What They're Saying - Aug. 14

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Secondary aiming high (GopherSports)

AUDIO: Kill l Vereen l Wells

Vereen confident (FSN)

What's your excuse? (Facebook)

15 Days (GopherSports)

Will where the versatile Donovahn Jones play? (Pioneer Press)

Buy Tickets! (MyGopherSports.com)

Wells is ready for the challenge (Star Tribune)

Paper says UNLV at Minnesota is chance for Rebels to make a statement (Las Vegas Sun)

Key schedule stretch will determine Minnesota's fate (Gold & Gopher)



#15 Days Until Gopher Football

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Go Gophers! 15 Sandy Stephens
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Gophers vs. UNLV (Aug. 29): Buy Tickets

The number of today's countdown, 15, is one of five retired by Minnesota football. It belonged to Sandy Stephens, one of the Gophers' all-time greats. The College Football Hall of Fame inductee played quarterback for the Maroon and Gold from 1959 to 1961.

After a 2-7 season in 1959, Stephens helped lead the Gophers to an 8-2 record, a share of the Big Ten title and a national title in 1960. Minnesota capped off the season with the program's first Rose Bowl appearance. The Gophers lost that 1961 Rose Bowl, but were still named national champions.

The next year, Minnesota got another chance in Pasadena. This time, game MVP Stephens rushed for two touchdowns and threw for 75 yards on 7-for-11 passing as the Gophers beat UCLA, 21-3.


Stephens was named a First Team All-American and the Big Ten MVP, and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1961. He was the first African-American quarterback selected for an All-America First Team.

In 1962, Stephens was drafted in both the NFL and AFL, but neither team that picked him wanted him to play quarterback. He did play quarterback for the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League for a few seasons.

Stephens died in 2000, but his legacy lives on. The U of M retired his No. 15 that year, and his name and number are on display at TCF Bank Stadium now. In 2011, Stephens was finally inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Bonus reading: 
- ESPN blog post on Stephens' College Football HOF induction
- FSN's take on the induction
- 2000 Sports Illustrated article after Stephens' death
- 2008 Big Ten feature: Stephens dreamed of a Rose Bowl before he put on the M

Gopher Secondary Aiming High

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The Gophers' pass defense ranked fourth in the Big Ten and 12th nationally in 2012. Despite losing two of its starters, the Minnesota secondary does not anticipate any type of drop-off.

Go Gophers! Brock Vereen
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Vereen: "To be the best secondary in the Big Ten is our goal."
Go Gophers!
"Mike Carter and Troy Stoudermire were great players, but we still have confidence going forward that we'll be a better secondary," senior safety Brock Vereen said. "To be the best secondary in the Big Ten is our goal."

Vereen is one of the secondary's top returners. He switched from cornerback to safety last year, and continued to grow into the position as the year went on. Vereen is even more comfortable in that spot now that he is in his second season playing there.

Junior Derrick Wells is another returning starter, although he will be at a different position than last fall. He moved from safety to cornerback, and is bigger than both the departing senior starters he will help to replace. Like Vereen, Wells anticipates the defensive backs continuing to build upon last year's improvements.

"I think we are more athletic in the secondary," he said. "We have a lot of speed, a lot of size."

Eric Murray's name has been tossed around as one to watch this year, but Wells also mentioned that Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Martez Shabazz have potential for good seasons.

Head coach Jerry Kill emphasized the team aspect of defense. The linemen, linebackers and secondary all need to be effective in order to truly stop opposing offenses.

"I think if the team gets better, the secondary will be good," Kill said.

With a veteran defensive line and some up-and-coming linebackers, the Gopher defensive backs are not on their own. And with the goal of being the best in the Big Ten, they certainly will not lack motivation and intensity.
 

#16 Days Until Gopher Football

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Go Gophers! 16 Rhys Lloyd
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Gophers vs. UNLV (Aug. 29): Buy Tickets

Former No. 16 Rhys Lloyd represents the 16 days left until the Gophers take on UNLV. Now would be a good time to relive one of Lloyd's most memorable moments:


The 2003 Wisconsin game was not the only time Lloyd made a game-winning field goal. He also drilled a 42-yarder to beat Oregon in the Sun Bowl on New Year's Eve that year.

A native of Dover, England, and a graduate of Eastview High School in Minnesota, Lloyd transferred to the U from junior college in 2003. He had an immediate impact, converting from 52 yards on his first field goal attempt as a Gopher. A few games into his Minnesota career, he took over punting as well as kicking duties and continued to do both through 2004.

Lloyd holds Minnesota's top two season totals for extra points, making 59 in 2003 and 43 in 2004. He ranks 10th in school history in career scoring (180 points) despite playing for only two years. Lloyd's two seasons rank fifth (2003) and seventh (2004) in scoring. He is fourth in field goal accuracy (.722) and tied for the fourth-longest field goal (54 yards).

Lloyd has been a member of various NFL teams, most notably the Carolina Panthers. He was the Panthers' primary kickoff specialist from 2008 to 2010, leading the NFL with 30 touchbacks in 2008.

What They're Saying - Aug. 13

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"Five Is One" is the goal for the O-line (GopherSports.com)

Audio: Kill talks after Monday practice

Receivers are confident (Star Tribune)

Keise hopes perseverance pays off (Pioneer Press)

Trap game? (ESPN.com)

Looking for that signature win (The Daily Gopher)

Three-point stance (ESPN.com)

Offensive Line: "Five Is One"

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Not one senior played on the Gopher offensive line in 2012. With no departing seniors, there are no automatically open spots to fill on the depth chart. This fall, a bigger pool of linemen are competing for the same number of spots as before.

Go Gophers! Caleb Bak
Go Gophers!
Bak is a returning starter for Minnesota.
Go Gophers!
"It's been a lot of good competition, which is great," right guard Caleb Bak said. "When you have competition, people below each other will help fuel people above each other. Competition is just naturally good."

Although Bak started the Gophers' final 11 games last season, he must still take the competition from his teammates seriously. At the same time, the linemen know they are all on the same side.

"Everyone's really friendly with each other," Bak said. "It's a very friendly atmosphere."

Junior left tackle Marek Lenkiewicz, who is competing with senior Ed Olson for the starting spot, echoed that sentiment. He said the offensive line's motto is, "Five is one." The line must work as a single unit in order to be effective. 

Lenkiewicz said that continuity within the group, being together with many of the same guys for the past few years, is important. Everyone from 2012 is back again with another year of experience.

"It's fantastic," Bak said. "It's something you don't get a lot. Most programs you're going to go into, you're going to have people who play only their junior or senior year. Here, we have a bunch of guys who played their freshman and sophomore years. We're coming in with a lot of experience, so it's looking to be a good year for the offensive line."

#17 Days Until Gopher Football

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Go Gophers! 17 Cory Sauter
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Gophers vs. UNLV (Aug. 29): Buy Tickets

With 17 days left until Gopher football, today's countdown is brought to you by Cory Sauter. A quarterback for Minnesota from 1994 to 1997, Sauter held multiple school records at the end of his career.

Sauter still holds a record with seven 300-plus-yard games. He also has the sophomore record for touchdown passes (18) and the junior record for completions (200). Sauter's career total of 6,834 yards now ranks third in Gopher history. He is now second in attempts (945) and completions (539) behind Adam Weber, and fourth in touchdown passes (40).

Sauter is tied for second in completion percentage (.570). His 7-for-7 game against Ohio State in 1995 ties a game record for accuracy. The list of his top-10 statistical accomplishments goes on and on.

A few of Sauter's favorite targets were Ryan Thelwell and Tutu Atwell. Watch highlights of Sauter and that duo below.


Sauter was named co-Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week after passing 23-for-37 for 285 yards and two touchdowns against Illinois in 1996. Sauter completed a career-high 29 passes against Northwestern in 1995, and threw for 404 yards and four touchdowns against Michigan State that same season. 

After his Gopher career, Sauter was on a few NFL rosters as well as playing in NFL Europe. He then started coaching and is currently the head coach at Southwest Minnesota State.

Bonus reading: 1997 game program feature on Sauter

What They're Saying - Aug. 12

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Scrimmage recap (GopherSports.com)

Scrimmage audio: Kill l Zebrowski l Nelson l Leidner

Nelson composed in scrimmage (1500ESPN.com)

Talking QBs after the scrimmage (Pioneer Press) but remember they are still young (FSN)

Edwards dazzles with speed (Pioneer Press)

Nelson, new faces shine in scrimmage (Star Tribune)

Coach Kill tackles epilepsy (Star Tribune)

Kill opens up about epilepsy (Star Tribune)

Catching up with MarQueis Gray (Minnesota Daily)

Athletic Gophers noticeable at scrimmage (GoldAndGopher.com)



#18 Days Until Gopher Football

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Go Gophers! 18 Antoine Burns
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Gophers vs. UNLV (Aug. 29): Buy Tickets

Antoine Burns wore No. 18 for the Golden Gophers from 2000 to 2002. The wide receiver transferred to Minnesota from Rochester Community College, where he was a junior college All-American.

Go Gophers! Antoine Burns
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Burns is in the Gophers' 1,000-yard receiving club.
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An injury limited Burns to three games in 2000, but he played in every game for each of the next two seasons. In his 27 career games, Burns hauled in 75 receptions for 1,006 yards and seven touchdowns. He is one of 22 receivers in Gopher history to pass the 1,000-yard mark.

The career of the Gophers' No. 2 all-time receiver, Ron Johnson, overlapped with Burns' time at the U. Burns was the team's No. 2 receiver behind Johnson in 2001, catching 30 passes for 470 yards and three touchdowns. The next year, Burns was again among team leaders, with 44 receptions for 526 yards and four touchdowns.

Burns signed with the Seattle Seahawks as a free agent in 2003, and was picked up by a few different teams before moving on to his hometown AFL team in Milwaukee.

Gophers Scrimmage in Front of Fans

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On a beautiful Saturday evening in Minneapolis, the Gophers scrimmaged at TCF Bank Stadium, the last practice open to fans. The team did not play a true game with special teams, but instead ran series of plays with different sets of personnel. A good turnout of Gopher fans lined the field to watch.

Go Gophers! Philip Nelson
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Nelson looked sharp in Saturday's scrimmage.
Go Gophers!
Philip Nelson and the first team opened the scrimmage with a touchdown on their first drive. Nelson went 4-for-4 passing for about 41 yards. Donnell Kirkwood also picked up some yards on the ground. Nelson connected with KJ Maye a few times, capping off the drive with a 3-yard touchdown pass.

On the first team's next series, Nelson completed both of his passes. His first incompletion came during his third series.

During Mitch Leidner's first few turns calling the shots, the Gophers ran more rushing plays than passing plays. Leidner tucked and ran several times himself throughout the scrimmage. He mixed in more passes as the night went on.

All five quarterbacks got into the rotation. Chris Streveler got around the edge for a long run that would have been a touchdown had the play not been whistled dead. Donovahn Jones played both quarterback and wide receiver, his first time lining up at receiver this fall. Fellow freshman Conor Rhoda connected with Jones on a long pass, but Jones was ruled out of bounds on the catch.

Another freshman turning heads was Berkley Edwards. On the first play of a series, he took a handoff from Streveler and blazed about 70 yards and into the end zone.

After two practices today, the Gophers will have Sunday off before doubling up again on Monday.