Jerry Kill focusing on next game, not seizures

MINNEAPOLIS — Jerry Kill made it very clear Tuesday in his weekly press conference that he would rather focus on San Jose State than seizures.

Kill, in his third year as the Gophers’ head football coach, didn’t want to talk about his health after suffering yet another seizure on the sideline of Saturday’s game against Western Illinois. Kill spent several minutes writhing on the ground at halftime before he was transported to a local hospital and missed the second half of Minnesota’s 29-12 victory.

It’s not the first time Kill has suffered an in-game seizure, as the same scenario took place in 2011 late in a game against New Mexico State. And as was the case in 2011, Kill downplayed his health and the effect it may have had on his team.

“I appreciate everybody’s thoughts and things through the weekend. I appreciate that very much,” Kill said. “But the press conference today is about our football players and our football team, who did a great job in Saturday’s game, and then our preparation toward San Jose State. That’s coach Kill’s decision, nobody else’s. I think I’m done talking about all those other things enough. This game’s not about a head football coach. This game’s about the players.”

When Kill first had a seizure in 2011 — his first year at Minnesota — many fans were shocked and concerned. Most didn’t know his history of seizures or the fact that he suffers from epilepsy. So when Kill had another seizure this past Saturday, the atmosphere in TCF Bank Stadium was a bit less subdued.

As for Kill’s team, they’ve quickly learned how to act when this situation arises. Unfortunately, this is now the fourth gameday seizure that he’s had since stepping on campus. One came at halftime of a game last year, while yet another took place in the locker room after a game.

So as players got ready for Tuesday’s practice, they did so with a business-as-usual approach, almost as if Kill’s seizure never happened. They also weren’t focused on some of the outside attention given to the program — not all of which was positive. Some fans and media called for Kill’s resignation, arguing that he wasn’t healthy enough to run a Division I program.

Those thoughts have been tuned out by the Gophers.

“As players, we’re really not reacting to it,” said junior safety Brock Vereen. “We have a huge game this week, a huge test. Any attention taken away from that can hurt us Saturday, so we’re focusing on this game. We know coach Kill’s behind us and we’re behind him.”

When asked if the players have full confidence in Kill, Vereen didn’t hesitate to respond.

“Absolutely,” he said. “He’s the best thing that’s happened to this program in years.”

While Kill wouldn’t answer any health-related questions Tuesday, he was asked if he had ever given any thought to coaching games from the press box. Some believe that perhaps that might help lower his stress level, which can be a trigger for seizures.

The ever-stubborn Kill was quick to squash that idea.

“It wouldn’t make any difference, that’s all I’ll tell you,” Kill said of coaching from the press box. “I haven’t ever thought about it, to be honest with you.”

Much attention has been paid to the fact that Kill was absent for the second half of a football game for the second time in three years. But during any given game, most players don’t have much — if any — interaction on the sideline with Kill. Instead, they’re talking with their position coaches or coordinators when they’re not in the game.

As Kill said during Tuesday’s press conference, “winning takes place during the week.” There’s so much preparation that goes on Sunday through Friday that most fans forget about. Saturday is simply the culmination of that hard work.

So while Kill’s absence on the sidelines can’t be overlooked, his presence in practices and team meetings is equally important.

“He’s focused. He’s determined. He’s doing his job,” defensive lineman Ra’Shede Hageman said of Kill. “But just the fact that fans see that, that’s what they see. Behind closed doors, behind the curtains, behind the locker room, the players stick together because this has happened before. Just the fact that we’ve been through this before kind of tells us that coach Kill wants us to keep on moving and keep on trucking.”

And that’s what the Gophers will do as they prepare to host a San Jose State team that boasts one of the better quarterbacks they’ll face all year. It won’t be an easy test for Minnesota as it tries to improve to 4-0 on the year.

Then again, the Gophers have shown a knack for overcoming adversity. Kill’s seizure Saturday and the way his team has handled it since then are prime examples of that.

“Young people are relentless. They always will be. They’ve been relentless for a lot of years,” Kill said. “I think that’s the nature of a young person. Most of them want to do well and they’re relentless and they listen in these meetings and we talk about adversity. We talk about how to handle things and what you have to deal with in life. I think for the most part, they listened. That’s the way life is in general.”

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