Gophers football coach Jerry Kill said that as his team gets ready for its season opener against Eastern Illinois on Thursday, there are a number of young players that fans should be acquainted with based on their performance toward the end of training camp.
One reason for the optimism of the Gophers coaching staff is the number of freshmen who are going to play. Those freshmen will give the roster the depth it needs if it loses key players to injury.
“The guys that have really done a good job that stood out that are younger, [defensive tackle] Steve Richardson, we’ve talked a lot about, but another young man, [defensive end] Andrew Stelter, has had an outstanding camp and did some really good things,” Kill said. “Gaelin Elmore … is doing some good things at defensive end. At linebacker, Jonathan Celestin had a real nice scrimmage and is going to be a young man that will play some ball for us this year.”
There has been a lot of discussion about the Gophers secondary this spring, and Kill said the depth there is helping more than just the pass defense.
“In the secondary, and we are really good in the secondary, we have a young guy named Craig James who had an outstanding camp; he’s going to do a lot for us on special teams and really stood out. Duke [Daletavius] McGhee, a young man we redshirted last year in the secondary, has been excellent. He’s going to do a lot of good things for us. We have a deep area there, and certainly a group that can help us with special teams.”
On offense, Kill said there have been a number of young standouts as well, but the team is still considering whether to redshirt some players or have them start the season with the team.
“Fullback-wise, Jared Hartman has done a great job for us and has looked good in camp, he had a nice scrimmage [last week],” Kill said. “Probably from there we have some young receivers still learning. We like what Jerry Gibson has done; he has played H-back but also spent a lot of time at inside receiver. Then a young back named Rodney Smith from Georgia has had an outstanding camp. We’re trying to figure out exactly what we do there. A lot of good things out of a lot of good, young people that should help us be better.”
Kill was asked when he will decide which true freshmen will play this season and which will sit out.
“We’re still going to do a lot of things against each other, and everybody in college football does that because they’re trying to make the same decisions,” said Kill, entering his fourth season as Gophers coach. “Some we’ll carry into the [first] game and, barring injury, we’ll try to redshirt them. But if somebody gets hurt, then we won’t be able to do that. After the fourth game we won’t do that to anybody unless there’s like an emergency, emergency.”
Kill did have a notion on which players would be playing, though.
“I don’t know for sure. Stelter, Richardson, Elmore, they’re not going to redshirt,” he said. “Celstin is not going to redshirt. Craig James is going to play. I’ll tell you a guy who has really had a good camp is Brandon Lingen from right here at Wayzata, a tight end, and he’s going to be one that is going to play. He’s done an outstanding job.
“We have several more we have to make a decision on over the next three days, and health issues on where we’re at on some things may help us make those decisions. There’s probably five or six more in that mix on what we’re going to do with them. There’s going to be some decisions that have to be made, and some will be sooner rather than later.”
Large group of seniors
While the Gophers are going to rely on a number of freshmen, Kill will also have one of the largest groups of seniors on his squad since his arrival.
“It looks like right around 22 there and maybe 25, because you have a couple guys that will graduate and want to move on with their lives,” Kill said. “So probably right around 25-26.”
Will that wipe Kill out for next season? “Nah,” he said. “I think we have some good depth, that’s why this recruiting class has been good. Right now I can’t say a whole lot about it, but recruiting is going — with the needs that we need right now — that’s going pretty good. You always have to replace players, that’s your job, and we’ll still have some guys that can step in, and we’ll have to pick up some defensive linemen, but we have five new ones there. Secondary-wise, we’ll have to pick up five or six, but we still have some good people there.
“We’ll need to build depth. Jeff Jones, a running back, certainly everybody knows Jeff and that helps us a bunch as we lose a couple running backs, and Rodney Smith and [Josh] Park, so we tried to make sure we got people coming in. We always try to keep recruiting and our job is to continue to recruit better, if we can.”