After 14 official practices, intense weight room workouts and hours of film studying, the Minnesota football team will cap off its 2008 spring season with the annual spring game on Friday.
The Gophers will first take their victory walk at 5 p.m. outside the Metrodome, followed by kickoff at 7 p.m., which will be broadcast live on bigtennetwork.com.
Smashing the all-time spring game attendance record last April with over 15,000 fans, the Gophers came into the game with high hopes for the upcoming season because of new head coach Tim Brewster’s talk about the new era of Minnesota football.
While a 1-11 2007 season quickly quieted any dreams of up-and-coming Rose Bowl appearances and Big Ten Championships, Minnesota’s returning players and junior college transfers have, instead, gone about their business behind the closed doors of the weight room and practice field in 2008.
Junior 2007 starting linebacker Steve Davis said last year’s record, alone, was enough for the team to realize that changes needed to be made this spring, and that every player has put in extra work to get better.
“Guys are starting to understand the defense more,” Davis said.
With junior college transfers linebacker Rex Sharpe and safety Tramaine Brock new on the defense, and after losing linebackers Mike Sherels and John Shevlin, defensive tackle Todd Meisel, cornerbacks Jamal Harris and Desi Steib and, most notably, safety Dominique Barber all to graduation, Minnesota will have many new faces on the field this Friday.
Junior college transfer David Pittman and Notre Dame transfer offensive lineman Matt Carufel – who will sit out this year because of NCAA transfer rules – join Sharpe and Brock on campus this spring while the Gophers wait for the other 27 2008 recruits, who ranked as the No. 17 recruiting class in the nation, according to Rivals.com.
Many of the 27 recruits who will arrive in June could end up in the defensive backfield or at wide receiver and running back on offense, giving Minnesota a lack of playmakers for this year’s spring game.
“We’re a little short on offense as far as skill positions, but we are going to make do with what we have,” Davis said.
The Gophers are also without its two leading receivers from last season: senior Ernie Wheelwright and sophomore Eric Decker, who is playing on Minnesota’s baseball team this spring.
One player who Gophers fans and coaches have not stopped talking about since his arrival on campus this spring is Pittman, who came in to compete at quarterback, but because of his speed and athletic ability could also see time on Friday at wide receiver, punt returner and maybe even on defense.
Pittman chuckled when asked if he knew where he was to play during the spring game, saying with a bright smile, “You’re going to have to ask the coaches that one. I just do what I’m told, so if I’m at a position, I’m going to do it 100 percent.”
Brewster said the team’s hard work on tackling, improvement in returning freshman starting quarterback Adam Weber, increased speed and toughness on the field and learning from the mistakes of 2007 are all reasons for fans to be excited for this year’s spring game and, especially, the finished team product in the fall of 2008.
Davis was quick to give his reason for excitement about Friday’s game.
“Yeah, I’m ready to knock somebody down,” Davis said with an eager smile. “I’m excited for the game and we are going to give the fans a good show.”