For Gophers, football set aside to attend Tinsley's funeral

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 13, 2012 - 11:38 AM

The Gophers football team knelt in prayer for former teammate Gary Tinsley, who died last week. The team held its first practice since Tinsley's death.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune file

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Most spring practices don't include road trips. The Gophers desperately wish this one didn't, either.

But Minnesota's football team will take a day off from workouts and practices Saturday to fly to Jacksonville, Fla., to take part in the funeral for linebacker Gary Tinsley, who died April 6 of still-undetermined causes.

"The kids are handling it really well," coach Jerry Kill said after Thursday's practice at TCF Bank Stadium. "You always say, you find out who you are in these times."

By coincidence of the schedule, the Gophers face a busy couple of days. They will practice again Friday night under the stadium lights, the lone back-to-back practices since the first three days of spring drills. That 7:15 session will conclude shortly after 9 p.m.

Kill wants his players to head home and get to bed immediately afterward, because Saturday's wake-up comes early. The Gophers, who have been asked to dress up "to show what Gary meant to you," are due at a team breakfast at 4:30 a.m. the next morning. Their schedule calls for going through a TSA security checkpoint and boarding buses at 5, and departing for the airport at 5:30.

The 1,200-mile charter flight to Jacksonville departs at 6:30, with the team due in around 9 a.m. CDT. They will bus to Abyssinia Missionary Baptist Church for the 11 a.m. funeral service, then head to Edgewood Cemetery for burial.

The Gophers' traveling party, which currently numbers 149 people -- 94 players, 12 former players who were teammates of Tinsley, and 43 coaches and staff members -- is expected back in the Twin Cities around 7 p.m.

"We'll get up early. Like most people, a lot of kids sleep on the flight," Kill said. "I don't think any of us will be too tired or make excuses. We're all looking forward to going down and seeing Gary's family."

Cobb hurts knee

Tailback David Cobb sat out of Thursday's practice after suffering a knee injury two days earlier.

"He made a cut and [injured] the back of his knee -- the same thing [tight end] John Rabe had last year," Kill said. "It's not something that will [require] surgery or anything. But it's going to slow him up. We may get him back towards the end [of spring practices}," which are scheduled to conclude with the spring game on April 21.

Cobb's absence meant junior college transfer James Gillum carried the ball for much of Thursday's practice, but the Gophers did get some work for another tailback. Sophomore Donnell Kirkwood took part in his first full-contact scrimmage of the spring, an indication that his sore hamstring is all but healed.

"Just shows you why you've always got to have more than one back," Kill said.

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