MINNEAPOLIS — Gophers head coach Jerry Kill made a surprise visit to his team’s game this past Saturday, and he’s expected to be at TCF Bank Stadium this weekend when Minnesota hosts Nebraska.
However, it’s likely that Kill will once again be watching from the press box as he continues to take time away from the team to focus on treatment for his epilepsy.
Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys, who is serving as the active head coach in Kill’s absence, expects Kill to be at Saturday’s game and added that he wouldn’t be surprised to see Kill show up at practice in the near future, noting that the head coach has already been at his office and around the football complex the past few days, including an appearance Tuesday.
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“He’s going through to building back up what he needs to do to get back,” Claeys said. “He’ll be in and out as he feels. He’s got a process of what he’s got to go through. The better he feels, he likes to come around and be around the kids.”
Kill has been away from the team for a few weeks now after having his second gameday seizure of the season — and fifth during his three-year tenure — Oct. 5. The Gophers played Michigan that day but Kill never made the trip to Ann Arbor, leaving Claeys to fill in. Claeys then took the reins again this past Saturday at Northwestern following Minnesota’s bye week.
It remains to be seen when Kill will return full-time, but his players were thrilled to see him even for a brief moment on Saturday when he spoke to them at halftime.
“I think the way that he was on Saturday, I think we’re getting pretty close to seeing him around a little bit more,” said quarterback Philip Nelson said.
Kill surprised his team Saturday by showing up at halftime of a game he wasn’t expected to be at. After he took time away from the game to tackle his epilepsy, no one figured he would make it to Evanston, Ill., to see Minnesota beat the Wildcats.
But the third-year Gophers coach rode down from Minneapolis with his wife, Rebecca, driving, and he watched the game from the press box. At halftime, he delivered a message to his players that helped spark Minnesota in the second half en route to a 20-17 win.
“To be honest, my heart just dropped right away. I hadn’t seen him in a while,” said Nelson of Kill’s impromptu halftime appearance. “We all miss him a lot. Right away when I saw him, my reaction was that my heart just dropped and I was so glad to see him up and healthy.”
When Kill addressed the Gophers at halftime, the game was tied 7-7. Minnesota edged out Northwestern in the second half thanks to a defensive touchdown and a pair of field goals to win its first Big Ten game and improve to 5-2 on the season.
Just how big of an impact Kill’s speech had in his team’s performance is unknown, but it’s clear even several days later that it meant a lot to the Gophers to see Kill.
“That’s a moment that I will leave this university with,” said senior defensive back Brock Vereen. “Nobody knew, except for the coaches probably. For him to come in, it was impossible not to give your all in the second half. He’s just as responsible for that win as anybody.”