From injuries to new fatherhood, Minnesota's football team has a full plate.
Between parent and patient, pupil and player, MarQueis Gray is one busy quarterback right now.
The workload of student-athlete is heavy enough, but the Gophers' 21-year-old QB is dealing with a couple more time-consuming factors, too. Most obvious is his twins sons, MarShawn and MarZell, born Friday and still hospitalized. But Gray also has been receiving treatment on his lower back injury, which he said hindered him during Saturday's 42-13 loss to Wisconsin.
"It had me thinking about it a little bit, getting hit [again]. I kept getting a little sharp pain shooting through my legs," Gray said. "It limited my reps, so going into the game, I wasn't fully confident in myself."
It showed in his game -- perhaps Gray's worst of the season, a 6-for-14, 51-yard disappointment. "We were pretty beat up," offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. "It was like musical chairs out there. It felt like you're out of synch all the time."
After two days off and a few therapy sessions, the quarterback practiced with no pain Tuesday, and pronounced himself fit again for Saturday's game at Northwestern.
"I plan on taking every rep this week, and hopefully we can regain the confidence this Saturday," Gray said. "Now that I'm better, I won't have the tendency to think about it again."
No, but he's got plenty of other things to think about.
"He certainly has a lot on his plate," Gophers coach Jerry Kill said.
The injury, which occurred when a Michigan State helmet struck the quarterback from behind on Nov. 5, kept Gray out of practice for much of last week "and that threw his timing off," Kill said. "As the game progressed, he loosened up. Ran pretty hard, actually. I was pleased with the toughness he showed."
Now he'll have to show some time-management skills, too, since children are also a full-time commitment. Several players have children, but they're not quarterbacks, with leadership responsibilities.
"He handles things pretty well, and he's a pretty mature young man," Kill said. "To this point, he's dealt with it very well."Dueling blueprints
A lot has been made of the blueprint Wisconsin provides for a rebuilding program such as Minnesota, the big-up-front, straight-ahead running game the Badgers have mastered over the past two decades. But Kill said Northwestern, under coach Pat Fitzgerald, is a pretty good model, too, for teams that know they will occasionally have to compete with more-talented teams.
"He knows exactly what he needs to do at Northwestern. He played there. He knows the culture," Kill said of Fitzgerald, the sixth-year Wildcats coach. "He's done a good job identifying who they're going to be and how they're going to do it. Same thing we have to do here."
The Wildcats' success the past two seasons has largely been built around senior quarterback Dan Persa, who last week threw for a career-high 372 yards and four touchdowns against Rice.
"We go from playing Wisconsin, which is a power football team, a play-action passing team, to a spread, wide-open team that goes no-huddle," Kill said. "So it's a totally different package to take on as a defensive unit."Etc.
The Gophers' season finale, a Nov. 26 game with Illinois at TCF Bank Stadium, will kick off at 2:30 p.m. and be televised by BTN
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