Defensive back Myrick gets serious in win

Sophomore Jalen Myrick scored the deciding touchdown in Saturday’s game.

by Jack Satzinger

Jerry Kill endearingly calls Jalen Myrick “a piece of work.”

Sometimes the Gophers head coach has to tell the sophomore defensive back to pay attention in practice and stop messing around.

“I joke a lot,” Myrick said. “In practice, I play around a little too much.”

But Myrick got serious after Northwestern tied the game midway through the fourth quarter of Minnesota’s 24-17 victory on Saturday.

The Bloomingdale, Ga., native caught the kickoff a yard or two into the end zone, cut left and followed junior safety Antonio Johnson to midfield. Johnson laid down a block that left Myrick with just one man to beat — diving kicker Jack Mitchell. 

“I did a little something so he wouldn’t trip me up because I knew he was going to have to dive,” said Myrick, who hopped toward the sideline to go untouched for the touchdown. “I just sprinted, hit my other gear.”

Kill said he was dreading the possibility of a flag being thrown, bringing Myrick’s run back as the defensive back accelerated past the Gophers’ sideline.

“That happens sometimes. That’s all I was looking at, and once we got the ball in the end zone, it was a good feeling,” Kill said.

The Gophers committed three penalties in Northwestern’s game-tying drive that preceded Myrick’s kick return.

First, Myrick was whistled for pass interference for 14 yards to put the Wildcats in Minnesota territory. A few plays later, redshirt junior defensive back Briean Boddy-Calhoun was called for roughing the passer.

It’s safe to say Kill disagreed with the call. He said after the game that he’d get in trouble if he voiced his opinion.

“There’s a big emphasis on protecting the quarterback. I understand that. We always want to maintain taking care of the health of the quarterback. But I know I threw my headset down,” he said.

As Kill plucked his headset off TCF Bank Stadium’s turf, Myrick picked his team up with his speed.

“When [Myrick] caught it, you could see the seam that the kickoff return team had made for him. We all know that once we saw the seam and Jalen’s speed that he had an opportunity to take it all the way,” senior running back David Cobb said.

Myrick was one of the country’s top sprinters in high school and ran a 10.61-second 100-meter dash in his junior year before adding weight, which he said put added stress on his hamstrings.

Myrick’s 209-pound frame doesn’t faze him anymore — it allows him to be physical with receivers at the line of scrimmage. And despite the added size, redshirt freshman running back Berkley Edwards said Myrick is the fastest player on the team. 

But things haven’t always been easy for Myrick, who returned an interception for a touchdown against Middle Tennessee State and put more points on the board Saturday.

Myrick was on the wrong end of a highlight in the Gophers’ lone loss of the season at TCU last month, with Horned Frogs receiver Josh Doctson leaping above the 5-foot-10-inch Myrick for a touchdown and SportsCenter’s top play of the day.

“That game for me was a reality check,” Myrick said.

Kill praised Myrick for his ability to bounce back after struggling against TCU and receiving a penalty Saturday.

After all, he’s lighthearted, or “loosey-goosey,” according to Kill.

And perhaps the cornerback’s demeanor has rubbed off on the head coach. Kill joked when asked if Myrick — who replaced injured defensive back Marcus Jones — will stay at kick returner moving forward.

“I don’t know, what do you think?” Kill said with a smile. “He certainly made a statement that he likes running that kick, so we’ll see.”