Minnesota linebacker Keanon Cooper spoke to members of the media Tuesday and said it was a blessing to have met Gary Tinsley.
“It was even more of a blessing to have been his teammate and … his roommate,” Cooper said.
The Gophers returned to the practice field Tuesday — four days after Tinsley was found dead in his room at Roy Wilkins Hall.
Cooper found Tinsley on Friday morning. Since then, he has been trying to stay strong amid the tragedy.
“I’m probably one of the guys that have hurt the most, but I’ve been trying to stay strong for the people around me,” Cooper said. “I’ve got to stay strong for [my teammates] and be there … and help them out the best way I can.”
Head coach Jerry Kill canceled Minnesota’s Saturday practice and instead took that time to grow as a team. The Gophers took a team trip to Dave & Buster’s restaurant to spend time together.
Brandon Green, who ate dinner with Tinsley the Thursday before he died, said it was important for the team to be together the day after his death.
Head coach Jerry Kill agreed and said that his team got more out of the experience at the restaurant than it would have gleaned from any practice.
“Gary probably made our team better on Saturday more so than any practice we’ve done since I’ve been here,” Kill said. “I said when we got on the bus coming back, ‘Shoot, this is the best practice and best thing we’ve done since we’ve been here.’ We certainly didn’t lose a day or anything like that.”
Minnesota took the rest of the weekend to mourn but returned to the gridiron Tuesday.
Cooper said it was a breath of fresh air to get back on the field.
“I feel like every guy handles it different, but for me, football is therapeutic, and when I get out there … I kind of forget everything,” Cooper said. “I was anxious to get out here with the guys.”
Minnesota conducted practice Tuesday exactly as it did its other eight spring sessions — from the team stretch at the start to the team breakdown at the end.
Kill said he thought the team did a good job in its first practice back. He admitted there were some issues but said the focus was there.
“I just care a heck of a lot about our kids, and it’s a tough time, but my job is to be a good leader and … that’s what I’m trying to do right now,” Kill said.
Mike Rallis, a linebacker who played alongside Tinsley last season, was visibly shaken Tuesday and said the past four days have been overloaded with emotion.
“I was a little nervous at first getting back out here. I didn’t know exactly how I’d feel,” Rallis said. “This really made me realize how close we are and how much of a family we are … and I’m really thankful that I’ve got these 100 guys at my back to come out here and go to work.”
Kill said Tuesday that University of Minnesota professor Frank Plachecki and a group of students from one of Tinsley’s classes came to his office and spoke of the presence he brought to the classroom. This small gesture had a huge impact on the head coach.
“It was inspirational to me that they made it a point to let me know that there is a whole other side beside the football side of it,” Kill said. “We hear about it on the football side of it, but the respect he had on the academic side … is a tremendous role for us to look at and say, ‘This is what it’s all about and we all can step it up and be like Gary.’”
Cooper said even with the sadness that resonates through the team, the experience offers an opportunity to grow.
“In my heart I felt like this is something that will definitely benefit the team in a positive way … and open everybody’s eyes to appreciate every day we get,” he said.
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