CHICAGO – Gophers football coach Jerry Kill opened Wednesday’s appearance at Big Ten media days by saying how excited he is about the program’s progress heading into his third season.
Before long, a reporter asked, “More importantly than football, how is your health?”
“I’m doing great,” Kill said. “I appreciate you asking. Things are going great for me. And I’ve got a great doctor that is a specialist in epilepsy. … I may not look like it, but I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life, so I’m looking forward to the season.”
Setbacks at center
Kill confirmed that senior center Zach Mottla had to retire from football after having a setback in his recovery from a compound leg fracture.
“I went up to see him when they took the screws out and had to re-break it,” Kill said. “He’s a pretty mentally tough kid. He’s handled things pretty well.”
Junior center Brian Bobek is questionable for the season because of myocarditis, an infection in the heart. It’s a serious condition, but Bobek is expected to make a full recovery. He had to sit out last year after transferring from Ohio State, but he could redshirt this season and still have two years of eligibility remaining.
Jon Christenson handled first-team center duties during spring practice. Other center options include Zac Epping, Tommy Olson and Ernie Heifort.
More receiver options
Incoming freshmen Donovahn Jones and Chris Streveler both were recruited as quarterbacks, but both will see time at wide receiver when preseason camp starts Aug. 2, Kill said.
The Gophers have been buzzing about Jones’ athletic ability since he got to campus from Dutchtown (Ga.) High School. In a recent pickup basketball game, he jumped so high, his head touched the rim.
Streveler, from Crystal Lake, Ill., also has good speed and has increased his weight from 205 pounds to 218, since enrolling in January.
The Gophers hope quarterbacks Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner stay healthy, enabling the staff to experiment with Jones and Streveler at receiver. Even with Andre McDonald returning, none of the team’s receivers caught more than 19 passes last season.
“[Jones] will go to camp as a quarterback, but he also wants to play, and he could help us at receiver; I think he will,” Kill said. “Streveler’s kind of in the same position. He’ll go to camp as a quarterback. We want both of those guys to learn both positions, if they can.”
Lawsuit an ‘NCAA issue’
Kill didn’t say much when asked about two of his players — Moses Alipate and Victor Keise — being among the six current athletes to join former UCLA basketball standout Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit against the NCAA. The lawsuit is challenging the NCAA’s right to sell their likenesses in video games.
“I get locked in my own little world, and I don’t understand all the things that are going on with that case,” Kill said. “Right now it’s an NCAA issue.”
If Jadevon Clowney’s famous hit against Michigan from the Outback Bowl would indeed be illegal under this year’s new targeting rule, Gophers defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman is in for a challenge.
“It’s so hard, especially when you come across a running back that is so small,” Hageman said. “Just to get that low in order to hit under his shoulders, it’s definitely difficult for taller defensive players to do that.
“But the rules are there for our safety, so I have to obviously prepare myself where I can look out for my safety and the person’s safety as well that I’m tackling.”