Jerry Kill says Gophers' approach to this season is 'much different'
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Big Ten football media days kicked off Wednesday in Chicago, signaling that another college football season is upon us.
Minnesota Gophers coach Jerry Kill, now in his third year at the helm, took to the podium to give a rundown of the current state of his program. In typical media day fashion, there was no real news or new revelations made, but Kill firmly heralded the progress he views that has been made so far in his tenure.
Kill's tone and confidence seem to be the same as it was throughout spring practice and has been during the summer, expressing a recognizable, but controlled level of excitement about the player developments made during their bowl game appearance in December and onward.
"This team's approach is certainly much different than we have been the last two years," Kill said. "We got better a year ago, and I look forward to seeing us get better this year."
The questions ranged from the usual inquire about the situation at quarterback, the obligatory question about Kill's health status and a request for details about the need for the program's recently announced facility upgrades.
The following is an overview of a few of the highlights from Kill's 15-minute press conference ...
On sophomore starting quarterback Philip Nelson, and fellow QBs Mitch Leidner and Chris Streveler ...
"We pulled the redshirt off Philip in the middle of the year and he certainly played some valuable time for us in the last six ball games, and did very well. It was a great growing process for him. I think it leads us into this season where we're not trying to break somebody in ... We feel good about our quarterback situation. We feel like that is going to be a strength down the road here."
On his current health and his ongoing battle with epilepsy ...
"I'm doing great. I appreciate you asking. Things are going great for me. I've got a great doctor who is a specialist in epilepsy. I've been doing great. I'm looking forward to the season. I may not look it, but I feel like I'm in the best shape of my life."
On senior running back Donnell Kirkwood and the outlook in the backfield ...
"If you go back through history of not only where I've coached before but with the Minnesota Gophers as well, we've always had great running backs. Donnell has certainly emerged with Rodrick Williams - big, strong, physical backs. That's kind of who we are and who we want to be. He's done a great job not only on the field, but he's also done a great job with leadership with our younger players, and he's been part of a group of kids who have really changed the culture and the character of our program. I'm very pleased with his efforts. I expect a great year out of Donnell."
A question came up about the recent decision of current Gophers players Moses Alipate and Victor Keise to join Ed O'Bannon's anti-trust lawsuit against the NCAA. Kill avoided elaborating too much, stating the he is letting the situation play out with the NCAA.
"I've had a little bit of interaction (with Keise and Alipate). I get locked into my own little world and I don't understand all of the things that are going on with that case. Right now it's an NCAA issue. We live in a country that everybody has their rights and so forth. I think you let the process run its course. We have a lot discussions in college football right now about a lot of issues. That's one of them. It's an NCAA issue and that's how we're approaching it."
Kill fielded around nine questions from reporters, and surprisingly one of them was about the importance of guard/center Zac Epping's presence on the offensive line. Epping was the one of the most versatile and strongest performers for the "U" offense last season, and is deserving of the recognition. But it was interesting to hear his name come up in a broad setting like Big Ten media days. Kill's response about Epping was solid.
"Zac is a hard-nosed, tough, physical young man, brings intensity every day. He's kind of what I am -- a hardhat, lunch pail type of guy, who is going to come to work every day. When I talk about the foundation of our program, it's kids like that. That's who we want to be. That's why I'm so excited about our season coming up. We're a very young team, we'll probably start one or two seniors on offense, maybe two or three on defense, but it's a team that I don't think knows a whole lot better. They've worked very hard. We've got a lot of kids like Zac Epping. We're looking forward to that, and I think that will get us to where we want to go."
On why the Gophers need the proposed upgrades to their football facilities ...
"I think the biggest thing with where we're at and where our program wants to go there has to be a commitment at the top, and we certainly have that with President Eric Kaler and the administration. We just don't want to be average. We want to be the best and as good as we can be. Right now, we have a beautiful stadium, a great place to play on Saturday. But we have to improve our practice facilities, strength training and academic facilities. We're doing some great things academically; we're just running out of space. This is a critical project for us. I commend (Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague) and his team for moving it forward. Our plan is to have one of the best indoor facilities in all of college football. We don't want to do it halfway. We're excited about it. It's great to be moving forward."