Gophers linebackers had an extra hop in their step going through drills in Saturday's practice.
Sure, it's motivating to be less than a week away from Thursday night's season opener against Oregon State. But there was something else getting them fired up — position coach Mike Sherels making an appearance.
Sherels, still out indefinitely after suffering complications from an undisclosed health issue, returned to practice for the first time since undergoing the first of two surgeries before fall camp. His family and the university have kept his medical condition private.
The 31-year-old Rochester native observed his players Saturday as they took instruction from Keith Jordan, who was named acting linebackers coach. Gophers coach Tracy Claeys has not given a timetable for Sherels' return but remains optimistic.
"He can't work, but it's just like anything, if you sit at home all day, that's not healthy, either," Claeys said. "We've set aside a couple hours a day. This was the first time he used his visit to come out to practice. Usually it's to come up and hang around the office a little bit. No different from all of us when football is such an important part of your life. You get out and you get amongst friends and football, he feels better."
Sherels, in this third season as linebackers coach, had his last surgery Aug. 9 and was released from the hospital on Monday.
"He has a long road back before he'll get to be able to return to work," Claeys said of the former Gophers linebacker. "But obviously there's light at the end of the tunnel. We're heading in the right direction. We enjoy having him visit the office each day."
Wozniak comfortable with 6-10 frame
Junior tight end Nate Wozniak is the tallest skill-position player in college football, at 6-10 and 271 pounds. It took him a couple of years to figure out how to use that size to his advantage.
Now Wozniak could have a chance to show how much he's improved, with junior Brandon Lingen sidelined because of a shoulder injury. Lingen started last season, but Wozniak replaced him on the depth chart for the opener.
"Route running is a big thing I've been working on," said Wozniak, who caught eight passes for 75 yards last year. "I feel like blocking really has really come together for me as well. I've really just got into my body, my 6-10 frame. Just been able to be more athletic and use every bit of my body. Body control has been important."
Claeys said Lingen (shoulder), who wore a green (no contact) jersey Saturday, isn't ruled out for the Sept. 1 opener. Two other projected Gophers starters entering camp — running back Shannon Brooks (broken foot) and cornerback KiAnte Hardin (undisclosed) — were in orange (non-practicing) jerseys Saturday, along with receiver Eric Carter (undisclosed).