Kill, Gophers have bonded through adversity
By Jesse Temple
CHICAGO —Jerry Kill is the first to admit that he and the Minnesota football program have been through an awful lot in the past year — and not necessarily all on the field.
Last September, theGophers coachsuffered an on-field seizure during a nonconference game that forced him to miss two weeks of the season. And in April, graduating Minnesota linebacker Gary Tinsley died in his campus apartment at age 22.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding Kill's health during parts of last season and the sadness of Tinsley's death, Kill believes those experiences will make the Gophers stronger moving forward.
"I think when adversity hits, you have to deal with it," Kill said Thursday during Big Ten media days. "You can't run away from it. We've had a fair share. ... But to be honest with you, sometimes tragic events bring you closer together and you find out who you are."
The Gophers are hoping who they are will be an improved team in 2012.
Last season, Kill's first in charge, Minnesota slogged through a 3-9 campaign and a 2-6 finish in the Big Ten. The Gophers suffered embarrassing losses against New Mexico State (28-21) and North Dakota State (37-24) and struggled to score points. Minnesota averaged just 18.4 points per game, which ranked 111th out of 120 FBS teams.
If the Gophers are to make any progress offensively in Year 2 of the Kill era, improvement will likely be the result of quarterback MarQueis Gray's play.
A year ago, Gray completed 108 of 213 passes (50.7 percent) for 1,495 yards, eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also ran for a team-best 966 yards and six touchdowns.
Considering Gray made seven starts at wide receiver as a sophomore in 2010 and threw just eight passes that year, many believe he'll make an even bigger leap from his junior to senior season while focusing solely on playing quarterback.
"I think he's come a long way," Kill said. "I think that he'll be a very, very exciting football player to watch, not only in the Big Ten but throughout the country. I think he's done a great job in the spring....
"MarQueis, playing quarterback after one year, he's improved so much. I think the most important thing to our football team is what the people around him do. And they've worked hard, and again, I look for him to have a very good year this year."
In addition to discussing his own team, Kill was asked — as were most Big Ten coaches on Thursday — for his thoughts on recruiting players at Penn State, who were free to transfer without penalty following NCAA sanctions.
Kill was among a handful of coaches who weren't interested in poaching players.
"We've got enough problems of our own trying to move forward," Kill said. "So we're not going to do anything to go see players. We don't have enough time to do those kinds of things. We've got to concentrate on our football team and our football program."
Kill has endured tough beginnings at other stops during his coaching career. His first team at Southern Illinois finished 1-10 in 2001. By the time he left in 2007, the Salukis were 12-2 and in the NCAA playoffs.
In 2008, Kill took over at Northern Illinois, and the team finished 6-7. NIU compiled a 10-3 record in 2010 before Kill became coach at Minnesota.
Given those turnarounds and Gray's senior season ahead of him, there is reason for optimism in Minneapolis.
As for Kill's health? More good news on that front.
"I'm doing fantastic," Kill said. "I appreciate you asking."
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