Caleb Bak has started six games during his Gophers football career, but he remains a victim of the tyranny of NCAA roster limits. He's not on scholarship, in other words.
"There's no doubt that you've got to play with a chip on your shoulder when you're a walk-on," said Bak, a redshirt sophomore offensive lineman who decided to stay at home after an All-Metro career at Concordia Academy. "There's a lot of people out there who don't think you can do it. In fact, when I came here, there were more people saying I couldn't do it than said I could."
But Jerry Kill wasn't one of them. The Gophers coach makes it clear to non-scholarship recruits that their status means nothing when it comes to filling out the depth chart. Bak is proof of Kill's words, but he's far from the only one. Junior A.J. Barker is the Gophers' leading receiver, and Australian sophomore Christian Eldred is the team's starting punter. Senior placekicker Jordan Wettstein joined the team without a scholarship, too.
"We've had that conversation," about their walk-on status, Bak said of his teammates. "The walk-ons, we get along."
Not that he would mind claiming one of the 85 scholarships Minnesota can bestow. "It's something I'm striving for. It'll come in time -- I'm not worried about it," Bak said.
Does a 4-0 football team, a longtime underachiever finally focused on earning credibility in the Big Ten, still care about winning a life-size bronze pig?
"I don't think we've let up on any of that. That's part of college football," said Kill, who has lectured his players on the meaning of Floyd of Rosedale and the prestige of beating Iowa since training camp opened. "We're not going to sit here and say it's not [important], because it is. I mean, it's darn important to our fans. It's darn important to our players."
As a reminder, that 98-pound pig trophy -- "I tried to pick it up yesterday," said cornerback Jeremy Baltazar, "but it's a lot heavier than I thought." -- has been displayed in the Gophers locker room this week. Meanwhile, in Iowa City, Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz recently rolled an empty trophy case into Iowa's locker room to remind his team that their most prized possessions have been absent for a couple of years.
Kill reiterated that senior quarterback MarQueis Gray's left leg is still too sore to practice. He is unlikely to play on Saturday. Offensive lineman Tommy Olson "is a big question mark" because of a sprained ankle, the coach added, and cornerback Martez Shabazz is out because of a dislocated toe, but might recover in time to face Northwestern on Oct. 13.
Linebacker Lamonte Edwards, offensive lineman Joe Bjorklund and receiver Andre McDonald all should be able to take part in practice this week and be available to travel to Iowa City if they are included on the 70-man roster.