while watching Blaise play for the home state Gophers. Above all else, Joe and Helen appreciated the impact that Minnesota’s “Row the Boat” culture had on their son. 

 “[The program] instills, regardless of football, just being a good person. Giving back to the community – all of that is so important. I would call them life lessons vs. football lessons,” Helen said. “Just life lessons that P.J. and the coaching staff have brought to the young men coming in. It’s just great to see and I know they appreciate it, and as they get older, I know they will appreciate it even more.”

The family was also thankful for the support that head coach P.J. Fleck provided over the years. Fleck eased the transition and helped all of them understand what life was like as a Division I college athlete. 

“Anything Blaise needed, the door was always open for him to go talk to P.J. There were obviously moments where he needed him a lot and P.J. was always there for him. He was like Blaise’s father away from Marshall,” Joe said. “I’ve never been part of a Division I college football team, so we had to take direction from P.J. He was always very comforting from the fact that, we’re taking care of him, don’t worry about it, we’ve got him. It was nice that you could sleep well at night knowing that he was under P.J.’s watch. P.J.’s such a great guy.”

Chasing the Next Dream

After completing a successful college career, Andries is ready for the next step in his journey — next month’s NFL Draft. Andries kicked that process off by training for the combine with other athletes at Exos in Phoenix. While there, he focused on improving every area of his game, including combine technique, pass protection sets and everything in between. 

“The coaches were amazing. They were awesome and they must have done a pretty good job because all of our people out there were balling,” Blaise said. “The people at Exos were second to none. They’ve been doing it for so long, they know what they’re doing, so it was pretty awesome.” 

Months later, Andries’ training paid off in a big way. He tested above average in every athletic category at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Andries ran a 5.10 40-yard dash, which ranked No. 126 out of 1,135 guards since 1987, according to Kent Lee Platte’s database. Additionally, the Gophers offensive lineman’s preliminary relative athletic score of 9.62 (out of 10) ranks No. 54 out of 1,405 guards since 1987. Andries credits the trainers at Exos for easing his nerves and preparing him well. 

“It was very nerve-racking. Everything running through your mind. And it’s funny, they gave us a little warmup sheet, and it said, when it comes to actually running the 40, they said, ‘Don’t think just run.’ So that’s really what was going through my mind,” Andries said. “I kind of tripped on my 40 a little bit in my first 10 yards, so I needed to make up some in the drive phase. And I completely forgot to pick up my head until like 32 yards or whatever. And I picked up my head and I took like two steps and I was through the 40 and I was upset because I thought I ran a bad time, but it actually ended up being a really, really amazing time, so I was happy. After that, I was like, OK, cool.”

Andries also enjoyed speaking with NFL front office executives at the East-West Shrine bowl and Scouting Combine. During those sessions, he showcased his positional versatility, football intelligence and love for mathematics.

“We were able to get into more football intelligence questions is what more people were asking me about,” Blaise said. “My biggest selling point to them is I’m versatile and I’m intelligent and I can block downhill for the running game and everything. That’s what I tell them. They ask me, ‘what position do you feel more comfortable at?’ And I tell every single team, I’ll go wherever you tell me to, wherever the team needs me to play, I’ll play. If you guys need me to play center, we took snaps at center throughout the year in practice. If you need me to play right or left guard, I’ve started a season at both. If you need me to play right or left tackle, I’ve played multiple games at both.”

Guided and Driven by Marshall

One thing has remained constant throughout Andries’ journey – the support of Marshall’s community. The town of 13,560 strongly rallies behind students who are pursuing their dreams. In recent years, the school has produced many high-level athletes, including San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Andries family said Marshall residents keep tabs on past graduates and support them every step of the way. 

“I think the town of Marshall enjoyed Blaise’s Gopher career. We’d see people and they’d say, ‘Hey we’re going to the game on Saturday.’ It was always good to have the support from the community, from the neighbors and friends,” Helen said. “It is just a good community for kids to grow up in.”

Andries remains connected with the community that encouraged him to pursue his childhood dream. The former Gophers offensive lineman frequently visits the high school and mentors young students. Even from a distance, Andries continues to make a difference in the community that did so much for him.

“He’s still always Blaise to us when he comes back. He was back after the combine the other night and sat with us in the crowd,” Bahlmann said. “The kids come up and want pictures and autographs and Blaise always gives that time. He’s still the young guy who will talk to all of the little guys and help out there.”

Andries is thankful for all of the mentors who helped him along the way, including community members, teachers, coaches and family. In fact, when the Gophers offensive lineman finished up his testing and interviews at the NFL Scouting Combine, many of those people received a special phone call. 

“After the combine, I think he got done around 8 p.m. He didn’t call me until around 9 or 9:30 p.m. Blaise told me, ‘Sorry about not getting back to you sooner. I had to call all of my coaches and everyone that helped me get this far,’” Joe said. “I was like, man, that’s pretty cool. He wanted to give gratitude to those who helped him get to the point where he was.”

During all of those key milestones, Andries is guided by the lessons he learned while growing up in Marshall. No matter what, all of the influential people, moments, and memories will remain close to his heart. 

“I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it, the community around Marshall is amazing. We’ve had a lot of recent success in terms of athletes coming out of there and it’s just because on top of academics and just overall character, the football program, along with other sports, prioritizes those things and the community holds you accountable,” Blaise said. “Growing up in Marshall was everything.”

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