Gophers go back to practice after ex-teammate dies

Published Apr. 11, 2012 1:54 a.m. ET

Whistles were blown, instructions were shouted and drills were conducted, as the Minnesota football team resumed practice for the first time since the death of former teammate Gary Tinsley.

By all accounts, the Gophers put in an energetic workout considering the circumstance. Still, the strategy, competition and development that's part of spring ball didn't take on the same seriousness. Life is much bigger than that.

''This doesn't go away. You've just got to learn how to handle it,'' linebackers coach Bill Miller said.

In a tough, macho sport, grieving isn't necessarily natural. As head coach Jerry Kill reminded his players, everyone does this differently.

''It's OK to cry,'' Kill said.

But there is a certain resolve to be carried, too, whether in Tinsley's honor or to provide support for others experiencing the same shock and sadness.

''I was probably one of the guys who was hurt the most,'' linebacker Keanon Cooper said, ''but I've been trying to stay strong for everyone else.''


Cooper was Tinsley's roommate. He was the one who found his friend unresponsive on Friday morning after his alarm clock sounded longer than normal. Cooper, one of four upperclassmen who talked to reporters after Tuesday's practice about Tinsley's passing, appeared remarkably composed as he talked about dealing with the death, of which a cause has not yet been determined.

''He's been a rock,'' Miller said of Cooper.

Tinsley, a senior who completed his playing eligibility, was weeks away from his degree. Kill spoke proudly about how one of Tinsley's marketing professors sent flowers and glowed about the asset Tinsley was to the class.

''We can all step it up and be like Gary,'' Kill said.

The team leaders pushed for practice to be held as scheduled on Saturday, but the coaching staff decided against that because they didn't believe the team would be able to fully engage in the workout. So they went to a Dave and Buster's restaurant-arcade for several hours of team bonding. Kill said the experience was the best activity - games, practices and meetings included - the team has done since he arrived a little more than a year ago.

''That was very much needed. We weren't going to be able to go full speed at practice,'' quarterback MarQueis Gray said.

So where do the Gophers go from here?

''He'll be missed, but we know that he would want us to keep going and that's what we're going to do for him,'' Gray said.

The entire team, plus several former players and other staff for a traveling party of 149, spokesman Andy Seeley said, will attend Tinsley's funeral on Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla. There will be other yet-to-be-worked-out ways to honor Tinsley during the 2012 season, too.

For now, this is simply a daily process to endure, with perspective, determination and the smiles that come from the good memories of a friend, teammate and pupil.

''There's no protocol. I don't think anybody has written a book on how you handle somebody who passes away at such a young age,'' Kill said, adding: ''Hopefully we'll carry Gary's name proudly.''