This isn't entirely new for Tommy Olson. He and his brother, Ed, were linemates for two seasons at Mahtomedi High School, and they even got a preview of their college partnership when both started in two games last year.
But something about opening a new season as an established tandem, working together to hold the left side of the Gophers offensive line together, makes Thursday's opening night a little more momentous for the Olson brothers.
"We've been best friends our whole lives," the 19-year-old Tommy said of Ed, who is older by almost exactly two years. "We made it a goal to come here and play together, and now that it finally has happened, it's something else."
Ed will take his familiar spot at left tackle, with its emphasis on protecting quarterback MarQueis Gray's blind spot as he looks for a receiver. Tommy will line up on his brother's right shoulder at guard, eager to clear a path for the Gophers running game.
It's a role they have been preparing for since they were peewee football players, facing off against each other in the back yard. Ed Sr., who played the line at Minnesota from 1980 to '82, was their youth league coach, but he wasn't the only one helping them hone their blocking skills.
"My mom [Kelly] used to film us doing our 1-on-1 [drills]," Tommy said, "and then we would go inside and watch the film."
Now that's a football family.
"With that family, he's can't not succeed, if that makes sense. He's going to do whatever is necessary," offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. "I had a talk with Eddie after the season about some things we wanted him to work on. When spring [practice] started, basically everything I had Ed do, Tommy had done, too, even though I didn't have that talk with him. They make each other better."
They even have the same habits. Both Olsons wear a half-dozen rubber wristbands on each wrist, have "since junior high school, I think," according to Ed, and rarely take them off. One says Gophers, one says Mahtomedi Zephyrs, one is a Lance Armstrong "LiveStrong" band. "You just start collecting them over the years," Ed said. "We don't even take them off to play football. We just tape over them."
Green cleared to play
The Gophers have some minor injuries, but nothing that will prevent anyone from playing, coach Jerry Kill said Tuesday.
Senior receiver Brandon Green, who had some soreness in his knees last week, returned to practice on Monday and has been cleared to play.
"I thought he practiced much better yesterday. He moved around better," Kill said. "We had a pretty warm day, which is good. That might have helped him a little bit. He did a good, solid job yesterday."
Green is the only receiver with significant experience on Gophers roster, having caught 57 passes, three of them for touchdowns, since 2008.
Kill said his biggest fear going into Thursday's game at UNLV is what he doesn't know.
Third-year Rebels coach Bobby Hauck changed both coordinators after last year's 2-10 disappointment, promoting defensive backs coach J.D. Williams to defensive coordinator, and assigning tight ends coach Brent Myers to run the offense. New playcallers on both sides of the ball mean all the film of the Rebels that Gophers coaches have watched has only limited value.
"My biggest concerns are the unknown," Kill said Tuesday. "Scheme-wise, you never know what they may or may not do. ... The unexpected is always a concern."
Quarterback Nick Sherry is new as well, a 6-5, 240-pound redshirt freshman whose senior year of high school included more than 2,700 passing yards. He originally committed to Colorado, before a coaching change made him rethink his choice, so he has BCS-level talent.
Considering that UNLV passed for only 1,315 yards over the entire 2011 season, it's safe to say the Rebels are expecting Sherry to help them open their attack a little more.
"I know [Hauck's] football team is going to be better than a year ago," Kill said.