Whether Gophers fifth-year cornerback Troy Stoudermire will break the NCAA record for kickoff return yards this season might be on the minds of others, but not Stoudermire -- not so much because he doesn't care, but because he's just not worried.
"The kickoff thing, that'll come. I'll break it -- trust me," said a smartly grinning Stoudermire, who has a Big Ten record 3,102 yards kickoff return yards and is in striking distance of the NCAA mark of 3,517. "The biggest focus now is just on winning -- winning with my team."
That's something Stoudermire wasn't able to even see much of last season while he sat on the bench after breaking a bone in his right arm in the fourth game. As an individual season that seemed poised for success -- he had 24 tackles and two interceptions in his four games -- came to a sudden halt, Stoudermire had two revelations that changed his outlook, he said:
He realized how much he truly loved football, and he realized the sport isn't everything and life must go on. He was granted a medical hardship waiver and the year of eligibility that goes with it, bringing everything into focus.
"Getting hurt isn't good, but you know, it really helped me," said Stoudermire, who began his Gophers career in 2008 as a true freshman. "I got another chance to play another full year at corner and go through the spring and get all the stuff down that I needed to get down ... and it made me realize football could be over any day and I needed to have a Plan B. It really opened my eyes to my choices. It helped me realize that football is really important to me, but it's not the only thing that's important to me."
Stoudermire had some time to appreciate other important aspects of his life, such as family, and he was able to develop his skills as a leader on the team -- something that will come in handy this season with the Gophers' young defensive backfield. After last season, the Gophers lost seven members of their secondary and will rely mostly on underclassmen to help fill in the gaps.
"He's definitely accepted that leadership role, and guys who are younger look up to him," said junior Brock Vereen, who started at cornerback last year and moved to safety this season. Vereen, along with Stoudermire and Michael Carter, root a backfield that otherwise contains less-seasoned players.
"In the locker room and the meeting room, he's always picking your ear and making sure you know what you need to do," Vereen said. "His mentality and attitude going into something is always contagious, I guess you could say, and all the other guys feed off it."
And players like Stoudermire acting as step-in coaches at times can be very efficient for the development of the team, defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said.
"Veterans can really help those kids, because we're paying attention to the play that's going on," he said. "So when they come off the boundary, when you get older kids that know what's going on, they can help them in between series, explain to them what they're doing wrong and what they should be looking for. It's all about stability, the more comfortable they get, the faster they play. ... After sitting through all the meetings, Troy and some of the others are really good at making sure the young guys are caught up."
As for getting caught up from a year off himself, he's already there, he says. All that extra time spent analyzing the game motivated him and is paying off. The former receiver feels more comfortable than ever at cornerback, where he'll be for a full year for the first time. It can all be taken away in a minute, he knows, so he doesn't want to waste any time with lapses or losses -- things he doesn't talk much about.
It's not so much because he doesn't care, but because he's just not worried.
"I feel like Charles Woodson out there," he announced, laughing. "One hundred percent corner. No receiver, no kick returner, I feel like a cornerback."