Thole: Third year could be the charm for coach Kill

8-15 spo-thole Kisch

If history does repeat itself, then the 2013 Minnesota Gophers should reap a winning football season under third-year head coach Jerry Kill (136-89 overall, 9-16 at Minnesota).

Remember, our man was a meager 5-18 after his first two seasons at Southern Illinois before soaring to a 10-2 mark his third season with the Sulukis. He was off to a 13-13 start at Northern Illinois before going 10-3 in his third season at DeKalb.

The Huskies are currently playing with the big boys after Kill’s jump start.

Minnesota posted a 6-7 record last fall after that 34-31 loss to Texas Tech (8-5) in the Meineke Car Care Bowl that Gophers players, coaches and some fans talked like it was a win. Balderdash. It was a loss that prevented a winning season and a game we should have won.

Kill turned over the reins to freshman quarterback Phil Nelson from Mankato West for the final eight games last fall and that alone bodes well for this campaign. I did get a little nervous when redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner’s name kept popping up, but apparently Nelson has salted the spot down. Sophomore sounds better than freshman.

The Gophers averaged 321.3 yards and 22.1 points per game, which ranked 108th best in the nation, while also allowing 358.6 yards and 24.7 points to rank 33rd.

Nelson hit 75 of 152 passes for 873 yards and Isaac Bruchte caught 19 passes for 256 yards. Sophomore KJ Maye has been emerging as a top receiver in camp so far.

Minnesota lost some nifty guys off the defense, including Edina’s Mike Rallis at linebacker and a pair of corners in Troy Stoudemire and Michael Carter.

Don’t fret because seven starters return, led by former Washburn star Ra’shede Hageman (6-foot-6, 311 pounds) returning to the front wall. Someone said to keep an eye on sophomore lineman Theiren Cockran (6-5, 245).

Kill has 10 starters returning on offense, giving them a total of 17 when they step on the home turf against UNLV on Aug. 29. Donnell Kirkwood rushed for 956 yards and is a hard-nosed runner with average speed.

Overall, team speed is improved and freshman Berkley Edwards is a whirling dervish with road-runner speed, according to those who know.

The offensive line with the likes of Mahtomedi’s Ed Olson (6-2, 3-13), Josh Campion (6-5, 309), Zac Eppling (6-2, 306), plus tight end Drew Godger (6-5, 265) should be solid and deep.

With an emphasis on the running game, opportunities abound for running backs like junior David Colb and sophomore Rod Williams.

Checking out the schedule, the Gophers will beat UNLV (2-11), which is 6-32 over the past four years. If we don’t get this one it’s time to batten down the hatches.

New Mexico State (1-11) should fall to us at Las Cruces, but they lead the series 1-0 and they have quarterback Andy Manley. Next we’ll get bottom feeder Northern Illinois (2-9) of the Missouri Valley Conference.

San Jose State (11-2) could be a problem with 73-percent passer David Faleis, but still that looks like 4-0 heading into the Big Ten.

Remember that we have only managed a paltry six Big Ten W’s in the past three years.

Bring on Iowa (4-8) with coach Kirk Ferentz (112-95) on the griddle. Gophers win at home in a donnybrook, which means 5-0 heading into Ann Arbor and the Big Blue prevailing again. Michigan (8-5) has too much, despite graduating a dozen starters. We haven’t had much success at Northwestern (10-3) lately and that trend will continue on the road.

Nebraska (10-4) will take us for the second straight year. The Gophers will get their second Big Ten win at Indiana (4-8) before losing to Penn State (8-4) at home. Wisconsin (8-6) will be a toss-up at home, but I’ll take the Badgers. Good news, I think we will beat Sparty (7-6) in East Lansing to run our season record to 7-5, but a possible bowl loss leaves us at 7-6 (3-5 in the Big Ten).

There you have it, sports fans. Kill has a winning season with the best yet to come.


In the huddle

Stillwater’s Bob Kisch has been at the top of his golf game with success on the old-timers circuit. Kisch and his foursome of St. Paul Humboldt grads Bob Johnson, John Herzog and Gordy Genz, who is a retired Roseville hockey coach, received the first-place prize money in the 65-and-older tier at the Minnesota Old-Timers Hockey Association’s annual tournament at Oak Glen Country Club on July 29. This same foursome also took first-place honors in the same category at the 12th Annual Minnesota Football Old-Timers golf outing in June…. Lily Lake principal Mark Drommerhausen and the lovely Michele Parker were married at Grandview Lodge in Nisswa recently. Drommerhausen, a three-sport Ponies athlete who was an all-conference quarterback on Stillwater’s 1994 conference championship team and later served as an assistant coach. Parker had great success as Ponies’ volleyball coach before resigning two years ago. Andy Hoeppner ’94 presided over the wedding…. Ryan Offutt ’96, executive vice president at the RDO Equipment Company, also serves on the Board of Democracy Prep Public Schools. The mission of the group is to educate citizen scholars for success in the college of their choice and a life of active citizenship. Most of their work is in the inner cities — with good results…. Hannah Heacox capped off a terrific softball career by being named the Most Valuable Player on the Ponies (20-5) section championship team by her teammates. Heacox set a school record with 524 career strikeouts. She is the Gatorade Softball Athlete of the Year in Minnesota, an all-state player and leads an all-conference contingent that includes Haley Balzart, Carlie Hart, Sidnee Ronsberg and Rachel Hartwig. Showing the most strength at the plate was Hartwig with a .407 batting average, including 28 ribeyes and eight round-trippers. Hart did her share while batting at a nifty .400 clip. Ronsberg and Lauren Jordan will co-captain next year’s squad…. Lars Lillehei was voted MVP by the SAHS boys’ golf squad and joined sophomore Sam Sicard on the all-conference team. Crosby Joy and Evan Anderson will serve as captains next spring…. Jake Olson, who started the Woodbury game last fall before suffering a season-ending collar bone fracture on the first series, suffered a knee tear during a summer workout and will be missed by the Big Red Ponies. Coach Beau LaBore welcomed 95 varsity candidates to camp this week, along with a sophomore squad of 70…. Don’t forget about the Stillwater Veterans Memorial Benefit Cruise on Monday. Boarding at St. Croix Boat and Packet will begin at 5:30 p.m., with the cruise, dinner and guest speaker Capt. David Ratte taking center stage starting at 6 p.m. Ratte was a distance runner for the Ponies before graduating in 1980 and currently leads the ROTC at the University of Minnesota. Tickets are $30 and are available at or by calling Harriet McPherson at 651-439-3754…. I tried to watch the meteor showers last Sunday night, but all I could see were cataracts…. Sorry to see the passing of my niece Lynn Conklin, a retired ER nurse living in Petaluma, Calif., at age 62. She dedicated her life to caring for others…. What do you do with serious things? Your best…. finis


Today’s rumination #629

The hardest thing about moving forward is not looking back.

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George Thole retired as head football coach at Stillwater after the 1999 season. He ranks among Minnesota’s top coaches in history with a 285-69-2 record (.805 winning percentage), including four state titles and two state runner-up finishes among 22 championship seasons. He co-authored (with Jerry Foley) “Coaching the Veer Offense,” second edition. His column appears Thursdays in the Gazette. To contact the hall of fame coach e-mail: [email protected]