This weekend marks the first time in University of Minnesota history that a former player will come back as an opposing head coach.
DeWayne Walker was a junior college transfer in the 1980 season and was a two-year starting cornerback for the Gophers. The Pasadena, Calif., native has had a successful coaching career since his days at Minnesota. He has worked as a defensive backs coach in the NFL for the Patriots, Giants and Redskins and in the NCAA for USC before becoming the defensive coordinator for UCLA in 2006.
Thinking of his return to Minnesota, Walker reflected on friends that still live in the area and a vacation that he had here three years ago when Tim Brewster was the head coach.
But he quickly shifted focus. “This is not a vacation. This is a business trip and we’re going to have our hands full,” he said.
New Mexico State recruited him in 2008 and Walker accepted the position and began his tenure with the Aggies for the 2009 season.
New Mexico State has only had four winning seasons since 1967 and hasn’t been to a bowl game since 1960, which is the longest drought in the nation.
Walker’s first two years haven’t changed that trend — they were 2-10 last season and 3-10 the year before. In his third year, though, he has the most experienced team that he has ever put on the field and his recruiting classes are now ready to see some action.
The Aggies return several starters on both the offensive line and the defensive front seven, but are entrusting the offense to young, big-armed quarterback Andrew Manley.
The sophomore won the job over senior Matt Christian. Manley’s physical abilities showed the most promise in camp for a season in which Walker hopes to improve results and provide optimism for the future at NMSU.
After a tough first half last week, Manley put up big numbers in the second half. He threw for a total of 362 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to Ohio. Manley will look to continue throwing at a high clip against Minnesota’s secondary, which allowed a record-setting day to USC wide receiver Robert Woods and quarterback Matt Barkley. He will likely be the main focus for the Gophers to stop, as the Aggies running game had 23 carries for a dismal 0.3 yards per carry.
The Gophers are coming off a hard-fought loss on the road to USC in which the Minnesota’s defense held the Trojans scoreless in the second half.
MarQueis Gray left the game early due to cramps. He received an IV for hydration in the locker room, but ultimately was unable to return to the game.
Head coach Jerry Kill said that Gray will be healthy and will play against New Mexico State this week.
After true freshman Max Shortell’s nice relief performance Saturday, Kill made a point to eliminate any uncertainty as to who the starter would be this week.
“There is no QB controversy, we’re not changing anything,” he said Tuesday.
Facing a fast and athletic team like USC should allow for vast improvement for the Gophers this week, as the Aggies don’t play at the same pace as the Trojans.
“The game slowed down in the second half for MarQueis,” Kill said. “We’re more comfortable with being aggressive with him. We’re not afraid of that.”
Kill said he’s looking forward to his opening game in TCF Bank Stadium. “We went over the tape on Sunday, had a good practice and left the loss behind us,” he said.
“We’re prepping this week like it’s the Super Bowl.”
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