Gophers restoration project set to begin

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 5, 2011 - 12:31 AM

New coach Jerry Kill says he won't cut corners in building program.

After spending eight months traveling the state to whip up enthusiasm for his downtrodden football program, Jerry Kill has succeeded in convincing much of Minnesota that he can restore a winner to the state's largest university. Maybe he's succeeded a little too well, actually.

So as he prepared for his first training camp as Gophers coach -- a month of workouts commence Monday afternoon -- Kill offered a reminder of what's to come:

Losses, probably.

"There's no quick fix in life. This is not a quick-fix thing," Kill said Thursday. "This is not a deal where, 'Hey, let's win immediately. Let's quick-fix it and get the hell out of there.' I want to be here and I want to build a program."

He's done it before, and more than once, which is the reason Kill was selected to replace Tim Brewster after Minnesota's 3-9 collapse a season ago. But Kill's biggest success story -- the transformation of longtime loser Southern Illinois into a postseason fixture -- started out a spectacular failure, he pointed out.

"That was the worst year of my life, that 1-10 season, but it's probably the best coaching job we ever did," Kill reminded a roomful of media members. "We're going to do it right. I may get hit in the head the first few years, but I'm not going to bend off what works."

What works is a high-energy training camp, he said, so the Gophers will run three offensive huddles and three defensive huddles simultaneously, in order to get players as much work as possible. One exception to the go-go tempo: senior wideout Da'Jon McKnight, who suffered a minor knee injury during spring drills.

"We've got to stay healthy in that position. We've got to be careful with Da'Jon and his repetitions," Kill said. "We've got to work him hard enough to get better, but we can't have him run down to where he can't perform. And there's a fine line in there."

So is the line between starter and backup, for a roster that's new to this coaching staff. McKnight is safe at receiver, MarQueis Gray has won the quarterbacking job, and a handful of other veterans -- cornerback Troy Stoudermire, safety Kim Royston among others -- are all but certain to play if they stay healthy. But Kill reminded his players that he's willing to juggle the lineup based upon what he sees in workouts leading up to the Sept. 3 season opener at Southern California.

"Nobody's entitled to anything in life. You earn it," Kill said. "Are there some people farther along, who know more about the position? Yeah."

But for players such as Gray, who is moving over from receiver to take the controls at quarterback, "some of the competition is within himself," Kill said. "How good can he be? If we can get every player to give the best of their ability and play as hard as they can play, then we'd solve a lot of problems quickly."

Only three days until practice, and every moment of August is already scripted, Kill said. So what does the calendar have in store for him this weekend?

Rest.

"We have worked hard all summer long -- I mean everybody. I need about 24 hours by myself, walking the Mississippi [or] whatever I can find, to get away from it a little bit," Kill said. "I've got to get re-juiced."

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