There weren't many high points to the Gophers' 2010 season, but this was definitely one: With three minutes to play in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and the Gophers holding a 24-17 opening night lead, a freshman special teams player knocked the ball away from Middle Tennessee State's kick returner, and Jon Hoese pounced on the fumble, capping a bittersweet night for the Gophers' fullback.
Hoese understandably got the attention that night, but it was 19-year-old Kenny Watkins who provided that capper, making the hit that clinched the game. It seemed like the beginning of big things for the Detroit native, an all-conference defensive back at Brother Rice High who had sat out the 2009 season as a redshirt.
Those big things never happened.
Now 22, Watkins says good-bye this afternoon, his failed career a testament to the destructive power of a concussion. Watkins hasn't played since suffering the injury early in the 2011 season, and with his degree nearing completion, he has decided to leave the Gophers' football program. Watkins will be honored before today's game with Michigan State, a fourth-year junior alongside the 15 Gopher seniors who will be saluted by the university and its fans shortly before kickoff.
It's going to be a cold ceremony, of course -- the thermometer reads 22 degrees at the moment, though at least there is little wind. Minnesota, trying to finish the regular season with a winning record for the first time since 2009, is wearing all-gold, jerseys and pants, while Michigan State -- which at 5-6 needs a victory to quality for a bowl game -- is in all white, with green shoulders.