MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Gopher football team left Thursday for Detroit and their bowl date with Central Michigan. One team member playing his final game is reflective this Christmas season.

KJ Maye has grown comfortable on the Gophers’ practice field, now filled with memories.

“This is like my sanctuary,” he said. “Coming in here after a long day of school, a long day of everything, a lot on your mind. When I step on this field, it’s like a playground. Everything goes away.”

He came to Minnesota to play for Coach Jerry Kill. Growing up in Alabama, he says he’ll never forget the night he committed to the Gophers in his kitchen.

“I said, ‘Coach, I want to be a Gopher.’ He jumped in my arms!” Maye said.

He says his college career has been exactly what he hoped it would. A former quarterback, he flourished as a receiver for the Gophers where his athletic ability and love for the game came together.

“That passion that you see me play with — that love and that energy — that’s just how I feel about the game,” he said.

Along the way he mastered another craft — sign language for the deaf.

This holiday season he says he feels like he has already been given a gift — that his team gets to play one more game, despite a 5-7 record.

“It’s a good Christmas gift for me to go out my Senior year, not being able to go home,” he said. “Being able to spend that time with my teammates and be able to go out with a bang.”

As he walks away from his Gopher career, he’s filled with emotion — sad to go, but happy to head to the bowl.

Mike Max