MINNEAPOLIS — At Murphy High School in Mobile, Ala., K.J. Maye did it all.
The 5-foot-10 speedster excelled on the football field at numerous positions. During his senior year, he was 70-for-123 for 1,122 yards and 13 touchdowns at quarterback. He also showed off his speed by rushing for 1,041 yards and eight scores on 186 carries.
If that wasn’t enough, Maye hauled in 10 catches for 199 yards — and found the end zone on three of those receptions. He was a true triple threat on offense.
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Now, as Maye gets set to put on his Gophers uniform for the first time on Thursday against UNLV, Minnesota is hoping Maye can bring some of that same multi-faceted talent to the field.
Maye is one of three freshmen on the Gophers’ 105-man roster listed as “athlete” as their position. A player like Maye is hard to categorize; his athleticism and versatility makes hard to put into a box. Through fall camp, the Gophers have lined up Maye as both a running back and a receiver. He’s also seen action as a kick returner.
“We’ve been having them do everything to see how much they can do,” Gophers offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said of his team’s four athletes. “A big part of that now is, ‘OK, let’s really hone this down and see what K.J. can do best, and let’s make sure we’re getting him the football as much as we can.’ . . . That’s a good problem to have. It beats the alternative.”
The alternative, of course, is a team that lacks speed, athleticism and playmakers. Minnesota’s coaching staff admits that last year’s team — the first year of head coach Jerry Kill’s regime — was not as fast as this year’s squad that opens the season Thursday in Las Vegas.
Maye is one reason why. Limegrover was asked if Maye is the fastest player on the Gophers’ roster.
“He might be,” Limegrover said. “I don’t think Coach (Kill) wants to line them all up and race them right now, but I definitely know that with the additions that we’ve made with our freshmen class has helped increase our speed overall. That’s what we’re looking for, because we need to have some people who can stretch that field and make plays other than MarQueis (Gray).”
Gray is the Gophers’ starting quarterback for the second straight year. Whether he’ll be handing the ball off to Maye or looking for him as an open receiver, the freshman from Mobile will give Minnesota’s senior signal caller another weapon on offense.
Kill said the Gophers lack the depth on offense, especially at the skill positions, to redshirt too many players. He acknowledged on Saturday that Maye will be one of the team’s true freshmen who will get an opportunity to play right away.
“You never know until they get here,” Kill said of true freshmen. “You can watch all the film. I watched (Maye) play basketball, point guard. . . . But until you really get them here and you get a chance to work with them, you never know.”
Minnesota also recruited another freshman athlete, Duke Anyanwu, but a knee injury resulted in him being left off the Gophers’ 105-man roster this fall. Anyanwu came to the Gophers from Blaine (Minn.) High School. While there, he was a quarterback and running back. He completed 101 passes for 926 yards and five touchdowns during his senior season while also rushing for 1,130 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2011. But he also played wide receiver and linebacker and was ranked as the No. 289 wide receiver in the country by ESPN.
The status of Minnesota’s other two “athletes” isn’t as clear. John McKelvey and Lincoln Plsek are in the same boat as Maye: uncategorized players who can line up at multiple positions.
McKelvey, a native of Hunting Valley, Ohio, played on both sides of the ball at University High School. He made 29 catches, including eight touchdowns, and ran the ball 24 times for 197 yards. He also had three interceptions on defense and ran two of those back for touchdowns.
Like McKelvey and Anyanwu, freshman Lincoln Plsek played both sides of the ball during his high school days in Waco, Tex. He earned first-team all-state honors as a defensive lineman and second-team all-district honors as an offensive lineman. At 6-foot-4, 245 pounds, he would be undersized as an offensive lineman at the college level. Regardless, he showed in high school that he’s versatile enough to play several positions.
Those four are all listed as athletes. That’s what Minnesota needs more of in every sense of the word. Maye will likely contribute early, while the others continue to find their niche.
“You try and find the best possible spots and try and find them in the best positions to succeed,” Limegrover said. “I think that’s what we’re trying to do with all those guys. They’re taking to it well. It’s allowed us to have a lot of versatility with some things we do.”