Jerry Kill finds plenty of time to focus on football

MINNEAPOLIS — Jerry Kill doesn’t have much of an offseason.

Sure, the Gophers football coach will sneak across town a few times a summer to Target Field for a Twins game. There’s also his annual bass fishing trip with his brother coming up in early July that gives Kill a respite from the rigors of coaching.

Other than that, though, Kill’s summer is spent focusing on football. This week and for the next few weeks to follow, Kill is hosting his youth football camps at TCF Bank Stadium, which keeps him busy from 7 a.m.-9 p.m. On top of his camps, he’s also got his own players to worry about.

“The toughest time for a football coach is this right now,” Kill said. “Because you’ve got to transition the new players coming in with older players and there’s more time on their hands than normal. So when you have more time on your hands and you enjoy life like all of us have done, what decisions are you going to make on that idle time?”

Late last month, Kill joined several other U of M coaches as part of the Gophers caravan that traveled throughout Minnesota. They made stops in various towns throughout the state talk about the University of Minnesota and Gopher athletics.

During the caravan, Kill was not able to actively recruit players but he was able to field calls from potential recruits. That means that his cell phone was never far away as Kill remained on call despite being on the road.

And of course, he fielded plenty of questions from fans who are happy with the progress that’s been made but are hungry for more.

“The people have always been good to me and honest,” Kill said. “They’re passionate and frustrated and want us to continue to get better. But I think there’s some optimism. Certainly the people want us to do well, and there’s a lot of people that love the university, there really is. That part of it I feel good about. …

“There’s a lot of things we need to get done in the program that haven’t been done for a while. All you can do is be persistent and work hard and keep coaching. I’m hoping that we can feed off the bowl game we played in, because that’s the best we played, period, since I’ve been here.”

Injuries linger into the summer: Minnesota escaped spring ball relatively healthy, but the Gophers did suffer a handful of injuries during spring camp. Among those injuries was offensive linemen Jonah Pirsig, who injured his knee during camp.

“Jonah Pirsig’s a guy who will be right up against it with his surgery any everything, but he’s got a chance,” Kill said Thursday. “Jon Christenson had offseason surgery this summer. He should be ready by Aug. 1. Zac Epping had surgery on his elbow. He should be ready.”

Kill said the Gophers had 17 major surgeries this summer. The biggest question marks of players who may or may not be ready by the start of fall camp, Kill said, are Pirsig, running back Devon Wright, center Brian Bobek and linebacker Peter Westerhaus. Bobek has had a “real, real serious viral infection,” Kill said.

Kill also is “cautiously optimistic” that wide receiver Andre McDonald will be ready to go this fall. McDonald was taken off the roster this spring due to personal issues, but he is enrolled in summer classes and has been working out on campus.

Gophers see jump in APR score: The NCAA released its annual Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores earlier this week. While the Gophers have struggled with this in previous year, Minnesota saw an increase to a score of 955, tied with Michigan State for ninth in the Big Ten. That number is up from 932 a year ago. As recently as 2007-08, Minnesota’s APR was 915, which was low enough to warrant a reduction of three scholarships.

The APR scores measure the academic eligibility and retention of student-athletes on each Division I team. Since Kill stepped on campus, he’s preached the importance of boosting the Gophers’ APR. When the report was released this week, Kill was able to see tangible progress of his work in that area.

“Someday I’ll write a book on it,” Kill said. “Because to go where we were at, where we were one player away from losing scholarships, having 25 people on academic warning and having three suspended, and now all of a sudden where we’re at … give the kids credit. Somebody along the lines decided they were going to get it straightened out. All we did as a coaching staff is we’ve held them accountable.”

Northwestern University had the highest APR of all Big Ten football schools this past academic year with a 996. Michigan was the lowest with a 951.

Kickoff time set: The Gophers game at New Mexico State on Sept. 7 will be played under the lights. The school announced Thursday that kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

That makes it two straight night games for the Gophers to begin the 2013 season. Minnesota’s season opener on Aug. 29 against UNLV will be a 6 p.m. kickoff. The time for Gophers’ game against San Jose State on Sept. 21 has yet to be set.

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