Gophers Look to Beat the Heat and the Rebels

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Going into the 2012 season opener, you might have expected the Gophers to face scorching weather in the Las Vegas desert. But it turns out that this year's Minnesota-UNLV game at TCF Bank Stadium could have more extreme summer weather than the 86-degree game time temperature in Vegas.

August in Minneapolis was unusually mild for the first few weeks of the Gophers' fall camp. Temperatures starting to pick up last week, and the heat and humidity are predicted to hold up for Thursday's game. 

Due to the heat wave, the coaching staff moved both this weekend's practices from the late afternoon up to the morning. Even so, the heat index easily reached the 90s during Sunday's practice.

"You don't want your kids worn out before they play," head coach Jerry Kill said.

Changing practice times and allowing plenty of water breaks are a few ways the Gophers are combating the heat. If the thermometer reads in the 90s at kickoff on Thursday night, Kill plans to go deep into the lineup so that the players on the field are fresh.


In case you missed it: Here are some sound bites from Saturday's media availability.

#4 Days Until Gopher Football

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Go Gophers! 4 Ryan Thelwell
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Gophers vs. UNLV (Aug. 29): Buy Tickets

Ryan Thelwell (1994-96) ranks fifth all-time in career receiving yards for the Gophers. The former wearer of No. 4 represents the number of days left until the Gophers face UNLV in their season opener.

Thelwell and Tutu Atwell teamed up as quarterback Cory Sauter's favorite targets. In 1996, Thelwell set Minnesota's career receiving record, finishing with 2,232 yards, which now ranks fifth. His 1,051-yard total that season was then a record, and still ranks third. Thelwell led the Gophers in all-purpose yards (all receiving).

In Minnesota's 1996 contest against Ball State, Thelwell set a record that still stands when he gained 228 receiving yards. He did so on just eight catches, including one touchdown. Thelwell seems to have been especially successful against Ball State, as he hauled in three touchdowns against the Cardinals a year earlier.

The London, Ontario, native was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers but signed with the San Diego Chargers. He played in a handful of games in 1998, but eventually ended up in his home country playing in the CFL. Thelwell was a CFL All-Star and won three Grey Cups before his retirement.

#5 Days Until Gopher Football

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Go Gophers! 5 Billy Cockerham
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Gophers vs. UNLV (Aug. 29): Buy Tickets

Gopher football is getting so close that former No. 5 Billy Cockerham could count on one hand (or on the back of his old jersey) the days left until kickoff. Cockerham (1996-99) started at quarterback in his last two seasons at Minnesota.

Go Gophers! Billy Cockerham
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Cockerham was one of the Gophers' best running quarterbacks.
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The program's No. 10 all-time passer, Cockerham threw 252-for-485 for 3,483 yards and 29 touchdowns over his career. As a junior in 1998, he came in late in the game against Michigan State and helped the Gophers to a comeback 19-18 win. Cockerham threw a touchdown pass to Luke Leverson, then ran 25 yards after an onside kick to set up a field goal.

His senior year, Cockerham set what was then a school record with 2,992 yards of total offense. His quarterback rushing record of 831 yards stood until MarQueis Gray broke it in 2011. Cockerham was the team's second leading rusher, and he reached the end zone 10 times on the ground. He passed for 2,091 yards and 15 touchdowns.

One of Cockerham's most memorable games was the 1998 upset at No. 2 Penn State. He racked up 277 yards and two touchdowns on 14-of-24 passing. Most importantly, Cockerham led the drive that resulted in Dan Nystrom's game-winning field goal. His 46-yard completion to Ron Johnson, and a tipped pass caught by Arland Bruce, put Minnesota in field goal range.

Cockerham signed with a Vikings as a free agent in 2000, and spent time as a wide receiver on the practice squad. He went to the Frankfurt Galaxy of NFL Europe in 2002.

What They're Saying - Aug. 24

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Botticelli an unsung hero for the defensive line (Star Tribune)

Coach Kill's changing attitude toward epilepsy (Pioneer Press)

In case you missed it....

Rick Reilly's piece on Coach Kill from Thursday (ESPN)

The debut of the GopherSports "Brick by Brick" web series:

What They're Saying - Aug. 23

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AUDIO: Kill

Football luncheon next Wednesday. Sign up today! (GopherSports)

Commissioner Delany was in town (GopherSports) and had praise for Coach Kill (Pioneer Press)

Kill's track record of developing NFL Players (Star Tribune)

Extended Delany thoughts (1500ESPN) and an injury update (1500ESPN)

More Delany (Star Tribune)

Nice feature story on Brock Vereen (Star Tribune)

Kicking competition heats up (FSN)

Bold predictions (Gold and Gopher)

Rick Reilly on Jerry Kill: "I didn't have time for cancer," Kill says. "I was coaching." (ESPN.com)

The responses have been tremendous....



#6 Days Until Gopher Football

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Go Gophers! 6 Da'Jon McKnight
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Gophers vs. UNLV (Aug. 29): Buy Tickets

With six days to go until Gopher football, No. 6 Da'Jon McKnight brings us today's countdown post. McKnight (2008-11) battled knee problems to become Minnesota's go-to receiver his last two seasons.

As a junior in 2010, McKnight led the team with 46 receptions for 705 yards and 10 touchdowns -- the third-most touchdowns ever in a Minnesota season. He caught 51 passes for 766 yards and four touchdowns the next year. McKnight ranks seventh all-time with 1,859 yards. Not bad for someone who didn't start playing football until his senior year of high school.

McKnight accomplished a feat no other Gopher has done. He recorded two games with at least three receiving touchdowns. The first was against Penn State in 2010, and the second was against Michigan State the following season:


In all, McKnight hauled in 15 career touchdown passes, good for a tie for fifth in school history. Despite his nagging knee problems, he started every game of his last two seasons.

Bonus reading: McKnight's journey

#7 Days Until Gopher Football

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Go Gophers! 7 Eric Decker
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Gophers vs. UNLV (Aug. 29): Buy Tickets

We are just one week away from kickoff. Former No. 7 Eric Decker, the Gophers' all-time leading receiver, represents the seven days left until Gophers vs. UNLV.

The Cold Spring, Minn., native broke Ron Johnson's record with 3,119 receiving yards from 2006 to 2009. His school-record 227 catches included 24 touchdowns (third all-time). Decker tied a school record with 11 100-plus-yard receiving games.

He tied a single-game record with 13 receptions against Indiana in 2008. Decker posted Minnesota's top two reception totals his sophomore (67) and junior (84) seasons. His 1,074-yard total in 2008 ranks second all-time.

Decker is a tough player, as you can see in the U of M physics video below. He got hit pretty hard in the Gophers' 2009 game against Cal, but still held onto the ball for this touchdown:



A foot injury ended Decker's senior season after eight games. The Biletnikoff and Campbell Award semifinalist did not get a chance to see what could have happened had he stayed healthy. But Decker did still earn All-Big Ten acclaim for the second straight year, along with high academic honors. He was both a National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete Award and a Lowe's Senior CLASS Second Team All-American.

A good baseball player for John Anderson's Gophers, Decker opted not to play his senior season in order to focus on football. He was an All-Big Ten Tournament selection as a junior outfielder. He was picked in two MLB drafts, but ultimately chose football.

The Denver Broncos drafted Decker in the third round in 2010. He has hauled in 22 receiving touchdowns in his first three pro seasons, the most in franchise history for a player that far into his career. Decker was second in the league with 13 TD catches in 2012. In 2011, he made the highlight reels with a 90-yard punt return. This summer, he was one of a handful of Broncos featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Bonus reading: 2008 game program feature on Decker playing two sports

What They're Saying - Aug. 22

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AUDIO: Kill | Nelson

Maye expects to contribute (Pioneer Press)

Watch for these new faces this season (Star Tribune)

Quick notes from practice (Star Tribune)

Wide receivers progressing (GopherSports), but still a question (ESPN1500.com)

Nelson focused and ready (FSN)

Receiving Corps Shaping Up

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There have been a lot of questions surrounding the wide receiver positions during Minnesota's fall camp, but the receiving corps believes it has the tools to be effective. While battling some injuries this August, the group is working to piece together some depth.

"We feel good about what we've got going on," Isaac Fruechte said.

Go Gophers! Isaac Fruechte
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Fruechte: "We feel good about what we've got going on."
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Fruechte and Derrick Engel, both transfers who played last season, are the team's most experienced receivers. KJ Maye played both running back and wide receiver last year, but will focus on receiver in 2013. Veterans Victor Keise and Logan Hutton have seen limited game action, but head coach Jerry Kill praised them for their work and leadership during fall camp.

The Gophers have Jamel Harbison back from last year's injury. They also have true freshmen Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones. Jones started out mostly doing quarterback work, but has begun taking more reps as a receiver.

Fruechte made his Minnesota debut at UNLV last year, making one catch. He foresees this year's opener being a lot different than last year's.

"I think we've changed so much since last year, since our first game," Fruechte said. "We're a different team now. We're bigger. We're faster. We're stronger. I think our offense will look different because of that. I think certain people's roles will be expanded."

Maye has shifted between different roles throughout camp. He has spent time in the slot and on the outside.

"I'm not intimidated at all," he said about lining up on the outside.

That is the attitude the Gopher receivers have taken about the season. Even though they have dealt with injuries, and even though they do not have a lot of combined experience, they feel they have what it takes to be a valuable part of the offense.

#8 Days Until Gopher Football

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Go Gophers! 8 Adam Weber and Asad Abdul-Khaliq
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Gophers vs. UNLV (Aug. 29): Buy Tickets

Asad Abdul-Khaliq and Adam Weber both quarterbacked the Gophers during the 2000s. With eight days left until the Gophers take on UNLV, these former wearers of No. 8 do the honors of helping with the countdown.

Abdul-Khaliq (2000-03) ended his career as Minnesota's all-time No. 2 passer. His 6,660 yards still put him fourth on the list. As a senior in 2003, he set three Minnesota season records: pass efficiency (a Big Ten-leading 162.3), completion percentage (.632) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (3.40).

Abdul-Khaliq's toss to Jared Ellerson against Northwestern that season went for 96 yards, the longest passing play in school history. In 2003, he also threw for a career-high 388 yards against Iowa. For a time, he held the career records for touchdown passes (55) and total offense (7,818 yards). He ranks fifth in career QB rushing.

It was not an easy path for Abdul-Khaliq, as he attended a year of military school and then redshirted a year before seeing the field. He started a few games for the Gophers as a redshirt freshman, but did not start during the conference season or the bowl game in 2000.

Abdul-Khaliq regained the starting spot during the 2001 season, and then helped lead the Gophers to bowl wins in 2002 (Music City Bowl against Arkansas) and 2003 (Sun Bowl against Oregon). The Gophers' 2003 team MVP spent some time in the Arena Football League after his collegiate career was over. He was back on campus this spring for an alumni flag football game.


A few years after Abdul-Khaliq left, Weber came along and broke some of his records. Weber's school career records include:
- passing yards: 10,917 (third in the Big Ten)
- career total offense: 11,790 (second in the Big Ten behind only Drew Brees)
- total offense plays: 1,992 (Big Ten record)
- touchdown passes: 72
- completions and attempts: 909-1,594 (No. 2 in completion percentage: .570)
- starts at quarterback: 50

Go Gophers! Adam Weber
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Weber won Floyd of Rosedale in his last collegiate game.
Go Gophers!
Weber redshirted 2006, then won the starting spot as a redshirt freshman. The 2007 season saw him set single-season records of 258 completions for 2,895 yards and 24 touchdowns. In each of the next two seasons, Minnesota made it to the Insight Bowl.

The duo of Weber and current Denver Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker provided many highlights during the pair's years together. But one of Weber's career moments came in the year after Decker's departure. In his final start in 2010, the veteran QB led a late-game drive that resulted in a touchdown as the Gophers beat Iowa 27-24 to win Floyd of Rosedale.

Weber signed with the Broncos after college, and is now a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneerspractice squad.

Bonus reading:
- 2003 article: a week in the life of Abdul-Khaliq
- "Asad Abdul-Khaliq teaches life after sports" (Minnesota Daily 2012)
- 2010 blog: Weber wins Floyd of Rosedale