Seniors to be honored Saturday

The Gophers football team will celebrate Senior’s Day at their last game this season.

Minnesota wide receiver Da'Jon McKnight gets taken down by Wisconsin defensive back Antonio Fenelus Saturday, November 12 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Mark Vancleave

Minnesota wide receiver Da’Jon McKnight gets taken down by Wisconsin defensive back Antonio Fenelus Saturday, November 12 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Adam Richard

The first year of the Jerry Kill era will come to a conclusion Saturday.

The season has developed into a rebuilding project for Kill and his staff, something the seniors seemingly embraced to help the future of the program. 

Minnesota will honor 24 seniors Saturday, including long-time starters Duane Bennett, Chris Bunders, Anthony Jacobs, Brandon Kirksey, DaâÄôJon McKnight and Kim Royston. 

Bennett has accumulated 2,082 rushing yards in his Gophers career, 13th on the schoolâÄôs all-time list.  He will hand the reigns of the running game off next year, but he said he hopes he has left a good impression on the remaining running backs on the roster.

Bennett reflected on his time at the University of Minnesota on Tuesday.

âÄúI have mixed emotions.  Excited. Bummed the ride is coming to an end,âÄù Bennett said. âÄúMy biggest memory isnâÄôt even on the football field. The camaraderie of my teammates, playing Madden and Call of Duty, having wing-eating contests and meeting all the different alums and telling stories âÄî thatâÄôs my biggest memory.âÄù 

The remaining Gophers in the backfield are Donnell Kirkwood, David Cobb and Devon Wright along with LaMonte Edwards, who switched to play linebacker this season when the Gophers needed assistance on defense. 

McKnight has been the GophersâÄô biggest receiving threat since Eric Decker roamed the field for Minnesota.  He is seventh all-time in receiving yards for the Gophers and has spread his knowledge to the younger players on the team like Marcus Jones and Devin Crawford-Tufts. 

âÄúMost of [young wide receivers] played this year.  TheyâÄôre going to be fine; theyâÄôll have the same playbook and be comfortable with the system,âÄù McKnight said.  He was fraught with emotion after practice Tuesday.

âÄúItâÄôs kind of sad.  ItâÄôs kind of getting to me,âÄù McKnight said with a hesitation while he reflected.

Royston received a sixth year of eligibility this season when his medical hardship waiver was granted. He led the team with 110 tackles and was fourth overall in the Big Ten.  Royston said he will go into SaturdayâÄôs game as if it were the Super Bowl.

 âÄúItâÄôs a bittersweet feeling after not knowing if I would get this opportunity last year. There was a point last year when I thought my college career was over.  This whole season was an extra blessing,âÄù Royston said.

Royston has received his degree and is working toward his masters in sports management.

Senior Troy Stoudermire missed most of the season with a broken left arm and may receive a medical redshirt, which would allow him to return for a sixth season like Royston did this year. 

Some of the seniors had to endure two coaching regime changes during their careers.  They were recruited by Glen Mason, then had to adapt to Tim Brewster and now to Kill.

 âÄúIt makes you doubt coaches and doubt what people say and not so much trust what people say.  IâÄôve got genuine trust for coach Kill,âÄù Kirksey said. âÄúSome coaches promise certain kids certain things, and then theyleave.  I was real happy when they did the extension on his time here.âÄù

Bunders assisted in the growth of an extremely young offensive line rotation.  He is graduating with a civil engineering degree in the spring. He said he believes the next crop of offensive lineman is in good hands but said going through the coaching changes made him a stronger player.

âÄúItâÄôs nice to be able to say that youâÄôve done all that.  You can say youâÄôre a versatile player because youâÄôve played in literally five or six different offenses,âÄù Bunders said.  âÄúThe new coaching staff with coach Kill, everything they have going on here is positive.âÄù

Each senior has different goals that span from law school to the NFL, and those dreams will be confronted after SaturdayâÄôs game.

These seniors will leave the program while the start of a new foundation is laid.  Several of them expressed their wish for the future success of the program under the guidance of the Kill regime.