Theret key for GophersGive Kyle Theret some credit. When the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Minnesota safety goes looking for a fight on the football field, he’s not just picking on guys his own size. In his first season on campus last year, Theret got into it with 6-foot-3, 300-pound Gophers center Tony Brinkhaus in fall practice after a particularly hard hit on starting running back Amir Pinnix.
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Give Kyle Theret some credit. When the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Minnesota safety goes looking for a fight on the football field, he’s not just picking on guys his own size.
In his first season on campus last year, Theret got into it with 6-foot-3, 300-pound Gophers center Tony Brinkhaus in fall practice after a particularly hard hit on starting running back Amir Pinnix.
Then Theret went after an even bigger target in a game against Michigan at the Big House — the future No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft.
When left tackle Jake Long, all 6-foot-7 and 310 pounds of him, tried to push Theret around on the field after one play, Theret shoved back.
“Kyle Theret jumped in Jake Long’s face and he wanted to fight him,” Minnesota coach Tim Brewster recalled on Tuesday. “To me, that says everything you need to know about Kyle Theret. He doesn’t back down from anybody. He’s as tough-minded a kid as I’ve ever been around, and that’s where it all starts.”
For Theret, there was never any hesitation.
“Jake Long is one of the biggest human beings I’ve ever seen. In pads he looked humongous,” he said. “I think he was just trying to push me around a little bit. You can’t stand for anything like that on the field and I’m never scared of anybody, so I just kind of pushed him a little bit.”
His emergence this season as a dependable, hard-nosed starter has mirrored the rise of the Gophers defense as a whole — from a small, overmatched unit that was the worst in the NCAA Division I during last year’s 1-11 season to a determined, feisty group that leads the nation in turnover margin to spearhead 20th-ranked Minnesota’s surprising 7-1 start.
Theret was named team MVP on defense and on special teams for his effort in a 17-6 victory at Purdue on Saturday.
He had nine tackles, an interception and a pass breakup on defense and forced a fumble on special teams.
The Gophers held Purdue to just 109 passing yards, the fewest in Joe Tiller’s pass-happy coaching regime, and won in West Lafayette, Ind., for the first time since 1990.
“For him to start on defense and then also make the significant contribution that he’s making on special forces, it’s pretty amazing,” Brewster said.
It’s also a bit of validation for the coach, who recruited Theret out of J.K. Mullen High School in Denver, the same school attended by Brewster’s sons. Theret was a good friend of Clint Brewster, a quarterback who attended Minnesota last year as a freshman but has since transferred.
Tim Brewster called Theret a “guy that I’ve got so much admiration for. I’ve known him since he was a junior in high school. His heart’s as big as his body. Here’s a kid that wasn’t offered many scholarships, but he’s proven to be an outstanding Big Ten football player.”
Theret leads the Gophers with three interceptions and is responsible for getting linebackers and defensive backs into the right alignments, but arguably his most important contribution is as a fiery leader who sets an aggressive tone for the rest of the unit.
“I’m not really scared to step up to any big guys,” Theret said. “It kind of gets your defense fired up when they see a little safety getting into it. The d-linemen come in and start helping out and everyone gets into it.”
Receiver Eric Decker calls Theret “the little train that could,” and quarterback Adam Weber said that never-back-down mentality has rubbed off on the rest of a team that goes into Saturday’s homecoming game against Northwestern with a chance to move into a tie with idle Ohio State (7-2, 4-1) for second place in the conference.
“He’s one of those kids that I think since he’s started playing football, everyone’s told him he’s too small, he’s too this, he’s too that,” Weber said. “He’s never listened to anybody.
“Even this year, people didn’t give him a lot of credit. And it’s nice to see that he’s got a little chip on his shoulder. He’s got a little edge to him. He only knows how to play football one way, and that’s 100 percent.”