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October 21, 2014

Gopher football opens fall practice looking to build on last year’s success

The Gopher football team begins their 2014 campaign today with fall practice, and there is a bit of excitement surrounding the program.

The Gophers shocked many last year by winning four Big Ten games in a row for the first time since 1973. However, the season ended with a less-than satisfying loss to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl.

After just one eight-win season, it hasn’t taken very long for coaches around the Big Ten to acknowledge Jerry Kill’s success at Minnesota.

“The University of Minnesota is one of the fastest-improving programs in this conference,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said at Big Ten media days in Chicago. “I think [Kill’s] an excellent coach and motivator, and I think his players love him. I think they’ve really got things going like this.”

The buzz around the program seems to be extending to the players, especially with the start of fall practice.

Fans also appear to be buying into this team. Both student season ticket sales and non-student season ticket sales have increased, according to Joe Christensen of the Star Tribune.

For the Gophers to improve for the third straight season, they will need to replace some big holes on the defensive side of the ball. Both Ra’Shede Hageman and Brock Vereen were drafted into the NFL, and Mitch Leidner becomes the full-time No. 1 starter with the departure of Phillip Nelson.

Marcus Fuller of the Pioneer Press points out that the offensive positions around Leidner will also need to improve this year. Sophomore Tight End Maxx Williams returns after being the most formidable receiving threat for the Gophers last season, and Leidner said he thinks receivers K.J. Maye and Drew Wolitarsky can also be factors on offense this season.

One storyline that has surrounded Gopher football so far is their tough schedule. The team has a non-conference game at TCU and finishes the season with games against Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

The Gophers will have fall practices that are open to the public. Fans can watch the Gophers practice at 5:15 p.m. Monday-Wednesday and at 4:40 p.m. August 9 at TCF Bank Stadium.