Gophers' Maye offers a new weapon

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 23, 2014 - 11:39 PM

One reason the Gophers could have a more effective passing attack this year is they now have wide receiver KJ Maye back to full health.

The 5-10, 195-pound junior gives them a different element when he’s at slot receiver. He caught three passes for 30 yards in last year’s opener against UNLV but suffered a sports hernia injury in Week 3.

Maye gutted it out, playing in all 13 games before having surgery after the Texas Bowl. But he finished the season with just seven catches for 70 yards and no touchdowns.

On Saturday, coach Jerry Kill was asked about receiver Donovahn Jones and acknowledged that the sophomore has looked good in practice this month.

“But I have to tell you,” Kill said, “the guy that’s had the best camp is KJ Maye, without a doubt.”

Maye said there’s no comparison between how he feels now, physically, compared to last season.

“Last year, I was playing at like 60-70 percent,” he said. “I really couldn’t run, couldn’t finish practice some days. But now that I can do that, I feel like I’m a better motivator and a better player for my team. I feel that I can be that guy here who can help my team.”

More praise for EIU

With the Gophers getting ready for Thursday’s season opener against Eastern Illinois, Kill continued to rattle off the Panthers’ strengths.

Kill said running back Shepard Little “is going to play at the next level, without a doubt.” Little rushed for 1,551 yards and 15 touchdowns last year as a sophomore.

The Panthers plan to use two transfer quarterbacks to replace quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who went to the Patriots in the second round.

“We know about [Andrew] Manley,” Kill said. “He threw for about 300 yards here my first year for New Mexico State.”

Manley actually passed for 288 yards in New Mexico State’s 28-21 victory at TCF Bank Stadium in 2012.

Then there’s Jalen Whitlow, who played two years at Kentucky and completed 58 percent of his passes before transferring to Eastern Illinois.

“We recruited, or tried to recruit [Whitlow]” Kill said. “Look at his Kentucky stats. He started [15] games and was impressive, so their quarterback deal is a real issue. You got one that throws it a bunch [Manley] and one that can run it and throw it [Whitlow].”

Eastern Illinois went 12-2 last year, beating San Diego State but losing to Towson in the FCS quarterfinals.

Besides Garoppolo, EIU needs to replace wide receiver Erik Lora, who had 123 receptions for 1,544 yards and 19 touchdowns last year.

But Adam Drake is back, and Kill called him “a heck of a receiver.” The senior had 85 receptions for 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns last year.

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