All must earn play, even Gray, says Kill

Kill also said some players won’t practice because of academic issues.
March 24, 2011

Jerry Kill has learned quite a bit about the Gophers football team he inherited in December.

And although the new head coach will learn even more when spring practice begins, some players might not have a chance to stand out.

Kill said Wednesday that some of the Gophers might not participate in spring practice, which begins today, due to issues in the classroom.

“We’re going to identify those kids that can handle playing spring football and the grind of school right now,” he said. “If they can’t handle spring football and the grind of school now, how in the heck are they going to handle it in the fall?”

Kill didn’t say how many players would miss practice, but he said he plans to ensure that the student-athletes are going to class and study hall.

The players that represent the Gophers next season will be those who follow what Kill called the “Minnesota Way.” If they play hard and study hard, then they will fit the first-year coach’s system.

One of Kill’s most appealing qualities to athletics director Joel Maturi was the academic progress rate of his teams. The most recent Academic Progress Rate of Northern Illinois’ football team, where Kill worked for the past three seasons, was 10th in the nation.

“When you don’t go to class and when you can’t be on time … do you want that guy playing a certain position when it’s 4th-and-1?” Kill said.

Today will be the first of 15 practices in which Kill will see the team practice in pads. Entering the workouts, he said nobody has earned a starting job, not even MarQueis Gray.

Gray, who will be a junior next season, came to Minnesota as a heralded quarterback prospect, but he has only completed 8-of-23 pass attempts in his first two seasons. He immediately took a back seat to the experienced Adam Weber and began playing wide receiver last season. Gray was second on the team in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns last season.

“He’s going to be an impact player somewhere,” Kill said of Gray. “If it’s at quarterback, that’s great. I’m all for it. But I can’t tell you that today.”

Kill said the same holds true for every position.

“We will not give away playing time. You’re going to earn it,” he said. “I don’t care who you’ve been in the past. I don’t care how many games you started. It doesn’t matter to me.”

One thing Kill especially plans to emphasize in spring practice is the Gophers’ lackluster punting unit. Last season Minnesota ranked dead last in the Football Bowl Subdivision in net punting.

“We better get that turned around or we won’t win any games,” Kill said.

The Gophers enter spring practice with no major injury concerns, and senior defensive back Kim Royston, who was granted a medical redshirt last season, is 100 percent healthy, Kill said.

As for what the players will see in practice, it will be Kill’s way, and he doesn’t see many differences between his transition to Minnesota and those at his past schools.

“You’re trying to change a culture. You’ve got to capture everybody. You’ve got to get everybody believing,” Kill said. “Losing’s a habit; winning’s a habit. There’s a lot of things you’ve got to shift, and that isn’t easy.”

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