Practice punches don't burn friendship

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 31, 2011 - 9:29 PM

Defensive end D.L. Wilhite and tackle Ed Olson mix it up pretty well in practice, but realize the intense competition only makes them better.

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Gophers defensive end D.L. Wilhite

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune file

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For D.L. Wilhite, the start to the football season means the end to his boxing career. The final stats: A couple of swings at a bigger opponent, but no knockouts. Or hard feelings.

"Man, I hate Eddie Olson," said Wilhite, the junior defensive end, but his grin said otherwise. "I mean, I love Eddie to death, but c'mon. In the locker room, I'm like, 'Eddie, man, why are you messing with me?'"

Why? Because their practice battles make both of them better, said Olson, the Gophers' sophomore left tackle.

"We have a little friendly competition out there. There's a little hatred going back and forth," Olson said. "We go at it pretty good on the field, but then in the locker room, we joke about it. It's fun going up against him."

Same for Wilhite, though he admits his competitiveness takes over in 10-second bursts. He's thrown a right hook or two at Olson, drawing the wrath of coach Jerry Kill in one practice for losing his composure. The pair have joked about that, too.

"I've done a few little things after the whistle that get in his head," Olson said. "He's tried to do it to me, too. There's been a couple of times in camp when we've taken a swing, but we're brothers in the locker room."

Both know better than to let their emotions go too far in a real game. But for now, they're just happy to give up their daily confrontations.

"We might box a little on the field, but it's just us," Wilhite said. "I ask him about it in the locker room, and he's a quiet guy. He just looks up with that little grin."

Not an ideal opener

Opening the season at Southern Cal is a good way to get some attention. The game will be televised by ABC, after all.

But Kill admitted this week that it's not a schedule he would have chosen.

"No. We'd be playing at home," Kill said. "I don't like playing the first game with BCS [level competition]. I want to play at home. There's a whole lot of difference between playing at home and going on the road, plus going to USC and the time difference, the whole ball of wax. But we'll have them ready to go."

It's the third consecutive season, and fifth in the past seven years, that the Gophers have opened the season with a road game, and they'll do it again next season at UNLV. Then three consecutive seasons will begin at home. Minnesota is 8-1 in its first game since 2001.

Scheduling to your advantage is what good teams do, and Kill said he considers it an important part of fixing what's wrong with the Minnesota program.

"I think any coach in America thinks there's an art to scheduling," he said. "I think there's an art when you turn a program around. We have large plans for what I think it's going to take to turn the program around. Part of that is scheduling."

He wouldn't discuss his scheduling philosophy, but it sounds different than former coach Tim Brewster's play-the-big-boys philosophy. When the Big Ten goes to a nine-game league schedule in 2017, nonconference games will be even more important.

"We're going to have three [nonconference] games, and you'd better win those three," Kill said. "There's going to be a whole lot of coaches in the Big Ten thinking about what they're going to do with scheduling."

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