Mark LeVoir, the former Parade High School All-America who played tight end at Eden Prairie, was an offensive tackle for Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel when the two played together for the New England Patriots in 2008.

That was the year Cassel finally got a chance to start after Patriots quarterback Tom Brady suffered a severe injury to his left knee in the first game of the season.

LeVoir got a firsthand look at how well Cassel can play when given the chance to be a full-time starter. Cassel threw for 3,693 yards and 21 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions in 16 games. LeVoir played in all 16 games that season, starting twice at right tackle.

So LeVoir has no doubt Cassel can be a tremendous starting quarterback for the Vikings, given the chance.

“Oh, I think he’s great,” LeVoir said. “I think there are other factors, [but] I think he can be a great quarterback for the Vikings. I think he just needs to get an opportunity, which he has been getting, and if he were to get all the reps and whatever, I think he would be a great quarterback for them.”

Cassel has reached the playoffs once as a starter, in 2010 with Kansas City. Cassel threw for 3,116 yards that year with 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions for a 93.0 quarterback rating — still his highest mark as a quarterback.

But LeVoir also pointed out that Cassel and the Patriots put together the best season in NFL history for a team that didn’t reach the postseason.

“I think we finished 11-5 [in 2008] and we were the first team in NFL history not to go to the playoffs with that good of a record,” he said.

Following that season, with Brady coming back, the Patriots gave Cassel the franchise tag.

“And then Scott Pioli left, who was the general manager here and became the GM down at Kansas City,” LeVoir said. “Then we traded [Cassel] to Kansas City.”

That franchise tag gave Cassel a one-year, $14 million contract, still the highest single-season contract for an offensive player in NFL history.

LeVoir still sees the same qualities in Cassel that made him such a hot commodity in 2009.

“Obviously he’s a good quarterback and he has a different supporting cast around him than he did out here, but he’s proved himself and he went to the Pro Bowl with Kansas City,” LeVoir said. “I mean I like Matt — I’d love to block for him again — but my days of playing are over. He’s a great guy.”

Commenting on all the good press he got after his passing performance in beating the Eagles 48-30 (26-for-35 for 382 yards, two touchdowns and one interception), Cassel said: “I think one thing in this profession is from one week to the next, anybody could be out there playing. The fact is if you’re good enough to be on this roster and on this team, then you’re good enough to play in the National Football League.”

Contract a question

Cassel has a contract with the Vikings for next year but he can opt out of the deal up to five days after the Super Bowl and become a free agent. His contract for next season calls for $3.7 million.

The Vikings have not made any effort to extend Cassel’s contract, though they certainly will talk to him at the end of the season.

And regardless of what you might hear, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and coach Leslie Frazier have not given up on Christian Ponder.

Gophers get attention

“The great thing about it right now is that’s a great topic,” said Gophers football coach Jerry Kill about his team’s 8-4 record and the program’s success in recruiting. Yes, what a difference even from last year, when the Gophers were 6-6 in the regular season, and from 2011, when they were 3-9.

Kill also said the continued interest in where he will coach from — on the field, in the press box or elsewhere — is something he also welcomes.

“I think it has made national news [and] let the Gophers get a lot of publicity,” he said. “I think whatever we need to do to keep the Gophers on the front page of everything. Maybe I [could] coach on top of the Jumbotron. There’s a reason for everything, and we’ll just play things out like it is.

“The most important thing is, and I told our kids: We need to go find a way, we need to win nine games for this senior group and we need to go win a bowl game. That’s our mission right now, and that’s how our kids are practicing.”


• Jack Morris had a lot of fans as a member of the Twins broadcast crew, and he worked for Toronto last year. Now there is a question of whether the Twins’ 1991 World Series hero will be hired to replace Ron Coomer, who is joining the Cubs broadcast crew.

• The Bengals will face the Vikings on Sunday without No. 1 punter Kevin Huber, who was put on injured reserve after a vicious hit broke his jaw in the Bengals’ loss to the Steelers last Sunday. Replacing Huber will be Shawn Powell, who was recently released by the Bills.

• The Gophers wrestling team is ranked No. 2 in the country behind Penn State. Gophers ranked No. 1 as individuals are junior Nick Dardanes at 149 pounds, junior Scott Schiller at 197 and senior Tony Nelson at heavyweight.

• Tre Jones, the eighth-grade brother of star point guard and Duke recruit Tyus Jones, also played in the nationally televised game in Apple Valley last week between the Eagles and Chicago’s Whitney Young High. The word from Apple Valley coaches is that Tre has as promising a basketball future as his brother.

• Micah Coffey, an all-around athlete from Batavia (Ill.) High School, committed to a Gophers scholarship for baseball even though he led Batavia (12-1) to the Illinois Class 6A football championship. He completed 151 of 241 passes (63 percent) for 2,237 yards and 29 touchdowns and rushed for six TDs this season.

• For the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League, Minnetonka native and Minnesota State Mankato recruit Max Coatta is third on the team in scoring with 14 goals and 17 assists in 35 games. Chanhassen native Jack Ramsey, a Gophers recruit at forward, has six goals and eight assists in 34 games. … Defenseman Tommy Vannelli, who left the Gophers hockey program earlier this season, has 10 goals and 17 assists in 32 games for Medicine Hat of the Western Hockey League, which puts him eighth in the league in rookie scoring. … Edina native Anders Lee is the second-leading scorer for Bridgeport of the American Hockey League, an Islanders affiliate, with 10 goals and 11 assists in 27 games.


Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m.