Kill looking for never-quit attitude

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 5, 2011 - 11:50 AM

Even in a blowout such as the 58-0 loss at Michigan, the Gophers coach wants his players to show they'll compete.

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Gophers coach Jerry Kill shook hands with Michigan coach Brady Hoke after the Wolverines beat Minnesota 58-0 on Saturday.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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Jerry Kill has a funny definition of "highlight."

The Gophers coach showed his football team a clip he wanted them to see from Saturday's game, a play that summed up what he's looking for out of his 1-4 team: David Cobb's fourth-quarter fumble, which Michigan cornerback Courtney Avery returned 83 yards for the game's final score in a 58-0 rout.

No, that's not the part Kill liked. What he noticed, however, and what he shared with his team, was what was going on behind the speedy Avery.

"I watched Marcus Jones and [Devin Crawford-]Tufts and John Rabe, and three or four other guys -- they were in a dead sprint all the way to the goal line," Kill said. "Then we had three or four dogging it. ... That's what I call playing hard."

It's not much, except to a coach who is trying to change the mentality of his team. He's finding it difficult, however, because of all the turmoil they have experienced in the past few years, not to mention this season's five games.

"A couple of [players], as soon as the University of Michigan went boom-boom-boom and scored, I think our kids went, 'Oh no, here we go.' You've got to fight out of that," Kill said. "Some of the older kids have been through some very difficult situations, and mentally, we just don't have a fight-back mentality. Is that the kids' fault? No. It's our program's fault, and right now it's my fault because I'm the head coach. But I'm trying to change a mentality that's been embedded a little bit, and that's not easy to do."

He needs to do it quickly, too, because there are seven more Big Ten games ahead. Kill is thinking long-term, but he knows he owes it to his players to do what he can to win as much as possible now, too. Absorbing the largest conference loss in school history makes that more difficult, too.

"We pointed out every mistake and everything that we did. But our problem right now is, you've got to believe you can do some things," the coach said. "The game of football, 90 percent of it is played above your [shoulders], and that's where we've got the most problems. And that's something we'll have to work through."

Jones said he learned to do that in high school. Wake Forest-Rolesville's season ended with a 44-0 North Carolina state tournament loss last year, and a 39-7 loss the season before.

"You've just got to find pride in yourself, to never quit. Even when you're getting beat down like that, you've just got to play football at that point," Jones said. "I know Saturday, a couple players got their attitudes down, but you've got to play through that. Once you're getting beat that bad, you've got to play for the next Saturday, get some energy going from somewhere so you can play better the next Saturday."

And believing, trusting that the work will pay off is part of it. Rabe raced after Avery, even though the 250-pound tight end is significantly slower than Avery.

"You never know -- he could have fumbled it. He could have tripped and I could catch up," the Iowa Falls native said. "No matter what happens, you just can never give up on a play."

So that's two. Kill said he's seen many more in Gophers uniforms -- just not enough yet to make that mentality standard.

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