Minnesota wants to go bowlingMINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Maybe this is the year. For historically struggling teams like Minnesota, the start of the season always brings the confidence that comes with a spotless record, strong chemistry and perceived improvement.
By: Associated Press, The Jamestown Sun
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Maybe this is the year. For historically struggling teams like Minnesota, the start of the season always brings the confidence that comes with a spotless record, strong chemistry and perceived improvement.
After finally surrounding themselves with some calm and continuity, the sounds of optimism from the Gophers are louder than usual.
“Minnesota is different this year. It’s a new mindset. Different players. New jerseys. Everything about Minnesota is getting better and evolving,” sophomore wide receiver Marcus Jones said. “It’s just time for the program and the team to start winning games. That’s what I believe is going to happen. That’s what we believe as a team is going to happen.”
After consecutive 3-9 seasons, the first marked by the firing of Tim Brewster and the second by Jerry Kill’s seizures, the Gophers have their sights set on a bowl game. Any bowl game. Because that would be a lot better than what they’ve been the last two years.
“It’s not, ‘Can we do it?’ anymore. It’s, ‘We will do it,’” Jones said. “So we feel if we don’t get to it, we let ourselves down. We let Minnesota down.”
Stiffer competition for starting spots is usually a sign that a team is getting better. The entire roster was divided into different mini-teams during the winter strength and conditioning session, and points were awarded for accomplishments in the weight room and subtracted for no-nos like missing a class or arriving late to a meeting.
“Guys couldn’t wait to get to practice,” junior free safety Brock Vereen said. “When you’re excited to get to practice, you’re doing something right.”
The program was so popular the Gophers started another version this summer.
“It wasn’t just something that we shrugged off. Everybody really wanted to win it,” senior middle linebacker Mike Rallis said, adding: “The team is as close as we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Beating Illinois to close 2011 gave the Gophers some much-needed self-assurance to take into the offseason. They rallied around the sudden death of former middle linebacker Gary Tinsley. They gained a better grasp of the schemes brought by Kill’s staff after playing for so many coordinators during Brewster’s time.
At each of Kill’s previous stops, Saginaw Valley State, Emporia State, Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois, his teams had a better record in his second year. Now the Gophers have their chance to prove they’re not the easy win they’ve been for so many the Big Ten opponents the last few years, and it starts with senior quarterback MarQueis Gray.
“For me to have a big year is going to determine how this program goes,” Gray said. “I’m going to accept that role and work as hard as I can to make sure we go to a bowl game and come back with that bowl win.”