Quarterback Vic Viramontes to leave Gophers football program

He surfed into Minnesota on a big wave, the California cool kid with a flow of hockey hair, a sleeve of tattoos and an impressive junior college résumé that offered hope that maybe, just maybe, the Gophers finally had found a solution at quarterback.

And just like that, he’s leaving.

Vic Viramontes, the highly touted recruit who enrolled at Minnesota in January but couldn’t get past third in the QB pecking order this spring, is transferring back to Riverside (Calif.) City College and will switch positions to play middle linebacker, multiple sources confirmed Saturday.

The top-ranked dual-threat junior college quarterback in the recruiting Class of 2018, Viramontes committed to the Gophers in November. When spring practice began, however, he quickly fell behind redshirt freshman Tanner Morgan and early enrollee freshman Zack Annexstad in the QB rotation.

Instead of making a case to be a starter with a strong performance in the Gophers spring game, Viramontes struggled, completing one of three passes for 1 yard and rushing six times for 21 yards. He fumbled twice and saw limited playing time in the second half.

Turns out, Viramontes had the sizzle, just not the steak.

The move was surprising considering the timing and the fact that Viramontes, who was a sophomore, still would have had a chance to compete for the starting job during training camp. Instead, he chose to return closer to his hometown of Mira Loma, Calif. At Riverside CC, the 6-1, 215-pounder will make the transition to linebacker with hopes of landing at a four-year college next year. He was a standout running QB in his freshman year at Riverside, rushing for 1,346 yards and 21 TDs to go along with 1,868 passing yards and 22 touchdowns as the Tigers advanced to the SoCal championship game.

That productive season impressed Gophers coach P.J. Fleck, who sang Viramontes’ praises during his early signing day news conference in December.

“This guy’s unbelievable. You read his high school stats: over 4,500 passing yards and over 4,500 rushing yards, and he accounted for 95 touchdowns,” Fleck said. “When you talk about a leader who commands the huddle, commands the team, this guy is exactly that. … His film makes you say, ‘Wow.’ ’’

However, Viramontes didn’t show that command of the offense during the spring. In the practices that were open to the media and in the spring game, he was quick to rely on his running ability while his passing accuracy needed work. The two fumbles in the spring game didn’t help, with Fleck saying, “He’s just got to learn how to value that football.”

Viramontes’ fall to third in the QB order came as Morgan showed a solid grasp of the offense and Annexstad, a preferred walk-on, emerged as quick study. Morgan completed 18 of 28 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns for the Maroon team in the spring game, while Annexstad went 11-for-18 for 186 yards and a TD while splitting time with Viramontes with the Gold team. Both Morgan and Annexstad led TD drives in two-minute situations, solidifying their status as the Gophers’ top two options.

Viramontes, who didn’t respond to interview requests Saturday, has bounced around in his career, first committing to Michigan as a four-star recruit before switching to California. He spent the 2016 at Cal as a redshirt, then transferred to Riverside for the 2017 season after the Golden Bears made a coaching change.

In November, Viramontes expressed confidence that he had found a home with the Gophers and a place to develop under offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca. “I just love how it’s an NFL-type spread,” he said. “… When you get to the NFL, you have to learn the verbiage and terminology. I want to learn that now, so you get a better chance when an NFL scout comes.”