Football team takes heavy hearts to Louisiana

Brian Stensaas

When the air horn sounded shortly after 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoon on the Minnesota football practice field, it not only signaled the beginning to the day’s practice, it also was a sign of things slowly returning to normal for the Gophers team still grieving following the shooting death of one of their own.

Hours earlier, the majority of players declined to comment on Brandon Hall, a redshirt freshman defensive tackle shot to death early Sunday morning in downtown Minneapolis. They were out on the field, though, right on time. They are a team and must deal with the task at hand: Saturday’s game at LouisianañLafayette.

Coach Glen Mason said the toughest part about the whole situation has been trying to figure out what to say. He also admitted that his preparations for the weekend game have been altered. Mason apologized, but no apology was needed. The 16-year coaching veteran who is “normally not short on words” was clearly searching for how to put it all together.

“This is a challenge for me,” Mason said. “I have never had to deal with this before. Someone has to push the family but there has to be sensitivity to it. They don’t teach this course in coaching. There is always something new.”

Minnesota enters the game one week after a dominating 42ñ0 win over Southwest Texas State. Despite the win, the Gophers will play the Cajuns for the second consecutive year following a loss. Last season it was a 38ñ7 loss at the hands of Toledo. This time around it’s something far worse.

But the team will play. It was hardly a question. Brandon Hall loved life, but he also loved football.

The healing process continues with the game.

“Each day is a new day; you have to move on,” junior tight end Ben Utecht said. “Brandon came here to play football. We came here to play football. The bonds we formed were because of football. It’s good to be back out (on the field). It allows us to be together again, as a unit.”

Last season, Minnesota racked up a total of 533 yards of offense against LouisianañLafayette en route to a 44ñ14 home win. Running back Marion Barber III made his college starting debut in the game and impressed, going for 173 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

But Cajuns coach Ricky Bustle isn’t too concerned with Barber, and it has nothing to do with the sophomore missing Minnesota’s home opener with a strained hamstring. Bustle has his eye on junior quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq.

“He’s such an athletic quarterback who can put big plays on you,” said Bustle, who spent the last nine seasons as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Virginia Tech – which included the development of Michael Vick, the top pick in the 2001 NFL draft. “I am well aware of what he can do. And overall they’re a very physical team. But I’m not concerned about what they do. They’ve had a rough week, but we can only control ourselves.”

Bustle better hope his team just has control, period. In last week’s 37ñ7 loss to Texas A&M, LouisianañLafayette turned the ball over 10 times.

Bumps and bruises

Tackle Ryan Domin will miss his second straight game due to a shoulder injury while Mason said wide receiver Jermaine Mays is questionable with a knee injury.