Walk-on Botticelli grows into unsung hero on Gophers' D-line

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 24, 2013 - 12:40 AM

Junior Cameron Botticelli has earned peers’ respect.

Cameron Botticelli: Wants a law career or to be a football coach. “This wouldn’t be work for me.”


Spring football camp was nearing an end, and Gophers defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli was huffing and puffing, wiping sweat from his brow.

Late in practice, Coach Jerry Kill had lined up the first-team offense against the first-team defense, with the ball at the 5-yard-line. Whichever side lost the battle had to run sprints, and the offense scored about five consecutive touchdowns.

After chugging from sideline to sideline on several sprints, the 6-5, 290-pound junior collected his breath, looking somehow fulfilled. Thursday’s season opener against UNLV was still more than four months away, but that late-April practice seemed no less important to Botticelli.

“Everyone kind of knows the joke,” he said. “The walk-on player — he’s a student of the game, a real gym rat, things like that. But I’d say it’s true. I definitely enjoy this.”

Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said he thinks the “student of the game” label sells Botticelli short.

“He’s just a blue-collar, work-his-butt-off type of guy is what he is,” Claeys said. “The kids have a lot of respect for him. He came here as a walk-on, and he came as a defensive end. We moved him [to defensive tackle] and told him to start eating. He loves the game and plays hard.”

Botticelli was part of a Wisconsin prep juggernaut at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee. The Hilltoppers went 33-5 his final three seasons, including 14-0 his senior year, when he earned all-state honors and helped win a state title.

Since then, he has added 45 pounds. After redshirting his first year at the U, he played in all 12 games in 2011, then started all 13 games last season.

“He’s a big, hard-nosed, tough defensive tackle — an old-school type guy and gives you 110 [percent] and plays hard all the time,” Kill said. “He played last year with a dislocated elbow. Not very many kids can do that. So he’s kind of a throwback.”

Last year, while defensive end D.L. Wilhite was racking up a team-high 8½ sacks, he called Botticelli the “unsung hero of the defensive line.” Botticelli wasn’t credited with a full sack all season, but by doing his job properly, filling his gap, keeping opposing linemen occupied, he freed up other tacklers to make plays.

“It’s a great compliment,” Botticelli said. “Everyone likes to be the star and the playmaker. But especially at a position like defensive tackle — there are some plays that you’re not going to make, where you’re going to eat up two blocks, so your teammates can make the play.”

Wilhite has graduated, but the Gophers return three D-line starters — Botticelli, Ra’Shede Hageman (six sacks last year) and Michael Amaefula (2½ sacks). Theiren Cockran, Wilhite’s replacement at defensive end, flashed his speed with two sacks in an Aug. 10 scrimmage.

The Gophers also feel good about this their defensive line depth, which includes a healthy Roland Johnson (two sacks last year before tearing up his knee), the hard-charging Ekpe brothers — Scott and Hendrick — and other experienced players such as Alex Keith and Ben Perry.

Hageman is the team’s biggest star, a projected top-50 NFL draft pick, but he calls Botticelli “the brains of the operation.”

Botticelli might have a future in coaching eventually.

“I graduate this fall with a degree in political science,” he said. “I start this spring on my master’s of education, and I want to go to law school after I’m done playing ball. But if the law career doesn’t work out, I’d love to be a ball coach. This wouldn’t be work for me.”

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Atlanta 2
Philadelphia 3 FINAL
NY Yankees 1
Detroit 5 FINAL
Baltimore 4
Toronto 4 FINAL
Pittsburgh 1
Cincinnati 2 FINAL
Cleveland 4
San Diego 3 FINAL
Seattle 4
Chicago WSox 6 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Kansas City 13 FINAL
Texas 2
Oakland 9 FINAL
San Francisco 2
Wisc-Milwaukee 0 FINAL
Milwaukee 8
Arizona 6 FINAL
Colorado 3
Univ of Minnesota 1 Bottom 4th Inning
Minnesota 2
New York 41 3rd Qtr
Indiana 65
Phoenix 45 3rd Qtr 11:32
Orlando 52
Cleveland 48 2nd Qtr 3:31
Toronto 36
Utah 30 2nd Qtr 3:16
Boston 26
Charlotte 44 2nd Qtr 5:49
Brooklyn 31
Denver 12 1st Qtr 5:05
Minnesota 19
Detroit 16 1st Qtr 5:03
New Orleans 6
LA Lakers 16 1st Qtr 4:50
Miami 17
Philadelphia 14 1st Qtr 6:04
Oklahoma City 13
Memphis 17 1st Qtr 3:21
Houston 27
Sacramento 7:30 PM
San Antonio
Milwaukee 9:30 PM
Golden State
Portland 9:30 PM
LA Clippers
Ottawa 1 2nd Prd
Winnipeg 0
NY Rangers 0 1st Prd 11:51
Detroit 1
Pittsburgh 9:00 PM
Montreal 9:00 PM
Longwood 65 FINAL
Presbyterian 61
Campbell 64 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 72
Liberty 70 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 80
Ohio State 77 FINAL
Penn State 67
Maine 32 2nd Half 14:23
Albany 56
Duquesne 58 2nd Half 9:59
Fordham 44
George Washington 42 2nd Half 13:11
George Mason 38
Tennessee 57 2nd Half 9:41
LSU 44
Notre Dame 48 2nd Half 10:13
Louisville 47
SE Missouri St 50 2nd Half 10:11
Morehead State 51
St Francis-PA 46 2nd Half 11:13
Mount St Marys 33
Hartford 41 2nd Half 11:24
New Hampshire 40
Wagner 42 2nd Half 10:04
Robert Morris 59
Long Island 44 2nd Half 10:20
St Francis-NY 47
La Salle 39 2nd Half 11:05
Saint Josephs 35
Providence 52 2nd Half 12:43
Seton Hall 45
UCF 29 2nd Half 14:21
South Florida 52
Binghamton 33 2nd Half 10:07
Stony Brook 42
UMBC 20 2nd Half 10:17
Vermont 49
Sacred Heart 45 2nd Half 10:16
Bryant 45
Richmond 27 2nd Half
Massachusetts 25
Wake Forest 5 1st Half 11:51
Duke 22
Purdue 7 1st Half 11:39
Michigan State 8
Miami-Florida 12 1st Half 11:15
Pittsburgh 16
St Bonaventure 14 1st Half 10:36
Saint Louis 9
New Mexico St 14 1st Half 13:12
TX-Pan American 10
Houston 14 1st Half 9:36
Tulane 12
Howard 6 1st Half 14:32
SIU Edwardsville 8:00 PM
Eastern Ill
St Johns 8:00 PM
TCU 8:00 PM
Oklahoma State
Cincinnati 8:00 PM
USC 8:00 PM
Miss State 8:00 PM
Utah State 8:00 PM
Air Force 9:00 PM
Fresno State
Nebraska 9:00 PM
Colorado State 9:00 PM
Boise State 9:00 PM
San Jose St
San Diego St 10:00 PM
Oregon 10:00 PM
Oregon State
UC Santa Barbara 10:59 PM
Toledo 64 FINAL
Northern Ill 68
Wake Forest 69 FINAL
Boston College 53
Eastern Illinois 35 FINAL
UT Martin 68
Austin Peay 69 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 72
Virginia Tech 57 FINAL
NC State 56
Massachusetts 55 FINAL
St Bonaventure 49
Auburn 71 FINAL
Florida 49
Penn State 63 FINAL
Indiana 68
Clemson 53 FINAL
Georgia Tech 80
Davidson 51 2nd Half 7:10
La Salle 62
Loyola-Maryland 32 2nd Half 9:54
Lafayette 44
Boston U 33 2nd Half 7:38
Colgate 45
Coll of Charleston 45 2nd Half 13:43
James Madison 69
Delaware 43 2nd Half 14:26
Elon 47
Drexel 40 2nd Half 7:55
Northeastern 30
Hofstra 53 2nd Half 11:10
UNC-Wilmington 53
Towson 41 2nd Half 8:27
William & Mary 55
Miami-Ohio 39 2nd Half 11:56
Akron 51
Ball State 63 2nd Half 10:40
Central Michigan 49
Buffalo 34 2nd Half 11:55
Bowling Green 34
Western Mich 42 2nd Half 10:44
Eastern Michigan 42
Ohio U 46 2nd Half 11:24
Kent State 35
Youngstown St 54 2nd Half 8:17
Cleveland State 55
Illinois-Chicago 34 2nd Half 10:04
Wright State 59
Alabama 24 2nd Half
Vanderbilt 26
Detroit 19 1st Half 10:18
Milwaukee 18
Purdue 7:25 PM
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

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

Weekly Question