Football is here Gopher fans! Coach Kill and a few players kicked off the season with the team's opening press conference. I have some video and quotes below but first a few comments on the upcoming season and what I learned at this afternoon's press conference.
Listening to Kill and the players there were a few recurring themes that I think are going to be the cornerstone of not only this season but also the Jerry Kill era.
This was mentioned over and over and over again. From the day after the Illinois win there has been a new level of offseason competition to keep the team engaged and motivated. These changes to the offseason program seem to have given Kill and the players a lot of confidence heading into fall camp.
In the offseason I think we did some things differently with all of the competition. I think if you work hard every day, in whatever you do and you stay persistent with it you are gonna get better. You certainly are not going to go the other direction. So I think they've made themselves better, there's no question about that. I think they've gotten stronger, faster, some have gotten bigger, so we'll see.
Just looking at Mike Rallis and MarQueis Gray it is obvious that they are much stronger. These guys were visibly larger, they clearly took their offseason strength and conditioning programs seriously. And while the offseason programs may change from year to year, clearly getting more and more competition is what Kill is striving for.
To me, you prove yourself on the field. You don't do it anywhere else. I'm looking forward to it. I think we'll have some tremendous competition throughout camp, and that's what will make us a better football team. If we don't have any competition, we're not going to be very good.
There is a reason that I look out at USC when Pete Carroll was there and he talked about it. They had so much competition at USC there was nobody that could take a day off. I think that's where a good football program eventually gets that. So I think when you have competition all the time, it makes you better.
Iron sharpens iron.
Gray was asked if this offseason was really different from previous ones. His first response was to talk about the competition and how it motivated guys throughout the offseason. This was a big deal and it appears to have paid off.
I think this is one those foundational blocks upon which Kill is building his program.
Sometimes these themes from today's press conference overlap. This offseason the team split up into 8 teams with a captain leading each one. As a team they earned points in competitions, doing well academically and could lose points if there were discipline problems. Coach Kill relayed this story from the offseason when one of the team captains was struggling with his team not performing as they should.
Team captain, I won't say who, one was walking upstairs one day pretty discouraged. I said, What's the matter? Well, I can't get so and so lined up on my team. I said, welcome to being the head football coach. But you're also the same ones that were a pain in my tail end last year. Now you got a taste of it. That’s called leadership. So get your team straightened out. Get them out of last place.
Much was also expected of Gray throughout the offseason as he continued to grow as a leader on this football team. Kill pointed out that what was most expected of Gray during the summer was to lead this team in the weight room and throwing the ball with guys.
Kill also talked about not having captains, in the traditional sense. What they do is have the team vote 14 or 15 guys to a leadership team that represents freshmen through seniors. Kill and his staff will then regularly meet with that group to get feedback and allow them input into the program. At the end of the season the team will then vote on four captains who "really stood out and were the type of leaders that took us through the tough times and the hard times."
Both Brock Vereen and Gray mentioned how valuable it has been to have the same staff and system in place for consecutive years. Kill also talked about the value of continuity and having everyone, players and coaches, on the same page.
I think that probably the most important thing, I think, as a head coach or assistant coaches, our strength coaches, we've got the continuity. We didn't lose any of that continuity, so the vision stayed the same. I think we're just all much more comfortable with each other. The players, the coaches, and what we're trying to accomplish is much better.
I think it's true to life. The more you get to know somebody, the better you work with them. So I think the vision is the same.
Gray also talked about the confidence the offense has with the same staff and system in place for the second consecutive year. During the spring and their throwing sessions this summer, Gray says they have been able to practice much faster because they know what to do and where to go. In Gray's Gopher career this is the first time he has not had a new playbook to learn.
The off season competition, the lessons learned on leadership and the rare offseason of continuity for the Gophers all lead to a more stable foundation and a reason to be cautiously optimistic about the 2012 season. Nobody started predicting bowl games or a certain number of wins. But there is a level of confidence amongst those who were representing the team today that I don't think has been there in the few years I have been able to cover the team in this capacity.
Ever year coaches and players talk about how this team is much better, how they are bigger/stronger/faster and how they are going to surprise a lot of people. But this year is a quiet confidence. This year they really do look bigger. And I really think the second year of being in the same system on both sides of the ball is going to allow this team to take major steps forward. Are they going to win 10 games and challenge for the Legends Division title? Not likely. But this team will be more competitive and much improved. How that translates to wins is yet to be determined.
VIDEO CLIPS After the jump
Kill discussing the wide receivers heading into camp.