Donnell Kirkwood has more experience with the Gophers football team than any other tailback, but the sophomore isn't sure that makes him the No. 1 ballcarrier. He doesn't know if anyone is, for that matter.
"It seems like we're going to split it up. That's what we've been doing so far," said Kirkwood, who collected 107 yards in four games during a 2010 freshman year that turned into an injury redshirt, then added 229 more yards last season. "I don't think they would practice it that way and then not do it."
His coach confirmed that preliminary plan. "There are some combinations that we'll use" at the position, Jerry Kill said.
James Gillum, who rushed for 2,339 yards in two seasons at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, also figures to carry the ball, Kill said, along with sophomore Devon Wright and freshman K.J. Maye.
"I think it'll be like practice, using everybody to keep us all fresh," Kirkwood said. "All of us have to be prepared either way, and I think all of us are."
Kill notably didn't mention sophomore David Cobb, though it's unclear whether he will see action. Kill said Cobb needed additional practice on his blocking duties, and was getting extra work on it this weekend.
That's a responsibility Kirkwood was careful to focus on during camp. "That's something I knew I had to improve upon this summer, and it's something I think I did improve upon," said the 20-year-old from Delray Beach, Fla. "One thing I've learned with this coaching staff is, you have to just play your part. You let the big plays happen. Whatever happens, happens. If you try too hard, try to make an 80-yard run, that's when you start missing little things. And little things are what make plays break down."
The temperature in Los Angeles was 72 degrees at kickoff last Sept. 3 for the Gophers' season opener at Southern California, hot enough that quarterback MarQueis Gray had to leave the game during the second half because of cramps in his arms.
The forecast is for temperatures around 90 degrees Thursday night in Las Vegas, when Gray opens the 2012 season against UNLV.
Is anyone worried?
"Not at all," Gray said. "I'm taking extra precautions because of those games. When I had those cramping issues, I went to the locker room, got an IV, but after those two games, I just learned to drink more fluids."
He was holding two bottles of water as he said it, and he said they have been his constant companions throughout the fall. "Even when I think I've had enough, you just continue to drink," Gray said.
Kill and team trainers have preached hydration, but the coach said he will compensate by using the entire roster, too.
"There's no way you can prepare for something like that," Kill said. "You've got to plan on playing a lot of kids."
Sin City end-around
The Gophers will travel to Nevada on Wednesday morning, and they will stay at a hotel far away from the Las Vegas Strip, on the outskirts of town closer to Sam Boyd Stadium.
Kill said he is not worried about his players getting into trouble in the so-called Sin City, mostly because they will have activities and meetings scheduled for the entire time they are there.
"We keep them pretty regimented, and don't allow them a lot of [free] time," Kill said. "We've kept their schedules awfully heavy, which has been good. And they've handled it well."