Gophers football

Five (mostly) fun years

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

As a college football fan, I always felt that I had the best beat at this paper. That didn’t change in my five seasons of covering the Gophers, Big Ten and college football.

But in saying that, I’m excited about a new challenge that awaits. I’m moving to the Vikings beat after five memorable seasons of covering the Gophers.

To say my time with the Gophers was often crazy would be an understatement. Five seasons is not terribly long, but I chronicled arguably the top rushing offense in NCAA history and one of the worst defenses in NCAA history.

I got to write about the Gophers winning in the Big House and blowing the largest lead in bowl game history. I covered the Michigan meltdown in ’03 and the Wisconsin collapse in ’05. I covered a 10-3 season and a 1-11 season.

I covered every one of Laurence Maroney’s college games, saw Greg Eslinger go from unknown recruit to Outland Trophy winner and watched Bryan Cupito develop into a fine college quarterback and even better person. There are too many other examples to list.

I also met many good people who love college football as much as I do and made new friends along the way. 

The thing I found hard about covering college football is that I didn’t get to watch it as much as I would like. Too busy writing about a game.

Hopefully that will change now. Maybe I’ll even see you at a game. Cheers.


Sad day for Gophers

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

I just finished up my work for the daily paper and wanted to check in here with some observations from the news regarding Sam Maresh.

I was surprised at how well Sam and his family handled the entire announcement today. I was so struck by Sam’s calmness that I asked him if he’s scared because you couldn’t sense it. He said yeah and kind of laughed.

I’ve gotten to know Sam fairly well through the recruiting process and I can tell you he’s a great kid. I’ve always walked away from our conversations thinking he has it all together.

This is obviously a tough deal for him and his family but Sam is hopeful and even confident that he will be able to play football again. He has a long road ahead of him, but I have no doubt that he will do everything that is necessary.

I’ll have a full report in tomorrow’s paper, but there are a few notes I didn’t get in. Sam obviously will remain on scholarship. That’s a given. If in the future his heart condition is deemed career ending, the school can petition to get a non-counting waiver from the NCAA, meaning he will stay on scholarship but will not count toward the 85 limit. I’m pretty sure this is what happend with Brandon Owens.

Kent Youngblood of our staff talked to Fred Hoiberg today. Hoiberg said he would be happy to talk to Sam about the situation and give him any advice or insight as to what to expect.

Hoiberg’s NBA career was cut short because of a heart defect. His surgeon — Dr. Hartzell Schaff at Mayo — will also perform Sam’s surgery on June 26.

Stadium update

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

I had a chance to visit the stadium site today for the press conference for the 87-county tribute. I hadn’t been by there in a few weeks and it’s amazing how much it changes and comes into shape in such a short time.

Adam Weber and a handful of players were also there. I talked to Adam after the ceremony and he said almost every time he goes home he drives slowly by the stadium just to see the progress. He said a lot of players do that.

He also said players often look out the window of their players lounge in the football complex and can see the stadium going up.

One of my favorite things about covering college football is visiting the different stadiums on fall Saturdays. I’ve covered Big Ten, SEC, ACC and Big 12 football for various newspapers, and I love going to all the different venues and seeing the fans tailgate and come together.

 I really think the “experience” factor for Gophers fans will be incredibly different once the team leaves the Dome and moves into the new stadium. You certainly could hear Weber’s excitement as he talked about it today.

Howell dismissed

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

Just got an email from the U stating that sophomore return man Harold Howell has been dismissed from the team for “violations of academic and team guidelines.”

Gophers coach Tim Brewster hyped Howell on signing day in 2007 but Howell struggled as a returner as a true freshman and had a critical fumble in the Wisconsin game.

Howell’s academic and attitude problems have been talked about quietly around the program for some time. Can’t say I’m too surprised by this development.

Priority seating explanation

Monday, May 19th, 2008

Gophers officials are going to meet with the media this Friday to explain in detail the Gophers priority point system for seating in the new football stadium. The school will send out info to fans next week.

I’m going to be out of pocket Friday but we expect to have a story in Saturday’s paper explaining how the school arrived at this system and how it works. I know there have been a lot of questions about seating in the new stadium so hopefully we’ll be able to provide some answers.

– As many expected, Breck wide receiver Bryce McNeal committed to Michigan after visiting there this weekend. The Gophers will continue to recruit him this season, much like they did with Michael Floyd and Willie Mobley last year.

– I talked to incoming prep school recruit Vinnie Hill (he asked that we call him Vinnie) and he said he’s awaiting a SAT score to know if he will be able to enroll next month. If he gets in, Hill said he doesn’t care if he plays D-back or WR, but he said he definitely wants to play both ways.

– Incoming freshman defensive tackle Jewhan Edwards on his mindset coming to school: “I’m coming there to start.”

– Congrats to former QB Bryan Cupito, who got engaged last week.

– Head equipment manager Darin Kerns has resigned to take a similar job at Florida State.

– I’ll return from vacation officially next week. Talk to you then.

News and notes

Monday, May 12th, 2008

The Gophers football team announced a few news tidbits today. I’m still on vacation so sorry about being so slow to post them.

– Sophomore WR Tray Herndon has been granted his release and will transfer. I’m not too surprised to be honest. I heard immediately after the season that he was not happy and considering leaving. I talked to someone very close to him during spring practice who said Herndon was strongly considering that option. Herndon played in all 12 games (with 7 starts) as a true freshman but he had only three catches the last five games and would have entered next season way down the depth chart.

– The Gophers have named QB Adam Weber, WR Eric Decker, DE Willie VanDeSteeg and LB Steve Davis as 2008 captains. That’s two seniors, a junior and a sophomore.

 – Defensive line coach Tim Cross was promoted to associate head coach.

– The team annoucned four game times: Northern Illinois at 6 p.m., Illinois at 11 a.m., Northwestern at 11 a.m., and Iowa at 6 p.m. 

Royston to join Gophers

Friday, May 9th, 2008

All indications are former Cretin-Derham Hall star and Wisconsin safety Kim Royston will commit to the Gophers football team later this afternoon after meeting with coach Tim Brewster.

Royston has been accepted to Minnesota and could start classes next month.

Royston will have to sit out the 2008 season and cannot receive a scholarship the rest of his career according to Big Ten transfer rules. Royston decided to leave Wisconsin earlier this spring.

Royston had scholarship offers from several schools but his first choice was to return home and play for the Gophers.

Royston will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.

Spring game thoughts

Friday, April 25th, 2008

To say the Gophers have a lot of work to do between now and the Aug. 30 opener is a major understatement.

I know the team was without a handful of key players tonight, but their performance was less than stellar, to put it kindly.

The offense was not good at all. Not having Eric Decker, Jack Simmons and Jay Thomas obviously hurts. But the players were clearly not happy with their performance.

Tim Brewster praised his defense, but it’s hard to get any kind of accurate gauge at this point. I still think six recruits who are not yet on campus will end up starting.

– I think Marcus Sherels will play in the secondary and can be a valuable special teams player as a gunner and kick returner.

– Kicker Joel Monroe missed three field-goal attempts (38, 38, 52 yards), but Brewster said the line had some breakdowns in protection.

– Here was the first-team offensive line from left to right (Dom Alford, Ned Tavale, Jeff Tow-Arnett, Ryan Wynn and Jason Meinke.) Brewster said the line remains in a work in progress and could change by the opener.

– QB Clint Brewster did some nice things with his feet late in the game, but Tim Brewster said the competition for No. 2 spot is ongoing.

– I focused my game story tomorrow on Adam Weber, who has become more of a vocal leader, according to coaches and teammates. Weber completed 10 of 14 passes for 65 yards and accounted for both TDs.

– Incoming recruits at the game: Simoni Lawrence, Sam Maresh, MarQueis Gray, John Nance, Shady Salamon.

– DT Eric Small played fullback in goal-line situation.

That’s it for now.

Spring game eve

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

OK, like the regular season it’s prediction time. Just kidding.

I thought the Gophers would have only a light walk-through today, but Tim Brewster put his team through a full practice because he wasn’t entirely happy with Tuesday’s workout.

The team also had its alumni gathering and several former players spoke to the team after practice. The Gophers were expecting about 100 or so former players for dinner tonight.

Here are some of Brewster’s thoughts on tomorrow’s game:

– Brewster said more than anything he wants to see crisp execution. “I want no part of a sloppy spring game,” he said. “Be reflective of the progress we’ve made this spring.”

– Brewster didn’t say how many snaps each QB will get, but he again indicated he’s interested to see how the guys competing for the No. 2 spot will handle themselves. “We feel pretty comfortable with what we’re getting from Adam Weber,” he said. “The competition for the No. 2 spot is ongoing. We want to see Clint Brewster, and Tony Mortensen is kind of a veteran guy. We want to get David Pittman some snaps and see him. Pittman is going to play numerous roles for us.”

– Brewster said Weber has improved his footwork this spring. “He’s done a great job this spring with his feet in the pocket,” Brewster said. “Stepping up, sliding right, sliding left, creating passing lanes for himself. Last fall he would get some balls batted and wasn’t as comfortable with his feet. To me, that’s the greatest trait a quarterback has. It’s not his arm. It’s his feet and what he can do with his feet.”

– Brewster on DC Ted Roof’s personality: “I spent time with Wade Phillips and Wade has a real way of uncomplicating his talk. Making things sound simpler than they are maybe. Ted kind of has that same trait. Somebody else might say the same thing and you’re scratching your head.”

–  I don’t think I will put much stock in the defensive depth chart tomorrow because that is going to change significantly once everyone is in camp this fall.

I’m interested to see how they line up along the offensive line with the first team, although that also could easily change by the season opener.

Brewster said they still have an ongoing competition at center, right guard and right tackle. Brewster reiterated again tonight that he likes the group of redshirt freshmen.

I’ll check in tomorrow night after the game.

Uniforms: What do you think?

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

OK, what are your thoughts on the new uniforms? Like, dislike, underwhelmed, what?

I talked to DE Lee Campbell who said he is out for the spring game because of a high ankle sprain. He said he tested it yesterday but is not going to be able to play.

Both Brewster and DC Ted Roof said Campbell was playing well this spring. Campbell, who is up to 260 pounds, agreed and is disappointed that the injury slowed him down. 

Brewster wanted the media to pass along several announcements:

The team will have a victory walk at Gate H at the plaza at 5 p.m. There is a student barbecue and activities on the plaza at 5:15 with gates opening at that time.

They will have four 15-minute running quarters. They hope to be done around 8:15 p.m. and will have their autograph session on the field around 8:35 p.m.