Updated: September 3rd, 2013 7:26pm
Gophers quick hits: Cornerback Derrick Wells returns to practice

Gophers quick hits: Cornerback Derrick Wells returns to practice

by Nate Sandell
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Quick hits from the Minnesota Gophers' Tuesday press conference in preparation for Game 2 at New Mexico State

• Cornerback Derrick Wells (shoulder/hamstring) has returned to practice after missing the Gophers' 51-23 season-opening victory against UNLV. His reemergence is a boost to the "U" secondary, which could benefit from his speed and physicality on the edge.

With Wells back, it will be interesting to see how the Gophers handle their rotation at cornerback after Briean Boddy-Calhoun had a strong performance (three tackles, 89-yard interception returned for a touchdown) filling in for Wells on Thursday.

Best still to come for Hageman?

• Highlighted by a towering blocked field goal that he helped turn into a game-changing touchdown against UNLV, senior defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman had a quality start to the year, despite a few minor positioning issues.

Coach Jerry Kill felt Hageman's season debut was a sign of things to come.

"I think he got fatigued a bit. You're going to have that with the no-huddle system, but when he was fresh he was a very dominant player," Kill said. "We've got to continue to work with him and he'll continue to get better each week. His best games are ahead of him, I don't think there's any doubt about that."

Williams making early impact

• Redshirt freshman tight end Maxx Williams' first collegiate game was a memorable one, with his first and only career catch going for a touchdown that put the Gophers ahead of UNLV at halftime.

Five days later, Williams, a quickly rising standout on the "U" offense, can't help breaking into a wide smile when the catch is brought up.

"Wow, it was exciting. It still makes me smile thinking back on it today," Williams said. "I went out and broke loose from my defender. I think the D-back was manning me. ... I saw (quarterback Philip Nelson) look at me. I was like, 'Oh wait, he might throw it at me.' I actually almost tripped when that D-back stumbled."

Setting aside the nerves

• Freshman defensive end Hendrick Ekpe has been thrown right into the Gophers' D-line rotation this season, having made his debut on the first defensive series against UNLV. Hageman said he could sense the typical freshman jitters, but was impressed by the way Ekpe handled it.

"I asked him if he was nervous, but he's such a prideful dude, he said 'no,'" Hageman said. "But when he was in the he was more focused on the stands and being in the stadium. I definitely had that when I was a freshman ... He was nervous, but he had his head in the game."

Ekpe, who had two tackles in the game, was one of three true freshmen to make their collegiate debuts in Game 1 (Ekpe, WR Donovahn Jones and WR Drew Wolitarsky).

On the rise

• Redshirt junior defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli said he has noticed a substantial change in culture within the Gophers football program that he feels is an indication of the upward direction the team is headed.

"Not even in terms of the actual physical preparation, the physical results on the field. It's off the field and it's away from the practice facility, away from TCF Bank Stadium," Botticelli said. "It's the camaraderie and the community that has been built within the team that is noticeable this season. It really hadn't been like that since I've been here."

En route to the desert

• The long trip to Las Cruces, N.M. means a slight change in schedule for the Gophers' equipment staff. Packed up with all the team's game day gear, the "U" equipment truck left for New Mexico State on Tuesday, one day ahead of the normal weekly road routine.

The Gophers will fly into El Paso, Texas later in the week and make the 45-minute drive to New Mexico State's campus.

Raising money for Gary Tinsley

• Running through September 18th, the Gophers are holding an auction to raise money for the Gary Tinsley memorial scholarship fund.

Started in 2012 following the sudden death of the 22-year-old former Gophers linebacker, the memorial fund helped create 13 scholarships this year in the University of Minnesota's business and marketing education program in Tinsley's honor.

The full list of items being auctioned off can be found here.


• A knee injury suffered against UNLV has limited tight end Drew Goodger in practice, but Kill said he is hopeful the 265-pound junior starter will be ready to go by Saturday. Goodger was thrown to twice in the opener, reeling in both passes for a total of 30 yards.

• When the Gophers last faced New Mexico State, they watched the Aggies steal a 28-21 victory away from them at TCF Bank Stadium in 2011. Kill views that loss as added fuel for their upcoming rematch.

"If that doesn't motivate you a little bit, I don't think you're a real human," Kill said.

• Kill spoke with former Gophers quarterback MarQueis Gray on Tuesday morning to congratulate him on being signed to the Cleveland Browns' 53-man roster. Kill said Gray was in great spirits, but his "head is spinning a bit" from trying to rapidly learn his new squad's playbook.

Nate Sandell is a contributor to 1500ESPN.com.
Email Nate | @nsandell