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Claeys: Two goals -- winning Big Ten, graduating all players

CHICAGO -- Gophers coach Tracy Claeys was the fifth coach to take the podium Monday at Big Ten Media Days. Like the others, he opened with a tribute to Nebraska punter Sam Foltz and former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler, who were killed in a car crash Saturday.

"Before I get started I would like to express my sympathy and those of our players to the University of Nebraska and Michigan State University, their friends and families, who both lost two great young men way too early," Claeys said.

Claeys went on to say he thinks the Gophers enter the season with the best team they've had since he and former coach Jerry Kill arrived in December 2010. Claeys said he was proud of how the team handled adversity last year, including the loss of Kill, to finish at 6-7. He noted that six of the seven losses came against teams that won 10 or more games last year.

"At the same time, it was great to win a bowl game for the first time in [11] years and be a part of the Quick Lane, but that’s not our goal," Claeys said. "We have two goals at the University of Minnesota. That’s to win the Big Ten and graduate all of our players. We’ve got some work to do there.

"I do think winning the bowl game gave our kids some energy. We’ve had as good an offseason as we’ve had and we’re looking forward to see our kids compete because they expect better of themselves also."

Former Gophers punter Peter Mortell mourns loss of two dear friends

CHICAGO -- Former Gophers punter Peter Mortell was in Green Bay, Wis., on Monday, getting ready for training camp with the Packers, grieving the loss of two dear friends.

Mortell used to get together with Michigan State punter Mike Sadler and Nebraska punter Sam Foltz every July. They would gather at the Kohl’s Kicking Camp in Whitewater, Wis., and stay at the house of Wisconsin punter Drew Meyer.

They had met at various kicking camps for about eight years and done this – gathering at  Meyer’s place in the summer -- for the past four years.

This year, Mortell decided not to go. He wanted to stay off his feet with his first NFL training camp about to start.

On Sunday, Mortell got a call from Meyer with the terrible news. Sadler and Foltz were killed in a car crash Saturday night on their way back to Meyer’s house.

Sadler was driving the Mercedes sedan, and Foltz was a front seat passenger. Authorities have reportedly cited speed and weather as factors in the crash. LSU kicker Colby Delahoussaye was in the back seat of the car and survived with minor injuries.

“It’s just so, so sad,” Mortell said in a telephone interview. “Mike [Sadler] was on his way to Stanford Law School. Sam was the returning Big Ten Punter of the Year. I guess God had a different plan.”

Mortell’s voice cracked as he spoke.

He was the Big Ten Punter of the Year in 2014, but beyond the awards, he shared something else in common with Sadler and Folks. Their fun-loving personalities and determination to inspire people around them made each of them shining lights for their respective universities.

The tributes for Foltz and Sadler have been pouring in.

“They’re in a better place now,” Mortell said. “I just want them to be celebrated. God used them in so many ways. They impacted so many people. It was an honor and privilege to have them as friends. I’m very fortunate I got to spend the time with them that I did.”