MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Jerry Kill has worked hard to embrace his epilepsy, becoming an outspoken advocate for research of the condition that can include seizures without a moment’s notice.
Now that the season is in full swing, Kill is trying to keep the focus on his team — even after another seizure caused him to miss the second half of a victory over Western Illinois on Saturday. Kill declined to speak directly about his health at his weekly press conference on Tuesday, trying to turn the page and get his team prepared for San Jose State this weekend.
“I’ve done talked about all those other things enough,” Kill said. “This game’s not about a head football coach. This game is about the players and that’s how we’ll approach it today.”
Kill suffered his fourth game-day seizure in three seasons during halftime of the game against Western Illinois. It was the third time he hasn’t been able to finish a game because of it.
While the seizures can be shocking and unsettling to witness in person, it appears the Gophers have steadily adapted to their coach’s situation. They are no longer fazed by hearing that their coach is on his way to the hospital and no longer distracted when they look over to the sideline and Kill is nowhere to be found.
“We’re used to the routine, as bad as that sounds,” defensive back Brock Vereen said. “There’s a sense of confidence in our staff and knowing that as bad as it may look sometimes, he’s going to be fine.”
The Gophers were able to steel themselves on Saturday and respond against an overmatched opponent, turning a tight game into a runaway in the second half as they cruised to a 29-12 victory. As they have before, Kill’s long-time assistants stepped into bigger roles and made the transition so seamless that some players weren’t even aware that Kill wasn’t around.
“That’s not to take away what coach Kill does with us,” Vereen said. “But these coaches have been with coach for a while. We’ve been with coach for a while. If you were in there at halftime, you would never know there was an issue going on.”
Kill is on record saying he believes it is unacceptable to consistently miss portions of game due to seizures. He’s said, most recently with the Star Tribune in August, that he would walk away if he ever came to the conclusion that the stresses of the job and the physical toll it was taking was too much for him to bear. But he gave no indication that he was anywhere near that point on Tuesday, when the team started preparing for San Jose State.
He said he’s given no consideration to coaching from upstairs — “It wouldn’t make any difference,” Kill said. “That’s all I’ll tell you.” — and that he will continue to lean on his trusted assistants, including defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys and offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover, to pitch in when he needs them.
“We work things out together as a group and that’s why we’ve been successful,” Kill said. “It’s never been because of one person. I’ve never won a football game in 30 years of coaching, but I’ve had a lot of good people help me be successful along the way.”
Athletic director Norwood Teague gave Kill a strong vote of confidence on Monday, saying that he is 100 percent behind his coach, and Kill has always had the backing of university President Eric Kaler. The Gophers are determined to show everyone that they can make this work and that Kill’s condition will not prevent him from the continuing the monumental task of rebuilding a long dormant program.
And each time it does happen, the players on the field feel a little more comfortable navigating the situation and overcoming it.
“It’s just the simple fact that we’ve gone through this situation before,” defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman said. “Obviously coach Kill wants us to keep on playing, to stay tough because he’s tough as well. So you put that aside and worry about the game and talk about it with the team after the game.”
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