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Shortell Feels on ‘Different Level’

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August 21, 2012

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When cramps forced quarterback MarQueis Gray to the sidelines in the Gophers opener last year against USC, true freshman Max Shortell had to enter the game in the fabled Los Angeles Coliseum.  Shortell would later start two games for the Gophers.

Looking back at last year, Shortell said he realizes how inexperienced he was.  If called upon to replace Gray this season he will be much more comfortable.

“Last year I was almost just trying to make it through,” he said last week.  “This year I feel like I am on a whole different level.”

Shortell, who completed 26 of 54 passes while throwing two touchdown passes and two interceptions, acknowledged that for a backup quarterback to watch from the sidelines in games not knowing when he will play presents a challenge.

“It’s hard the whole game to be focused (while) on the sidelines,” he said.  “Coming into the game you know you’re not going to play but you have to be in every snap all week mentally.  You have to be prepared to play.

“As far as staying loose on the sidelines, that’s really hard to do.  Especially when it’s cold out.  …It’s real tough just to be waiting.”

Gray is a senior and could be one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten.  Shortell’s playing time might be even less than last season when he participated in eight games.

“I hope I can play,” Shortell said.  “I hope I can push MarQueis and step in when I need to.”

Shortell said the Gophers offense, now in its second season with a new coaching staff, is “light years” ahead of where it was in August of 2011.  “We’re making plays that we just missed last year.  In games we just missed plays and now out here on the practice field we’re making these plays.”

Gophers football notes and other items:

A priority for the Gophers in practice during August is special teams.  Coach Jerry Kill and his staff came to Minnesota from Northern Illinois with a reputation for producing results with special teams.  Minnesota won only three games last season but the recovery of a fourth quarter onside kickoff was a big play in a 22-21 win over Iowa and a fourth quarter blocked punt turned into a touchdown produced the final Gophers points in a 29-23 victory against Miami (Ohio).

Punting, kickoffs, coverages and returns receive Kill’s attention and it’s a good bet the Gophers will turn another game or two their way in 2012 with special teams.  “I think you always win in the kicking game,” Kill said last week.  “If you go look at NFL—at college football—the good teams gotta be good on special teams.  Because you’re gonna win some games on special teams, or you gonna lose some games.  And we’ve spent a heck of a lot of time on trying to win, and we’ve always been pretty good at it everywhere we’ve been. …”

Look for Kill to announce his starters for the UNLV game (August 30) in six days or so.  Regardless, in certain position units like the defensive line Kill will play subs, not just starters, in game action.

Sports Illustrated’s college football issue ranks Alabama No. 1 with two Big Ten teams in the publication’s preseason top 10—No. 6 Wisconsin and No. 8 Michigan State.  Other Big Ten teams in the top 25 are No. 13 Michigan, No. 19 Nebraska and No. 22 Ohio State.  The magazine lists seven Heisman Trophy favorites including Michigan’s Denard Robinson and Wisconsin’s Montee Ball.

The Universityof Minnesota Alumni Association is partnering with Creative Charters to promote a fan trip to the Gophers-UNLV game in Las Vegas.  The alumni association is also promoting a tailgate party before the game with a discount available for early registration.  More at www.minnesotaalumni.org

Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said yesterday that backup quarterback Joe Webb looked better in his second preseason game than in the first.  The coach said Webb is making progress including understanding defenses.

“Well, Joe is making strides every day,” Musgrave said. “The other night he missed on a couple throws that he would like to have back, but he did some good things for us too. He made some plays with his legs when we spread him out and got everybody out of the backfield. That is definitely one of his strengths.”

Fritz Waldvogel, the former St. Thomas star, has scored 27 touchdowns in nine games playing in the German Football League, according to www.tommiesports.com.

Gophers assistant coach Saul Smith told Sports Headliners Maurice Walker, who missed all of last season, is healthy and playing summer basketball.  Smith said the Gophers need the 6-10, 289-pound Walker’s presence in the low post.  “We’ll need him in Atlantis,” Smith said about the November 22 Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas where the Gophers will play Duke.

Smith’s dad, Tubby Smith, starts his sixth season at Minnesota this fall.  Saul said this could be the best Gophers team so far but Minnesota “will have to prove it” in the Big Ten.

Prep basketball authority Ken Lien emailed that DeLaSalle forward Reid Travis, ranked by ESPN.com as the No. 31 player nationally in the prep class of 2014, has been offered a scholarship by Boston College.

Lien also reported that Cooper guard Rashad Vaughn said Baylor, Illinois, Iowa State, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina and Texas are showing strong interest in recruiting him.

ESPN ranks Vaughn the No. 12 prospect in the class of 2014 while Apple Valley point guard Tyus Jones is No. 2.

NBC’s coverage of the USA men’s gold medal basketball game had 12.5 million viewers, while the USA women’s title game had 10.2 million, according to NBA.com.

Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor left the states last week for China to participate in a mission with the Starkey Hearing Foundation.

The St. Cloud State men’s basketball team will play an exhibition game on November 2 at Michigan State.  Kevin Levandoski, a 6-1 sophomore guard from Appleton, Wisconsin, is on the Huskies roster and is MSU coach Tom Izzo’s nephew.  Levandoski suggested the game to Izzo, according to online reports.

About.com ranked the greatest baseball players of all time last week.  Among catchers, the Twins Joe Mauer didn’t receive a mention among the top 15.  Harmon Killebrew ranked No. 6 among first basemen and Jim Thome No. 10.

The Gophers volleyball team is ranked No. 16 in the country in a preseason poll by the American Volleyball Coaches Association.  In a poll of Big Ten coaches Minnesota is picked to finish No. 4 in the league with Nebraska the title favorite.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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