Seniors help shape culture of program

Jerry Kill’s first recruiting class will play its final home game this weekend.

Grant Donald

When head coach Jerry Kill arrived on campus four years ago, he didn’t have much time to put together his first recruiting class as a Big Ten head coach.

Kill kept the players who had already accepted scholarships from former head coach Tim Brewster, and he tried his best to add those who still hadn’t decided which school to play at.

Fast-forward four years, and that patchwork recruiting class has catapulted the Gophers into the national spotlight. Now, the team is preparing for its final game at TCF Bank Stadium.

“[The seniors have] gone through a whole lot. I mean a whole lot,” Kill said. “They helped us change the culture, and they had to accept what we were trying to do, which I’m sure … wasn’t easy.”

Before Saturday’s showdown with No. 8 Ohio State, the Gophers will honor their 23 seniors, including running back David Cobb.

“I was just talking to my cousin, [senior linebacker Damien Wilson], and we were like, ‘Man, it came so fast,’” Cobb said. “It came fast, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”

But Saturday won’t just be an important milestone for the seniors.

Junior wide receiver KJ Maye said he knows just how much this game means for the seniors and is prepared to leave it all on the field for his teammates.

“Throughout these years, we have created a bond with [the seniors]. It is something like a brotherhood,” Maye said. “We want to do all we can to get the win for those guys.”

While the seniors will be honored before the game, what happens after kickoff will ultimately shape the feeling they have after they leave the stadium.

Because of that, some seniors, like defensive lineman Cameron Botticelli, haven’t had time to reflect on the bittersweet reality of playing at home for the last time.

“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Botticelli said. “I’ve just been watching film [and] getting ready for Ohio State.”

Botticelli and the Gophers have a lot to prepare for, as Ohio State is coming off an impressive 49-37 victory over reigning conference champion Michigan State.

Ohio State features an explosive offense that is averaging 46 points per game, which is good for fourth best in the nation.

However, the Gophers are playing arguably their best defense of the year after holding Iowa to only 14 points last week.

“I think our kids [on defense] played with a great deal of confidence and discipline Saturday,” Kill said. “[Ohio State] is very difficult to defend because their skill people are as good as anybody in the country.”

Regardless of what happens Saturday, the Gophers are still playing meaningful football late in the season, something that wasn’t the case when the team’s 23 seniors arrived.

“[The seniors’] first year here, we weren’t too good, and we only won three games,” Cobb said. “To play an opponent like Ohio State, where no one is giving you a chance, to win that game would be great for us.”