Jerry Kill didn’t want Tuesday to be about him again.
At his weekly news conference, the Gophers football coach thanked everyone for their thoughts following his seizure Saturday, but he headed off questions about his health by saying he wanted to talk about his players.
“I’ve talked about those other things enough,” Kill said. “This game’s not about a head football coach. This game’s about the players, and that’s how we’ll approach it today.”
Kill has epilepsy, a condition that affects nearly 3 million Americans, and has compared the aftereffects of a seizure to getting hit by a truck. He returned to work Monday, and it looked as if he still had some soreness Tuesday.
But it’s clear Kill is determined to keep pushing forward, despite suffering three in-game seizures in three years as Minnesota’s coach. This summer, he said he understood that couldn’t keep happening, adding, “I’d walk away if I didn’t think I could do it. But that’s not going to happen because you’re talking to a guy that wasn’t supposed to be here anyway.”
Kill overcame stage 4 kidney cancer in 2005, and those who know him well, believe he’s a long way from walking away from this job because of epilepsy. On Monday, Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague said he and Kill haven’t even discussed such a scenario.
While some fans and critics have suggested Kill should resign for health reasons, senior safety Brock Vereen said, “As players, we’re really not reacting to it. We have a huge game this week [against San Jose State], and any attention taken away from that can hurt us Saturday. We know Coach Kill’s behind us, and we’re behind him.”
While Kill didn’t want to talk about his health, there was plenty to address regarding his players’ status.
Quarterback Philip Nelson is questionable for Saturday’s game after injuring his right hamstring in last week’s victory over Western Illinois. Kill said Nelson’s hamstring is about 65-70 percent strength, which means Mitch Leidner and third-string quarterback Chris Streveler will get most of the practice reps this week.
The Gophers aren’t saying who would start between Nelson and Leidner if both were healthy. Leidner completed seven of eight passes and ran for 64 yards, as the Gophers came back to defeat Western Illinois 29-12.
“We’re very pleased with what he did, and it allows Philip to heal up properly, and hopefully he’ll be ready by the weekend,” Kill said. “But if he’s not, we’ll be prepared to play Mitch, and we’ll feel good about it.”
Kill said two Gophers running backs who’ve been out because of sprained ankles — Donnell Kirkwood and Berkley Edwards — were cleared to practice “full-tilt” Tuesday.
Kirkwood, a junior who led the team with 926 rushing yards last year, was further along in his recovery than Edwards last week. Edwards is a true freshman, so it’s still possible he’ll redshirt, especially with Rodrick Williams (217 yards rushing) and David Cobb (207 yards) on a roll.
“We’ll be smart with that, and that’ll be a discussion I’m sure that will go late into the week,” Kill said. “But the other two backs have played real well, and getting Donnell back will be a boost.”
Kill also said safety Cedric Thompson will be ready to play against San Jose State after missing the Western Illinois game because of an unspecified injury.
“He had a situation that occurred in practice,” Kill said. “They took him to the emergency room, and he got cleared [to play] on Friday.”
But Kill said the coaching staff wasn’t going to rush Thompson back Saturday.
“He’ll play this week,” Kill said. “There’s no question about that.”
The timing is good, as the Gophers secondary must find a way to stop San Jose State quarterback David Fales, a projected first-round NFL draft pick.
“With the weapons they have, it’s very similar to what we faced against Syracuse a year ago,” Kill said of a 17-10 victory that gave the Gophers a 4-0 nonconference start. “So I think we’ll get a good idea of where we’re at on Saturday.”