In about two weeks, the Gophers football team will start practice and, after a 1-11 season last year, the players and coaches are eager to get started. Coach Tim Brewster is convinced the team will be much improved.
On the other hand, most of the college football magazines have picked the Gophers to finish seventh or lower in the Big Ten. And if you watch ESPN and other sports networks, they don't predict much success for the Gophers, either.
But former Gophers running back Amir Pinnix, who suffered through last season with several nagging injuries, is predicting big things for the team.
Speaking about last season's dismal record, Pinnix said: "We just had to get adjusted to the staff. Coach Brewster and his staff did an excellent job, especially getting us prepared and helping us learn the new schemes. But I just think that it took a little getting used to, but coach Brewster and his staff are unbelievable."
Pinnix said the system employed in spring practice last year was changed in the fall, trying to make it less complicated for the players.
"They simplified it enough to where we could understand better and players had to catch up with the system, but that's just part of the game," Pinnix said. "The coaching staff did a good job recognizing that maybe they needed to simplify the offense a little bit, and that's what they did."
Pinnix looks for the Gophers to have a winning season.
"Oh, most definitely," he said. "Coach Brewster's going to win with this team because he's an excellent coach and he has some good talent on that squad. So after a year [with] the coaching staff and coach Brewster and his system, I think they'll be pretty good. They'll make a bowl run."
Pinnix has a very high regard for assistant head coach-offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar.
"I love coach Dunbar," Pinnix said. "I mean, he gets you prepared for a system that you really have to sit down and study, and it gets you prepared for the next level."
Pinnix said the players on the team like Brewster's optimism.
"You have to stay optimistic, always," Pinnix said. "That's why I love coach Brewster, because he's so optimistic. He uses motivation, and he can inspire you to go out and make things happen."
Pinnix, who is from Newark, N.J., is one reason why I believe if an athlete gets an opportunity to enroll in college despite questionable high school grades, he has a chance of improving academically in college because of available tutoring. Pinnix almost didn't make it through his freshman year, but he improved with every year and graduated in four years with a degree in business marketing.
This week Pinnix got a job with Cargill after impressing David Larson, a top executive of that company, who met Pinnix when the running back was still at the university.
"I had a great time at the University of Minnesota throughout my career," Pinnix said. "I mean it's a city that shows you a lot of love and you get a lot of opportunity to meet great people."Love will help
Timberwolves coach Randy Wittman has been watching rookie Kevin Love, who came to the Wolves in a draft-day trade with Memphis, perform in practice and in summer games in Las Vegas.
"He's just a kid, pretty much what we thought in our draft process," Wittman said. "He really knows how to play the game. The thing that he just really does a nice job of is he makes other players around him better. He can pass the ball, he can score inside, he can shoot it from the outside. But his knowledge of the game is really what sticks out right now after two days of practice."
Wittman looks for Love to help the game of Al Jefferson.
"You have to defend [Love] out on the perimeter when Al's down on the blocks," Wittman said. "He's a great feeder and that's always a bonus when you have a big man that can pass the ball -- with a guy like Al down low. So I think those two are really going to complement each other really, really great."Casilla's improvement
Twins batting coach Joe Vavra was asked how Alexi Casilla could improve so much, after batting .222 in 56 games last year for the Twins and .219 early this season for Rochester. He's hitting .315 now for the Twins.
"It's all there, the swing is good, just staying inside the ball and he's narrowed the field down," Vavra said. "He's not trying to use the whole field, he's just trying to use the middle of it, and in essence he is starting to use the whole field. ... He's taking a nice good swing and not hitting a lot of fly balls, so it's there."Jottings
Gophers basketball coach Tubby Smith said a survey showed him there is more AAU basketball played here than in any city in the country -- crucial for the development of basketball players. ... The big reason Devoe Joseph, the outstanding Gophers basketball recruit from Canada, couldn't attend summer school is because of an immigration issue. Joseph, as a foreign student who will attend college in the United States, is prohibited from entering the country more than 30 days before school starts.
At this late stage of the year, the Gophers basketball team is still short two regular-season games after Southeastern Louisiana was signed for Dec. 23, and one game for the NBCA tournament will be played in November.
The contract Brett Favre would operate under if he plays with the Packers or another team this season was the largest of any NFL player when he signed it on March 1, 2001. The 10-year deal was for a total of $101.5 million, with $15 million of it guaranteed. Three years remain on that contract, calling for $12 million this year, $13 million in 2009 and $14 million in 2010. None of that is guaranteed, and if the Packers released him, they wouldn't owe the star quarterback anything. The hot rumor in the NFL from good sources is that Favre will wind up with Tampa Bay.
Andy Eggerth, an assistant track coach at Kansas State, could be the new assistant to new Gophers track coach Steve Plasencia.
Gophers senior golfer Andrew Paulson shot a 1-under-par 70 Monday in the first round of the U.S. Amateur Public Linx at Murphy Creek Golf Course in Aurora, Colo. He shot a 72 the next day to join 63 other golfers in the match-play portion of the tournament that starts today.
Duluth native Ben Jukich was the starting pitcher in the Southern League All-Star game in Zebulon, N.C., on Monday. Jukich pitched a perfect inning for the North Division All-Stars and got the victory. Jukich is 8-4 with a 3.57 ERA for the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Lookouts, Cincinnati's Class AA farm team.
Sam Ryan, a Tartan High School catcher drafted by the Twins in the 35th round, has signed a tender to attend Minnesota.