The Gophers are still a week away from firming up their depth chart, but Troy Stoudermire is willing to spoil the suspense.
"I will be the No. 1 kick returner. Definitely. I think everyone knows that," the senior cornerback said. "I feel really good this year. I'm ready to go out there and break this record."
That's the NCAA Division I record for most kickoff yardage in a career, a mark that, at his current rate, he should eclipse sometime in October. Stoudermire, who missed the last eight games of the 2011 season after breaking his arm, has 3,102 yards in his four seasons with the Gophers, just 415 yards behind the 3,517 that Tyron Carrier of Houston gathered from 2008 to 2011.
But there's a new element to his record chase this year -- the NCAA rules have changed. Teams will kick off from the 35-yard line, 5 yards closer than last year, and receiving teams get the ball at the 25, not the 20, if they down the ball in the end zone. Won't that greatly reduce the number of returns Stoudermire makes?
"I don't think it'll reduce my effectiveness," said the 22-year-old, who also will start at cornerback. "I talked to Coach [Brian] Anderson [who helps coach kick returners], and he told me if I feel good about it, bring it out. From anywhere. ... If my momentum is taking me back while the ball is in the air, then I'll stay put. But if I catch it and my momentum is going forward, I'm going to take it out."
Stoudermire has bigger plans to help with field position, too, as he wants to return punts as well. "I've done punts all my life. The only place I haven't is in college," the Dallas native said. "I love doing punts."
The more, the merrier at tailback
Fall camp is more than halfway over, and sure enough, the four-man battle to become starting tailback has changed.
"It's about a six-man race now, really," Gophers coach Jerry Kill said.
Freshmen K.J. Maye and Rodrick Williams have joined sophomores Donnell Kirkwood, Devon Wright and David Cobb and junior-college transfer James Gillum in being seriously considered for playing time this season.
"There's not a lot of separation there," Kill said. "K.J. Maye has been a tremendous surprise, and he can play some inside receiver, too. Rodrick has gotten better. Three days ago, I said, ehh -- then all of a sudden, he's had some strong, physical runs, and he's 237 pounds."
Williams had a touchdown run of more than 50 yards, judging by a video posted on the team's website, in Thursday's closed scrimmage.
The Gophers will scrimmage again Saturday night, and Kill anticipates all the tailbacks getting some work. "Our running backs will have a busy evening," he said. "That's a good thing. We needed some depth."
He might just use them all. At Southern Illinois in 2004, Kill pointed out, he gave Brandon Jacobs and Arkee Whitlock 150 carries each, and Terry Jackson another 90.
"If we get somebody that emerges, a dominant player, you're going to play him," Kill said. "But somebody's got to emerge to do that, and you're not going to find that out until you play on Saturdays."
• The Gophers defense had a much better showing in Thursday's scrimmage than in their first outing a week ago, Kill said. "They played with much more speed. They felt really good about the progress they made," he said. "The offense didn't feel quite as good, because some things weren't executed as well as in the first scrimmage, because the defense played better."
• The scrimmage included an extended session of punting, and "we punted the ball better than we've punted it since I've been here," Kill said.
• Saturday's scrimmage, also closed to the public, will begin around 8 p.m. at TCF Bank Stadium, in order to simulate a gameday schedule. But Kill said most starters won't play; the session is a chance to get one more look at second- and third-teamers.