I stood on the Gophers' practice field yesterday, and it looks like a parking lot, covered with gravel. I stood in the weight room, and it looks like an abandoned warehouse.
The university this summer is providing Jerry Kill's team with some major improvements, at a price tag of more than $1.1 million. But at the moment, with work in progress, it looks more like the school has dropped football.
The gravel is one of the bottom layers of the new artificial turf; it will provide easy drainage for rainfall. The old turf, which had become hard, worn and uneven over the years, was completely removed in late April, and the gravel installed and graded; it's as smooth as a pool table now.
The turf itself will be laid on the new field over the next week or so, and the seams sewn together. Then comes the layers of sand and rubber that fill in the spaces between strands of plastic "grass." The project should be finished by the end of the month, at a cost of $668,000.
The weight room is a project that Kill and strength coach Eric Klein emphasized right away, but was already in the works. The current room has been emptied and scrubbed down, and is being prepared for new equipment, at a cost of $475,000.
While their infrastructure gets an upgrade, the players themselves are taking a short post-spring-practice break. With finals over, many of the Gopher players will be leaving town, but nearly all plan to return within a few weeks so they can begin preparing for fall camp, which opens the first week of August. The players can't be coached by the football staff, but they will organize informal workouts on their own, and start breaking in all that new weight-room equipment.
A couple other notes, 10 weeks from the opening of camp:
-- ABC has picked up the Gophers' season opener at USC, so Kill's first game as Minnesota's coach will kick off at 2:30 p.m. Central time on Sept. 3 (or 12:30 p.m. in the Los Angeles Coliseum). As Minnesota fans planning to attend the game are probably aware, the Twins will be in southern California that weekend, too; the early start time allows plenty of time to get to Anaheim for a 6 p.m. game that night.
-- Kill next week will begin making appearances around the state in order to drum up support for the Gophers. He has a busy day planned for May 19 -- breakfast in Hutchinson, lunch in Willmar and "happy hour" in Mankato. He also intends to visit Red Wing, Rochester and Owatonna on June 6, and Brainerd on June 7-8. Information on the events, including how to purchase tickets (where necessary), is available at gophersports.com.