Hartman: Athleticism showing in early Gophers football practices

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 5, 2013 - 7:20 AM

Gophers football coach Jerry Kill is pleased both new and returning players appear bigger, faster and stronger.

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Gophers football coach Jerry Kill believes his team has improved athletically since last season.

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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Jerry Kill was asked if he has an early opinion after three practices about the athleticism of his Gophers football squad.

“Our athleticism is improved,” Kill said. “I think that’s the biggest thing I noticed on both sides of the ball. We have some young guys that we have to get put in the right place, and that takes time to teach them.

“They’re all trying to learn and be cautious and so forth. Then I see some guys who have been here who have changed their body type and move much better. Overall I like that we look better and I think we move better, and now we have to coach them better.”

Looking back to last year’s 34-31 loss to Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, Kill said he believes the team might have gained some confidence from the way it played.

“Certainly that particular game helped us but, again, each year is a new team,” he said. “I think recruiting has a lot to do with most of it. I mean you have to get lucky in recruiting. Good players make you a good coach, that’s the bottom line. I think with our second recruiting class coming in, some of the guys that have come in are pretty gifted athletically.”

Depth at skill positions

Kill said two wide receivers, redshirt freshman Jamel Harbison and sophomore Andre McDonald, will improve the young receiving corps, which is already impressing him.

“I think certainly them being back, that certainly helps. But I’ll be honest with you, they’re in an extreme amount of competition right now because [freshmen] named Eric Carter and Drew Wolitarsky have done very well right at the start of camp. You can tell they’re blessed with a lot of athleticism. [Redshirt junior] Isaac Fruechte and [redshirt senior] Derrick Engel have come in in great shape and so we’ll be better in that area.”

One of the reasons the Gophers were 6-7 last season is that opposing teams had success passing against the Gophers secondary. Kill said that area will be much improved.

“There’s no question they can run and are athletic,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any question that we have depth in that area and position. We have to stay healthy back there, but athletically it’s a gifted group of kids. They’re physical and big and athletic. I think that’s a strong part of our team.”

Kill also talked about how important strength and conditioning coach Eric Klein has been.

“You’re under the same strength coach for two years and you start to learn his system,” Kill said. “It takes a while to develop strength and size and speed and those things. It takes a while to develop a program. We’re not where we need to be yet, but we’re making strides. You know you come to practice and watch practice and you can physically see that. We’re starting to look more like a Big Ten team. … We’re getting better athletically and better looking physically than we were when we first got here.”

If you want my opinion about this football team, and I believe I’m as close to Kill’s operation as anybody, I think this team has a good schedule in its favor, with a chance to improve as it plays the early games. The Gophers play Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin at home and I’m confident they will knock off at least one of them.

So unless the Gophers suffer serious injuries to a key player such as defensive lineman Ra’Shede Hageman, the geniuses who picked them to finish last in their division are going to be proven wrong.

Snider and the Pitinos

An interesting story broke this weekend with news that point guard Quentin Snider, the 31st-ranked basketball player in the Class of 2014 according to Rivals.com, had broken off from his verbal commitment to Louisville. Snider is from Louisville and had committed to the school and coach Rick Pitino nearly two years ago after the school was the first to offer him a scholarship as a freshman in high school.

But now Snider has reopened his recruitment and Gophers coach Richard Pitino, Rick’s son, was the first person to call and offer him a scholarship. The Louisville Courier-Journal talked with Scott Snider, Quentin’s father, who said, “[Richard Pitino] and Quentin have had a relationship since Quentin was a little kid because Quentin was around U of L so much. … It kind of surprised me he called, but at the same time it didn’t surprise me because I know he likes Quentin and he’s known him for a long time.”

Scott Snider also added that he’s sure the Pitinos have talked about Quentin’s decision to de-commit and Richard’s recruiting of him. It will be interesting to see if he ends up with the Gophers.

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