Kirkwood hoping for breakout year for himself, Gophers

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 5, 2013 - 11:01 AM

Donnell Kirkwood rushed for 926 yards last season for the Gophers but he wants to do much more.

hide

Donnell Kirkwood hopes to see big holes this season — like he did against Syracuse last fall when he rushed for 99 yards and two TDs.

Photo: MARLIN LEVISON • mlevison@startribune.com,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

 

When Gophers running back Donnell Kirkwood was 11, his father built a sled out of steel pipe to drag around the backyard, helping build leg strength and speed. Donnell Sr. works as a welder, so pretty soon he had requests from football players all over the neighborhood.

The family lives in Delray Beach, Fla., about a half-mile from Atlantic High School. Kirkwood didn’t bother with a driver’s license; he usually walked or jogged to school.

In an age of pampered college athletes, when schools are falling over themselves to build lavish training facilities, Gophers coach Jerry Kill considers Kirkwood “a throwback to the old-school guys.”

“I think he’s grown up and been raised right,” Kill said. “I think he feels like it’s a privilege to play.”

Likewise, the Gophers have discovered that having a 1,000-yard rusher is a privilege, not a right. They haven’t had one since Amir Pinnix in 2006, but Kirkwood has two more years to do it after gaining 926 last year as a sophomore.

“I’d love to [reach 1,000],” Kirkwood said. “But if we’re successful and it doesn’t take me going over 1,000 yards, I don’t have a problem with it all.”

His final year in high school, Kirkwood actually saw his rushing totals dip. He piled up 1,013 yards and 14 touchdowns as a junior, but had just 491 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior.

The team’s passing game took over that season, then-Atlantic coach Andre Thaddies said. Quarterback Mark Leal went to Virginia Tech, wide receivers James Louis and Quadarias Mireles to Ohio State and Ole Miss, respectively.

Kirkwood narrowed his college list to Minnesota, Rutgers, Pitt and Kansas State, but the cards were stacked against the other schools. Thaddies was a Gophers defensive back from 1988 to 1991. As Atlantic’s coach, he started a pipeline to Minnesota that included defensive back Jamal Harris and linebacker Brandon Owens.

One of Kirkwood’s classmates at Atlantic, linebacker Jephte Matilus, is a Gophers teammate.

“I told [Kirkwood], ‘Don’t go for a visit to Minnesota if you don’t want to go there. You’re going to love it, with the four seasons, the facilities and the people,’ ” Thaddies said. “Out of the seven people who’ve gone to visit there [from Atlantic], we’re 5-for-7.”

Kirkwood committed to the Gophers under former coach Tim Brewster after connecting with then-running backs coach Thomas Hammock. Kirkwood knew all about the school’s success in developing running backs such as Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney.

When Kill’s staff took over and preached a renewed emphasis on the ground game, Minnesota became an even better fit for Kirkwood’s between-the-tackles running style. After taking a medical redshirt season in 2010, Kirkwood ran for 229 yards as a freshman in 2011.

At this time last year, he wasn’t viewed as the favorite to lead the team in rushing yards. Junior college transfer James Gillum seemed like the guy, but Kirkwood emerged as a workhorse, especially against Syracuse in Week 4, when he carried 28 times for 99 yards and two touchdowns.

The Gophers pulled a potential redshirt from freshman Rodrick Williams, in part to save wear and tear on Kirkwood. As a result, Kirkwood’s yards-per-carry increased.

“I was more fresh,” Kirkwood said. “If Rodrick would have played in the Syracuse game, I feel like that game would have been kind of out of reach in the second, third quarter. I’m in shape, but 28 carries is a lot on a man’s body.”

This year, the Gophers can add incoming freshman Berkley Edwards to the running back mix. Edwards is listed at 190 pounds, so he’s considerably smaller than Kirkwood (223), Williams (235) and David Cobb (225). But Kirkwood said Edwards has another entire gear when it comes to speed.

  • related content

  • Chart: 1,000-yard club vacancies

    Sunday August 4, 2013

    1,000-YARD CLUB VACANCYThe Gophers haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2006 (the final season under head coach Glen Mason), when...

  • Donnell Kirkwood (20) and the Gophers opened fall practice Friday. Kirkwood wants to be the program’s next 1,000-yard rusher.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Baltimore 2 FINAL
Detroit 15
NY Yankees 5 FINAL
Philadelphia 5
Northeastern 1 FINAL
Boston 2
Miami-Fla 1 FINAL
Miami 7
Pittsburgh 8 FINAL
Toronto 7
San Francisco 4 FINAL
Oakland 9
Cleveland 0 FINAL
Cincinnati 10
Boston College 0 FINAL
Boston 1
Arizona State 0 FINAL
Arizona 4
Boston 79 FINAL
Cleveland 110
LA Lakers 103 FINAL
Charlotte 104
Sacramento 124 FINAL
New York 86
Houston 96 FINAL
Atlanta 104
Utah 93 FINAL
Memphis 82
Washington 92 FINAL
Chicago 97
Milwaukee 95 FINAL
Denver 106
Nashville 1 FINAL
New Jersey 3
Calgary 3 FINAL(OT)
Philadelphia 2
Washington 5 FINAL
Columbus 3
Buffalo 0 FINAL
Tampa Bay 3
Toronto 3 FINAL
Florida 2
Ottawa 2 FINAL(SO)
Minnesota 3
NY Islanders 2 FINAL(OT)
Dallas 3
Anaheim 4 FINAL
Arizona 1
Los Angeles 5 FINAL
Edmonton 2
San Jose 6 FINAL
Vancouver 2
Ole Miss 82 FINAL
Alabama 74
Eastern Mich 67 FINAL
Ball State 60
Kent State 81 FINAL
Bowling Green 80
Ohio 66 FINAL
Buffalo 93
Georgetown 60 FINAL
Butler 54
Toledo 77 FINAL
Central Mich 85
Rhode Island 59 FINAL
Dayton 75
Youngstown St 67 FINAL
Detroit 77
North Carolina 81 FINAL
Georgia Tech 49
Loyola-Maryland 45 FINAL
Holy Cross 62
Iowa 77 FINAL
Indiana 63
Akron 63 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 70
Army 52 FINAL
Navy 56
Maryland 60 FINAL
Rutgers 50
Kennesaw St 54 FINAL
USC Upstate 90
Jacksonville 63 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 81
Lipscomb 76 FINAL
Northern Ky 73
Stetson 67 FINAL
North Florida 81
Wright State 57 FINAL
Ill-Chicago 60
Western Mich 63 FINAL
Northern Ill 65
Nebraska Omaha 80 FINAL
North Dakota 78
Houston Baptist 71 FINAL
Abilene Christian 83
NC State 66 FINAL
Clemson 61
Texas A&M 62 FINAL
Florida 66
Kentucky 72 FINAL
Georgia 64
West Virginia 69 FINAL
Kansas 76
Auburn 61 FINAL
Missouri 63
Michigan 78 FINAL
Northwestern 82
Villanova 76 FINAL
Creighton 72
Longwood 55 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 63
Charleston Southern 39 FINAL
Presbyterian 47
Coastal Carolina 54 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 68
NJIT 51 FINAL
UMass Lowell 60
West Virginia 55 FINAL
Kansas State 59
TCU 45 FINAL
Texas 79
Fresno State 61 FINAL
Air Force 41
San Jose St 76 FINAL
Boise State 91
Nevada 61 FINAL
Colorado State 68
UNLV 61 FINAL
San Diego State 76
Wyoming 61 FINAL
Utah State 57
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is the best center on a Twin Cities sports team?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close