Misfortune for U receiver gives Hopkins' McDonald an opportunity

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 6, 2012 - 11:38 AM
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Andre McDonald during his senior season at Hopkins

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune file

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The Gophers entered the season with two highly prized freshmen wide receivers. But things changed on opening night.

Jamel Harbison's calendar now includes knee surgery. And Andre McDonald's includes lots more homework.

Harbison, injured while running the football during the first half of Minnesota's victory over UNLV a week ago, likely will have surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee next week, once the swelling is completely gone, coach Jerry Kill said Wednesday. "He's doing well. He's running on a treadmill," Kill said of the 18-year-old from Charlotte, N.C. "The good thing is, it's a clean [tear]. It's like Marcus Jones' [injury last November] -- you'd never know he had knee surgery."

Kill said he's "cautiously optimistic" that Harbison will be ready to resume workouts shortly after the football season ends.

Harbison's injury puts more of a spotlight on McDonald, who caught his first collegiate pass, a 7-yard gain, in the third quarter in Las Vegas. His first thought after coming down with the ball?

"I was ready for another one," he said.

He'll undoubtedly get his chance, and that means more work with the playbook. McDonald said he was surprised by the amount he had to learn once he joined the Gophers, and with Harbison hurt, "I've just got to focus at all times, and pick up everything as fast as I can," he said. "Most people get overwhelmed by the amount of material -- it's a lot thrown at you real quick."

Quarterback MarQueis Gray and receivers Brandon Green and Jones all spent extra time with him over the summer to help him absorb it all, and McDonald -- who earned a 3.6 grade-point average during summer semester -- said he's comfortable with it now. In fact, he's having a blast.

"It was exciting. It was crazy. I kind of got the flow of everything right away in the locker room -- how intense it is, how serious it is," McDonald said. "I kind of knew what to expect, but I just had to experience it."

He experienced his first setback on the field, too, when a Rebels cornerback stumbled midway through the third quarter and left him all alone. Gray lofted a pass in his direction, but McDonald didn't see the ball.

"'Queis threw a nice ball, but I looked up late and didn't pick it up. It was inside, and I didn't get back inside to it," McDonald said of a certain touchdown lost. "It was a great pass."

Kill eases up in practice

The Gophers practiced in shorts Wednesday, scaling back the intensity after Kill noticed his team appeared tired Tuesday.

"The last two practices, we've had some guys cramp up a little bit. That's why I said, 'Hmm, we've got to be careful here,'" Kill said of the workouts in 90-degree temperatures. "I've seen some fatigue here, and it's way too early for that."

The coach feels fortunate, he said, that the season opener was on a Thursday, because the Gophers needed some extra time to recover from a long trip, a hot night, and extra football in Las Vegas.

"I'll be honest, I didn't play, and I was tired" after the three-overtime victory, Kill said.

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