Maye embraces his opportunity

Minnesota’s passing attack is struggling, but KJ Maye is gaining momentum.

Jack Satzinger

When fall camp ended and reporters asked Jerry Kill who had impressed him the most, the Gophers head coach quickly said KJ Maye.

But Maye didn’t have a single catch in Minnesota’s season-opening victory against Eastern Illinois.

A few days later, redshirt sophomore quarterback Mitch Leidner said there were “a lot more things” the Gophers would do in their next game in early September against Middle Tennessee State to get Maye the ball.

Maye finished that game with zero receptions, too.

But the junior from Mobile, Ala., finally got his chance last week at TCU. Leidner found Maye twice in the third quarter of Minnesota’s 30-7 loss, and Maye turned upfield after the catches to finish with 65 receiving yards.

“The first two games, it was tough not having a catch, but I knew I got to stay patient and you can’t control those things,” Maye said. “They found me.”

Even though 65 receiving yards might not sound like much, for the Gophers’ struggling passing attack, that’s a lot of production from one receiver. Redshirt sophomore tight end Maxx Williams is the only Minnesota player with more than 100 receiving yards this season.

But Maye could join him as another consistent threat through the air.

“For KJ, it was good to get his first catch, and he made a couple of good plays there,” redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Streveler said.

This time last year, Maye looked poised to break out and be a big-play receiver for the Gophers, but nagging injuries kept him from improving. He finished last year with just 70 receiving yards and only one reception in Big Ten play.

Maye spent all offseason making sure that kind of letdown didn’t happen again.

“I got myself ready over the summer with the strength coaches,” he said.

Playing primarily as a speedy slot receiver, Maye spends a lot of time getting open in the middle of the field, which exposes him to big hits.

Maye said he takes pride in going over the middle, and he gained weight over the summer to be better prepared for when someone delivers a blow.

And while he’s wary of getting hurt again during a critical part of the season, Maye doesn’t back down from a challenge — even in practice.

“Going against KJ, we [are] always going to have our little battles out there. It’s very competitive,” sophomore defensive back Jalen Myrick said.

When talking to the media, Maye is a man of few words, but he isn’t afraid to run his mouth on the field when provoked.

“He’ll talk trash if you’re talking to him,” Myrick said with a smile.

Maye said Minnesota’s young receivers spent the offseason trying to improve so they could “be counted on” this season. With an offensive line struggling to find continuity and the No. 1 quarterback fighting injuries, Minnesota’s receivers have had few chances to show their improvement during games.

But if Maye stays healthy this year, something big could happen once his opportunity comes like it did last Saturday.

“I was very excited to get the ball in my hands,” Maye said. “We could be a good passing attack — we’ve just got to clean up some things.”