Gophers football: Danny Striggow blends toughness of wrestler with a volunteer’s compassion

Minnesota defensive end Danny Striggow, left, poses with his siblings, from second left, Hannah, Bobby and Jackson Striggow after Minnesota's 23-13 win over Wisconsin in a college football game at Huntington Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Nov. 27, 2021. (Courtesy of the Striggow family)
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Danny Striggow’s interception against Michigan State on Saturday was big on multiple levels.

The Gophers defensive end from Long Lake, Minn., dissected the Spartans’ screen pass and stuck out his left hand to made a pick that helped Minnesota pull away for its first Big Ten win, 34-7.

It further showed the U’s standard hasn’t slipped after uber-athletic rush end Boye Mafe was drafted in the second round by the Seattle Seahawks in April. Striggow leads the team with two sacks, plus has three hurries and five total tackles across four games.

The big play was also personal and served as a climax for a family reunion. Striggow made the play in front of about 45 family members and friends in East Lansing, Mich. His mother Michelle attended Michigan State; his father Jeff was a gymnast at Western Michigan; and his older brothers Jackson and Bobby have wrested at the University of Michigan.

“It was a bit of a house divided,” Striggow shared Tuesday.

But they obviously rally around their youngest son and brother. When Danny made the big play, “we were thrilled to death,” Jeff said.

The four Striggow kids attended Orono High School, and each left a mark. Jackson, Bobby and Danny all won state wrestling championships and were standouts on the football field. Hannah was an all-conference volleyball player who went on to play at Wisconsin-River Falls.

All four Striggows were involved in Orono’s teams within Special Olympics’ Unified Sports, which bring together athletes with and without intellectual disabilities to compete on the same squads.

“I was able to dip my toe in as a seventh- and eighth-grader, and I never looked back,” Striggow said. “Some of my best friends that I still talk to from Orono are kids with mental disabilities. And there’s something that just puts a smile on your face when you walk over and say what’s up to your buddy that you haven’t seen in a couple of months and their face just lights up.”

While Striggow is currently busy with Gophers football and his studies in the Carlson School of Management, he also serves as a student-athlete brand ambassador and honorary co-chair for the 2026 Special Olympics USA Games coming to Minnesota.

Orono’s wresting and football coach Joe McPherson saw Striggow’s kindness come out on the Unified teams. “He’s just unbelievable with those kids,” McPherson said. “It’s awesome to see him.”

As Striggow’s own athletic career blossomed — he won the 2019 Class 2A state wrestling championship at 220 pounds — the high school junior thought he likely would follow in his brothers’ footsteps and become a college wrestler.

The Striggows wrestled so often as growing boys that their father put a wrestling mat in the basement workout room to help keep the boys from grappling in the living room — and impaling themselves on the fireplace mantle. (It doesn’t sound like anything was actually broken.)

“A lot of things get settled on the wrestling mat,” Danny said. “Sometimes we didn’t always make it to the basement. A lot of things, arguments, a lot of disputes, even just friendly discussions ended in wrestling matches.”

Would mom and dad have to break them up?

“When we were younger, a couple times, just so nobody got hurt,” Danny said. “But when we’re older, they kind of let us hash it out. We’d come upstairs, dripping sweat a couple of times. And they’d be like, ‘Are you guys good now?’ ”

As athletes the Striggows were taught that if you start a sport, you finish the season. And if you have a problem on the team or with the coach, don’t come looking for mom and dad to fight your battle.

Minnesota defensive end Danny Striggow, left, poses with his siblings, from second left, Hannah, Bobby and Jackson Striggow after Minnesota’s 23-13 win over Wisconsin in a college football game at Huntington Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Nov. 27, 2021. (Courtesy of the Striggow family)

McPherson sees Orono wrestlers often excel on the football field. “It’s typical that wrestlers are the better football players,” McPherson said. “That’s not necessarily because they have the most athletic talent. They just are gritty, they know how to outwork their opponent.”

As Danny grew to 6-foot-5, he garnered more options to play college football than his brothers.

Danny remembers thinking, “Woah, I guess I really do have this opportunity, and from there, I really started to embrace how it had changed.”

Striggow took recruiting visits to Iowa and Nebraska. The Hawkeyes staff didn’t seem to be on the same page concerning Striggow, and there was an eye-opener with the Cornhuskers.

“We sat down with the recruiting coach and the position coach,” Jeff recalled. “And the position coach explicitly says, ‘Don’t think you’re gonna have a relationship with your head coach, you’re gonna have it with me.’ ”

On their visit to Minnesota, coach P.J. Fleck said just the opposite. “ ‘Don’t you think you’re not going to have a relationship with me.’ ” Jeff recalled Fleck saying. “That sold (Danny) — just that personal relationship.”

Gophers wrestling coach Brandon Eggum was interested in Danny, but the prominent place of heavyweight Gable Steveson kept the recruiting process from advancing. Wolverines wrestling coach Sean Bormet at Michigan tried hard to recruit Danny, but football had his heart.

Gophers defensive coordinator Joe Rossi said they were impressed with Striggow’s performance at a camp. They liked his length, blue-collar toughness, character and wrestling background.

Rossi said his brother was a wrestler and “trust me, wrestlers are pretty tough.” It’s one-on-one and nowhere to turn for help, Rossi said.

Then Rossi mentioned the benefits of wrestlers’ ability to bend and use their hands well in tight spaces — both skills that certainly aid a defensive end. Rossi said Striggow’s sack against New Mexico State as a great “technical” play.

“He’s really growing into what we knew he could be,” Rossi said. “He needs to continue to get better because we need him to be a really good football player for us.”

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