Chip Scoggins is a Star Tribune sports columnist. He previously covered the Minnesota Vikings for four years, starting in 2008. In addition, he covered college football for five years. Chip has been with the Star Tribune since January 2000. He can be followed on twitter at @chipscoggins.

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Durant at Target Center: 'We'll bounce back from this'

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: May 21, 2013 - 1:34 PM
Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant was in Minneapolis visiting his childhood friend Monica Wright when devastating tornadoes hit Oklahoma City suburbs on Monday.
 
Durant saw the images on TV and decided to do his part to help. He made a $1 million pledge through a family foundation to the American Red Cross for disaster relief.
 
Durant talked about his donation and the Oklahoma tragedy during halftime of Tuesday's Lynx game. Durant came to watch Wright play in the preseason game.
 
"It’s devastating," Durant said. "Natural disasters are something we can’t control at all. To have it hit so close to home, I call Oklahoma City my home now. It’s tough to go through, but we’re a city that comes together. We’ll bounce back from this. It’s tough right now but the sun is going to shine soon. We’ve just got to stick together."
 
On his $1 million donation: "God told me to do something to help these families out and that’s the first thing I thought of. I’m just trying to do anything I can to help. It’s such a tough situation. Some of those things you can’t get back. But I just try and help the families out as much as I can."
 
On his inital reaction to the tornadoes: "Tornadoes come through Oklahoma City all the time. Sometimes it’s kind of like routine. I thought it was just a small one because the small ones do hit in Oklahoma City around this time. But as the day went on, I saw the footages and the casualties, the houses being blown away. It was tough to see. I call Oklahoma City my home. I love the state. I love Oklahoma City. I go through Moore all the time. It’s unfortunate, but we’re going to come together as a city like we always do and we’re going to bounce back."
 
On his donation: "Hopefully they get back on their feet. I wish I could have done a better job for my team to stay in the playoffs because basketball and sporting events brings everybody together and takes your mind off it a for a few hours. Some part of me wishes I could have played better for my team to stay in the playoffs. Hopefully they get back on their feet. It’s so, so tough. I’m praying for the families, I’m feeling for them. Hopefully everything gets back to normal real soon."
 
On when he plans to return to Oklahoma: "I’m thinking about going back tomorrow. Go to the hospital to see some kids or something. Give some hope. Playing for the Thunder, we mean so much to the state. So many people support us. I just want to go back and support those people."

Pitino on Coleman: I wanted him to stay

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: May 16, 2013 - 1:51 PM
REDWOOD FALLS -- Gophers basketball coach Richard Pitino spoke at an event here today as part of the athletic department's 16-stop road trip around the state.
 
Pitino touched on a number of topics, including news that junior guard Joe Coleman received a release from his scholarship so that he can transfer.
 
Pitino said he met with Coleman a few days ago and indicated that Coleman had been considering transferring for a few weeks.
 
"Joe is a great kid," Pitino said. "I didn’t want him to leave. I wanted him to stay. I thought he would have been a nice piece to what we’re doing. But I think Joe had thought about it over the last couple of weeks about potentially getting a change in scenery. I wish him nothing but the best. He’s a really good kid. He deserves a lot of success."
 
 Here is Pitino on a few of his players, including a few one-liners that he delivered to the estimated crowd of 400 who attended the luncheon:
 
-- On juco point guard Dre Mathieu: "He’s about as quick of a guard as you’re going to see in the Big Ten. He’s lightning fast. He’s probably only 5-10 but he can windmill dunk and do some things that are unbelievable. He’ll be fun to watch."
 
-- On center Elliott Eliason: "He won’t be able to play until he beats me in a pushup competition. We’ve got to get him in shape, but I actually do think that he’s going to have a great year. I believe it and he needs to believe it. Once he gets in great shape, he’s going to be a difference-maker for us."
 
-- On center Mo Walker: "He’s lost 20 pounds, which is great. The old expression, that’s a deck chair off the Titanic as they say. He’s got to lose about 40 more and he will. He’s been awesome. He’s been committed. He’s staying here [this summer] instead of going home, which shows a lot about him. He wants to do it. He’s changed his diet."
 
-- On redshirt freshman Charles Buggs: "He could be the guy who makes the biggest jump." 
 
 

Kill pushes for more physical mindset

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: April 24, 2013 - 2:31 PM
The Gophers football team hosts its spring game on Saturday and in several conversations I’ve had with coach Jerry Kill, it’s clear the head coach is pleased with the physical tone in practices this spring.
 
Granted, spring practice is completely different than regular season, but Kill believes his team is showing signs of becoming more physical on both sides of the ball. He thinks it’s a carryover from the Meineke Car Care Bowl, a 34-31 loss to Texas Tech.
 
“That’s who we want to be,” Kill said.
 
To be clear, Kill was disappointed in the loss and the mental mistakes late in the game that opened the door for Texas Tech to rally. But he was encouraged by how physical his team played, particularly in the running game.
 
“When we walked off the field, I turned to [an assistant] coach and said, ‘This is who we want to be,’” Kill said. “I said this is the first time since I’ve been at the University of Minnesota that I feel like we were physical.”
 
The Gophers displayed a power running game behind a healthy offensive line and tag-team duo of Donnell Kirkwood and Rodrick Williams. Those two running backs combined for 137 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 31 carries. In all, the Gophers rushed for 222 yards on 54 carries.
 
The Gophers dominated the line of scrimmage against a Texas Tech team that finished 74th nationally in rushing defense and played in a pass-happy conference.
 
“I think the big thing was, I felt like for the first time we had an identity and aggressive tone to us,” Kill said.
 
Kill probably wasn’t fond of some of the extra-curricular stuff that happened after plays. But his players also didn’t back down when Texas Tech became chippy and undisciplined. That’s a good sign.
 
One of my biggest frustrations with the Gophers in recent years is that they didn’t always fight back in tough times. They just let things snowball on them. But they showed some fight in that bowl game -- literally a few times -- which left Kill encouraged.
 
“We said, ‘Hey, I’m not going to take it anymore,’” Kill said. “That excites me.”
 
The coaching staff has shown players film of that game multiple times this spring to reinforce the physical style they covet. Now, they must prove that they can play that way consistently.
 
“You have to do it in the Big Ten,” Kill said. “For us to take steps forward, we have to play like that. As we teach kids, we have to go back to that game a lot and say, ‘Hey, I know we can do it.’”
 
Kill desperately wants an offense built around a power running game, and the coaching staff is excited about the possibilities of a backfield rotation of Kirkwood, Williams and incoming freshman Berkley Edwards as a change-of-pace threat.
 
That would reduce the number of carries for quarterback Philip Nelson, thus eliminating some of the pounding he takes. In terms of Nelson’s target number for carries, Kill said he’d like to “pick your spots,” rather that use Nelson as a featured ball carrier.
 
“We’ve been blessed -- and University of Minnesota has been blessed -- but you look through my whole record of coaching, clear back to DII, we’ve had great running backs,” he said. “We had them at Northern [Illinois], we had them at Southern. We’ve got to get back to having them. I think the bowl game gave some of those guys confidence.”
 
 
 

Nessler excited for homecoming

Posted by: Chip Scoggins under Vikings off the field Updated: October 24, 2012 - 1:41 PM
The Vikings-Buccaneers game Thursday night serves as a homecoming for NFL Network’s Brad Nessler, a St. Charles native, Minnesota State-Mankato graduate and former Vikings radio play-by-play analyst.
 
For my money, Nessler is the best play-by-play announcer in any sport on TV these days. Whether calling the NFL or college football and college basketball for ESPN, he always delivers a professional, knowledgeable broadcast.
 
I caught up with Nessler at the Atlanta airport before his flight to the Twin Cities. He talked about his memories as the Vikings play-by-play analyst on WCCO Radio from 1988-89.
 
“I remember playoff disappointment in San Francisco,” he said. “I remember Herschel [Walker] having about 150 yards in his first game and flying out of his shoe on his first carry.”
 
Nessler recently ran into former Vikings defensive lineman Keith Millard, who currently serves as a defensive assistant with the Tennessee Titans. The two shared stories and laughs about those training camp days in Mankato in the late 1980s.
 
“I always enjoyed myself, maybe too much,” Nessler said, laughing. “I know there were times when it was like two minutes till 11 and I said, ‘Boys, aren’t you supposed to be back pretty soon or coach is going to be mad?’ They said, ‘It only takes a minute and a half to get to Gage [Hall dorm]. I said, ‘We’re a mile away. How are you going to do that?’ I know they were a little late a couple of times and I was probably part of the reason.”
 
Nessler still remembers fondly WCCO’s press conference announcing the broadcast team of Stu Voigt and himself.
 
“It was pretty special because I don’t think I’ve ever seen my dad that proud,” he said. “I just remember my mom and dad being so thrilled that day. It was pretty cool so the whole beginning was just neat.”
 
Nessler has called a few Vikings games over the years after he left to join CBS. 
 
“I remember the last one I did there was with Hank Stram,” he said. “He had this gigantic monitor in the booth. He had a spotter’s sheet that was about the size of a dining room table. I walked in and I said, ‘Hank, where am I supposed to stand?’”
 
Nessler is excited to return to his home state and spend some time with family members, including his brother. They had a big family dinner planned Wednesday night. His ESPN college football duties only allow for a brief visit though.
 
“There’s a 6:30 a.m. flight from Minneapolis to Birmingham with my name on it Friday morning,” he said. “I have to get to Tuscaloosa for a meeting with Coach [Nick] Saban and those guys.” He’s calling Mississippi State at Alabama.
 
Nessler maintains a hectic schedule during football season, especially now that NFL Network has a full slate of Thursday night games. He also calls a college football game every Saturday night.
 
“The time management thing is huge,” he said. “I don’t think I realized how big of a challenge it is. I did it last year but we had eight games instead of a full schedule. I keep telling people, it’s like the Beatles song “Eight days a week.” If I had an eighth day in the week I would be perfect. I can’t find that extra day.”
 
 
 
 

Two different memories of Gophers-Badgers rivalry

Posted by: Chip Scoggins under Gophers sports Updated: October 19, 2012 - 7:04 PM
MADISON -- I've arrived in Madison for Saturday’s Gophers-Badgers game. Rivalry games are one of my favorite things about college football. I love the history of long-standing rivalries and the passion and animosity between fan bases.
 
I caught up with two former Gophers players -- kicker Rhys Lloyd and punter Justin Kucek -- who experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows in this series.
 
In 2003, Lloyd made a game-winning field goal as time expired to give the Gophers a 37-34 victory. Two years later, Kucek had his punt blocked and recovered by Wisconsin in the end zone with 30 seconds remaining as the Gophers blew a late lead in a 38-34 loss.
 
I asked both players how often they reflect on their one defining play in this rivalry.
 
“It’s not something I sit around and think about it a lot,” Lloyd said. “I always get phone calls or texts around the time of the game each year because they show me racing across the field.”
 
Lloyd recalled the scene before his kick as Wisconsin called a timeout to make him think about it.
 
“One of their players, I can’t even remember who, was talking some smack to me,” Lloyd said. “I was giving him the hand signal like keep talking because I kind of liked to talk some trash too. One of my teammates pulled me away and I went to the sideline.”
 
As far as the kick, Lloyd said he didn’t really feel much pressure. The score was tied so even if he missed, the Gophers still had overtime. And the kick set up nicely for him -- 35-yarder, left hash.
 
“It wasn’t a difficult kick in that sense,” he said.
 
Lloyd’s reaction became a highlight in itself. He led the Gophers mad dash across the field to grab Paul Bunyan’s Axe. He jumped over the Badgers bench in the process.
 
“I just started running around doing a little soccer celebration and then I see our entire bench running across the field,” he said. “I figured I would run with them instead of getting flattened by them.”
 
Lloyd said Gophers fans love to talk about that kick whenever he runs into them and joked that more than a few have bought him a drink because of it.
 
“Let’s just say that kick has been very good for me,” he said, laughing.
 
Kucek experienced the opposite end of the emotional spectrum. With the Gophers clinging to a 34-31 lead with 38 seconds left in 2005, he lined up for a punt, standing near his own 5. The snap was on target, but Kucek dropped it.
 
He picked up the ball and tried to punt it while running to his right. But Wisconsin’s Jonathan Casillas blocked it, and Ben Strickland recovered it in the end zone to finish off a wild comeback.
 
“I do think about it from time to time,” Kucek said. “But when I think about it, I’m not happy that it happened, but I was fortunate to have something like that happen in my life where I can apply it to what I do today.”
 
Today, Kucek lives in Florida and enjoys a successful business career as Wal-Mart Director of Operations for Bridgford Foods.
 
I always admired Kucek for how he handled that situation as a redshirt freshman. He handled it with class and eventually became an all-Big Ten performer a few years later.
 
It was tough for him immediately afterward though. He said he received between 500-700 nasty messages and emails. His parents also received phone calls at their home.
 
Kucek came into the postgame interview with tears in his eyes that day but he answered every question.
 
“It didn’t feel good going in there, but I knew if I went in and owned up to what happened that it would help me in the long run,” he said.
 
Kucek said that experience helped him grow as a person and learn how to deal with adversity.
 
“You realize that life is not always going to be perfect for you,” he said. “If it is, God bless you. There’s always tribulations that go on in your life. You have to learn from it and grow from it. I don’t think I would be where I am today if I hadn’t dropped that punt. In football and also my career. It helped me look at things from a different angle, just be positive in everything.”
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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