Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague held a news conference Wednesday to showcase the University of Minnesota’s new plan for developing athletics facilities.
There were rumors on campus this week that the goal of $7 million-plus that had to be raised before building a new basketball practice facility has been reached, but no announcement on that was made Wednesday.
The football operation also needs some new facilities as well, and the plan revealed includes one.
A lack of competitive football practice facilities might be the reason the team hasn’t won a Big Ten championship since tying for one in 1967. The football locker room at the Bierman Building has been improved since last season, with coach Jerry Kill personally raising the $500,000 it took to do the job.
No doubt the Gophers football team’s facilities don’t compare with most of the teams in the Big Ten, and that, according to Kill, can have a big effect on recruiting.
The plan calling for a $190 million first phase is great. But to date, it has been very difficult to raise any money to improve the athletic facilities at Minnesota.
Meanwhile, Ohio State recently spent $140 million on athletic upgrades.
Kill getting ready
The Gophers football team will start practice a month from now. Kill said there are a few serious injuries, but otherwise he expects the squad to be healthy.
“I think things are going well,” Kill said. “We’ve had a lot of injuries, as documented. I think probably some of our most critical situations — [redshirt senior center] Zach Mottla is a young man that broke his leg severely and will not be able to play this year, which is a sad thing for him.
“[Redshirt sophomore linebacker] Pete Westerhaus has been fighting off a situation, a health situation, here for quite a while. He is making strides, but I think it is going to be a struggle for him to be in camp. Everybody else, we’re cautiously optimistic they’ll get into camp right now. We have a few question marks but I’m hoping we’ll have everybody ready by August 1, which is not very far away.”
Kill believes most of the players have worked hard during the offseason and that through recruiting, the team has upgraded its athletic ability.
“But we need to increase our strength in our [incoming freshman] class,” he said. “I think it’s a class that can run, but physically they need to mature. They’re all young, even our junior college player that came in [linebacker De’Vondre Campbell] is a young guy. He’s got three years left.
“We just have a young football team right now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be successful. I think the biggest concern I have is keeping our frontliners healthy and then develop some of that youth behind them. Hopefully we don’t have to use them too much, we’ll have to see. It’s always a concern.”
Kill said a big project for the team will be enticing walk-ons to join the team, knowing they might earn a scholarship in the future.
“We have a couple of guys on our team that we’re hoping things work out and we can help them out before we go and get another player,” he said. “The most recent example would be Jon Christenson, who has played center for us and done a good job. We’re going to take care of Jon before we go out and recruit another player.
“We have a couple of other young men we have to go out and do that with. We have a good pool of people in our program, and we have to continue to build off of that. We have to do that in next year’s class. To get 25 or 30 kids in that class, we’re going to have to do a really good job with recruiting walk-on kids. But when those kids come visit our place and you treat them right and they see that you’ve scholarshiped about 12 or 13 kids since you’ve been here or 14 that have been in that position, that rumor travels.”
• In what has to be an unprecedented moment for the Twins’ minor league system, Baseball America recently released their revised top 50 prospects and the Twins have the first and third player on the list. Outfielder Byron Buxton, who was ranked 10th before this season, now is No. 1. “No. 1 talent in last year’s draft is even better than expected with power, speed, defense and an extremely advanced hitting approach,” the publication wrote. Third baseman Miguel Sano moved up from No. 9 to No. 3. Baseball America wrote: “Best power in the minors, one of the best arms. Hitting ability has taken a step forward.” The other Twin in the top 50 was righthander Alex Meyer, acquired in the Denard Span trade with the Nationals. He landed at No. 32.
• The Twins recently hit the halfway point of the season, going 36-45 in their first 81 games. That compares to records of 35-46 in 2012 and 2011, 44-37 in 2010 and 41-40 in 2009. In the past two seasons the Twins have had even worse records in the second half of the season, going 31-50 last year and 28-53 in 2011.
• Torrodd Carter, a wide receiver out of Westerville South High School in Columbus, Ohio, is expected to receive a scholarship offer from the Gophers soon. Carter is the nephew of former Gopher Danny Upchurch, who still holds the team record for most punt returns in a game with nine.
• Last season the Gophers had only two football games on ESPN2. The rest of their regular-season games were on the Big Ten Network except their season opener against UNLV, which was on the CBS Sports Network. But already this year the Gophers have one game scheduled to be on ABC, their Sept. 28 game at home against Iowa, and their game the following week against Michigan will be on either ABC, ESPN or ESPN2.
• CBSSports.com had an interesting note on 6-4 guard Isaiah Whitehead, one of the top basketball recruits in the class of 2014 out of Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, N.Y. Whitehead said the three schools recruiting him the hardest are Louisville, Syracuse and the Gophers. That means that Richard Pitino is going head-to-head recruiting against his father, Louisville coach Rick Pitino, for the first time as Gophers head coach.
• Reid Travis, the DeLaSalle forward who is ranked 40th in the class of 2014 by Rivals.com, recently made his first official campus visit to Gonzaga and came back impressed. The Bulldogs have another local player on the roster, redshirt junior center Sam Dower of Osseo, who averaged 6.9 points per game last season. Travis also took part recently in the Big Man Skills Academy in Union, N.J.