Gophers coach Jerry Kill said this week that he learned something from Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski with regard to handling first-year players.
“I listened to Coach K in news conferences,” Kill said. “And he said, ‘We don’t talk about them being freshmen. The more you talk to them about freshmen, the more they play like freshmen.’”
Kill has tough decisions to make about whom to redshirt in this year’s freshman class, and he is speeding up the usual timeline to make those decisions. With the season opener coming Sept. 3 against TCU, he wants those who are going to play to have more time to prepare.
So instead of just having the freshmen face freshmen in drills, Kill has interspersed them with the upperclassmen more often than usual for the first two days of camp.
“We’re just throwing them in there, just throwing them to the wolves and letting them figure it out,” Kill said Saturday. “So they’ll make mistakes, and we’ll coach it on film. That’s the only way you can learn. You can’t learn standing on the boundary.”
Among the players with a chance to play as true freshmen are linebacker Julian Huff, offensive lineman Tyler Moore, safety Dior Johnson and wide receiver Rashad Still.
“We treat [the freshmen] just like we treat everybody else,” Kill said. “I’ve chewed their tail end, just like I’ve chewed everybody else.”
The freshmen class includes Johnson and five other well-regarded defensive backs – Ray Buford, Alonzo Craighton, KiAnte Hardin, Jacob Huff and Antonio Shenault.
“I think athletically they have it,” senior captain Briean Boddy-Calhoun said. “It’s just about teaching them what we’re doing, getting them into the playbook, and stuff.
“I agree with Coach Kill -- it’s the best recruiting class since I’ve been here, from the DBs all the way down to O-linemen. Great group. Guys are very smart. They pick up things really fast.”
Christenson at guard
Jon Christenson has been at first string left guard for the first two practices, with Brian Bobek at center and Josh Campion at right guard. Ben Lauer is at left tackle, with Jonah Pirsig at right tackle.
Christenson has started games at center and both guard spots, so he’s not picky. He’s just happy to be playing at full strength, without the rod that was placed in his left leg to heal his compound leg fracture from 2013.
“I feel great,” Christenson said. “It’s amazing coming out here, playing without pain and flying around.”
When practice ended, Kill invited wide receiver Jeff Borchardt to stand before the team, noting that Borchardt had surgery in June to remove a brain tumor. The whole team cheered.
“He’s out here today -- I’d say that’s a pretty good example of toughness,” Kill later told reporters.
And then the coach’s thoughts turned to Casey O’Brien, the 16-year-old son of senior associate athletic director Dan O’Brien, who is battling cancer and had another surgery Friday.
“Casey O’Brien has had multiple surgeries, and he’ll be here [at practice] in two days,” Kill said. “I would think we’ve got good examples of what toughness is, and if [the players] can’t figure out how to act and all those things, they’ve got issues. ”