Chris Hawthorne has a chance this fall to reclaim the Gophers’ placekicking job, a spot he held for the first seven games in 2011 before suffering a torn right quadriceps muscle.
But he’s also willing to be a mentor, if the coaches decide to go with one of two freshmen kickers in camp — Ryan Santoso or Andrew Harte.
“I spent all summer training and working hard and just want to make the most of the opportunity,” Hawthorne said. “If Coach [Jerry Kill] has it in the plans for me to start or even come in as a backup, I’ll do my best. I just want to see this team succeed.”
The Gophers need to replace Jordan Wettstein, who took over for Hawthorne in 2011 and handled most of the placekicking last year before graduating.
The Gophers gave Santoso a scholarship out of Pace (Fla.) High School, where ESPN ranked him as the seventh-best kicker in the country. He’s a candidate to kick off, kick field goals and punt, as Kill has said he’s not afraid to use someone different for all three duties.
Santoso is a physical specimen, at 6-5, 260 pounds. He actually looks up to Hawthorne, who is 6-6, albeit a much thinner 200 pounds.
“We might be the tallest duo in college football at the same position,” Hawthorne said.
Placekickers usually aren’t that tall. Vikings All-Pro Blair Walsh, for example, is 5-9.
“It’s kind of a disadvantage to be this tall and try to kick footballs off the ground,” Hawthorne said. “Punting-wise, it’s more of a benefit to be taller.”
A native of Raleigh, N.C., Hawthorne proved to be a capable placekicker in 2010 as a walk-on at North Carolina State before transferring to Minnesota.
In 2011, he was 6-for-9 on field-goal attempts, with a long of 47 yards, and converted 14 of 15 extra points. This week, Kill said Hawthorne’s experience gives him a slight edge in what figures to be a good battle.
Harte made 112 consecutive extra points for Montini Catholic (Ill.) High School and also connected on a 54-yard field goal last year.
“Both [Harte and Santoso] have done a really good job of getting settled, and both have competed tremendously through the first days of camp,” Hawthorne said.
Defense makes a stand
When the Gophers practiced their goal-line packages this spring, the offense scored almost every series, forcing the defense to run a lot of sprints.
“Tonight, the offense didn’t get hardly anything,” Kill lamented after Thursday’s practice. “The defense ate them alive. It goes back and forth. So as a head coach, you get all excited about the offense [in spring practice] and today, you go, ‘Oh boy.’”
The Gophers did some tackling Wednesday and more during the goal-line drills on Thursday. The team will ramp up the contact during Saturday’s scrimmage at TCF Bank Stadium. It starts at 4:40 p.m. and is open to the public.
Cobb still wants the ball