Gophers' Kill hopes lifestyle changes prevent seizures
CHICAGO — Jerry Kill tells his players every summer, he doesn’t want to see them getting hurt in the training room in the offseason. But that’s exactly where the Minnesota Gophers football coach was this year when he injured his hamstring while doing up-downs.
Yes, those drills where you drop flat on your stomach and pop back up.
Kill, who turns 53 next month, was trying to relive his glory days as a starting NCAA Division II linebacker at Southwestern College in Kansas in the 1980s.
“I train hard in the offseason, too,” Kill said with a smile earlier this week at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago.
After missing one game and taking a 10-day leave of absence to manage his epilepsy last season, Kill is in great shape because he has to be.
He says he lost 12 to 13 pounds. He’s walking a lot more. He’s drinking more water and ditched diet cola. He’s getting more rest.
“All the things that could help bring on situations, I’ve tried to make sure that I addressed,” he said.
Kill suffered his fifth game-day seizure Oct. 5 and didn’t travel to Ann Arbor for a loss to Michigan. Although he had suffered seizures after and during games, he had never missed an entire game. He watched wins over Northwestern and Nebraska from the coaches’ booth and returned to coaching duties in a Nov. 2 win at Indiana.
Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague said the team and administration are helping Kill manage his life better, as well.
“We’re managing his calendar even more aggressively than we ever have because he’s got a lot of demands,” Teague said Tuesday. “Those demands can be stressful. So we’re working hard to really manage that in a diligent way.”
Kill said he is now comfortable returning full time to the sideline, even though he enjoyed being in the booth for the better part of six games last season.
Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys, who was acting head coach for the last seven games of the Gophers’ 8-4 season, will go back to coaching from the press box.
“I just feel like, being the head coach, it’s a lot easier to communicate with the players down on the field,” Kill said. “It’s much easier to call a game upstairs, and you see more, but I’ve had a knack to be able to see more on the field because I’ve been there so long. But it’s not a major difference.”
If a situation arises where he needs to be back upstairs, he’ll do it.
“My ego is not that big,” he said.
In the second half of Minnesota’s 21-17 loss to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl last December, Kill came down to coach from the sidelines. He says he couldn’t stand to watch the struggles from up top, and he thought his return to the field would help give his team a bit more emotion.
Senior safety Cedric Thompson can’t wait to see Kill on the field again.
“When he’s on the sidelines, you know he’s there,” Thompson said. “He’s up and down the sideline, yelling at referees and players. You really feel coach Kill’s presence because of who he is as a coach.”
In May, Kill and his wife, Rebecca, started the Chasing Dreams epilepsy fund to help educate children about seizures in schools and to support a camp for children with the condition.