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U Game Minimal Payday for Aggies, Kill

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August 9, 2022

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It won’t be a big payday for the New Mexico State football program when the Aggies play in Minneapolis September 1 against the Golden Gophers. Through a Sports Headliners discovery request to the University of Minnesota, it was learned the Aggies, under new head coach Jerry Kill, will receive a guarantee of $250,000 for the game at Huntington Bank Stadium.

Two other Minnesota 2022 nonconference opponents, Western Illinois and Colorado, will each receive guarantees of $450,000 to play in Minneapolis. Unlike the Aggies and Colorado who are FBS programs, Western Illinois is at the lower Football Championship Subdivision level.

New Mexico State will play two other Power Five programs in addition to the Gophers in 2022. The Aggies have a guarantee of $1.4 million to play at Wisconsin and $1.6 million for their game at Missouri, according to a story last January by the Las Cruces Sun News.

It’s believed the modest guarantee for New Mexico State in Minneapolis is because of an agreement made between the two schools years ago. That agreement was for the Aggies to play in Minneapolis in 2018 and 2020. Minnesota defeated the Aggies 48-10 in 2018 but the 2020 game wasn’t played and moved to this year.

Kill, the popular former Gophers coach, inherited the schedule against the three Power Five teams. It wouldn’t be surprising if after he was named Aggies coach last November he explored a possible buyout to cancel the game and replace it with a much less formidable opponent than the Big Ten Gophers.

The Aggies have been among the most hapless programs in college football for decades and finished 2-10 last season including losses to Hawaii, Nevada and UTEP. The underwhelming fan support for the football program is a key factor in why the athletic department is operating about $4 million in debt, per a story from the Las Cruces Sun News in July.

With a deficit like that the athletic department probably isn’t positioned to have cancelled the game at Minnesota if it wanted to. Football is the potential golden goose for the Aggies and the program needs an on-field and financial renaissance led by Kill who is generating increased fan interest in Las Cruces.

Kill, who rebuilt the Gophers program from 2011-2016, is being paid $550,000 in base salary. His guaranteed compensation at Minnesota seven years ago was over $2 million.

Kill is known as something of a “miracle man” for a couple of reasons. His health battles with epilepsy and cancer would long ago have derailed most mortals. As a football coach he’s known as “Mr. Fixit” for the programs he has revived. In dusty Las Cruces, and at 60 years old, he faces a very challenging “clean up” job.

Ironically, in Kill’s first home game as Minnesota coach in 2011 his heavily favored team lost to the Aggies in Minneapolis, 28-21. In the closing minutes of the game he suffered a seizure and collapsed on the sideline.

Worth Noting

Dylan Wright

Dylan Wright, the athletic 6-3 wide receiver who led the Gophers last season in average yards per catch at 20.28, has three seasons of eligibility remaining and could become a special player. Gophers coach P.J. Fleck offered an assessment Saturday noting that while Wright is athletic and explosive there are varied aspects to being a wide receiver including route running, break points and blocking. While praising Wright for his progress, Fleck also said, “I think that he’s still got a long way to go.”

Collectively the Gophers lost 181 game starts with the departure of offensive linemen from last season. This year’s crew has 35 but Fleck said the line is “longer (and) we’re probably a little bit more athletic than we’ve ever been.”

Fleck has a message for the unit: “Since January they’ve been hearing about what they can’t be, what they won’t be, what we’re missing. You know (things like) what the questions are, what the weakest links are—and I told them don’t let other people put labels on who and what you are—and they’ve answered the bell that way. We’ve got a long way to go because those 181 starts, that experience is critical—and experience on Saturdays is different than practice on a Tuesday.”

Top running backs Mo Ibrahim and Trey Potts, both of whom missed much of last season with serious injuries, were running well in practice Saturday. Fleck said the leadership of the two is “through the roof.”

Fleck won’t decide on some of his starters until days out from the New Mexico State opener. He also said that in listing names of individuals the word “or” will indicate the depth, equality and competition at positions.

The Gophers have two more practices open to the public: 7:45 p.m. Thursday at Huntington Bank Stadium and 4:15 p.m. August 15 at the Athletes Village.

NFL players vote the top 100 players each year and the 2022 list will be revealed on Sundays this month starting August 14 on NFL Network. The Vikings on last year’s list were Dalvin Cook, No. 20; Justin Jefferson, No. 53; Eric Kendricks, No. 70; and Adam Thielen, No. 80.

Tom Lehman, 63, had right knee replacement surgery a few weeks ago but when recovered he plans to resume playing on the PGA senior tour. Jim Lehman, 64, described his brother as “young at heart” and looking forward to continuing the pro golf career that began in 1982 after being an All-American for the Gophers.

Jim’s Minnetonka-based Medalist Management company represents pro golfers including Tom who in 1978 walked-on with the Gophers, initially having no scholarship offer. It’s easy not to get noticed in the golf world growing up in Alexandria, Minnesota but Tom, who has over $13 million in career earnings, is the only male Minnesotan ever to win one of golf’s biggest tournaments.

In 1996, three weeks after finishing second in the U.S. Open, he won the British Open. He was the leading money winner and Player of the Year in 1996.

“Think about that,” Jim said. “A kid from Alexandria, who was never even recruited to play college golf. Not even the University of Minnesota recruited him and he goes on to be the No. 1 player in the world. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty incredible.”

Tonight’s Twins-Dodgers game from L.A. could be a fun pitching matchup with Minnesota’s Joe Ryan, 8-4 with a 3.67 ERA, against Julio Urias, 11-6, 2.57 ERA.
The Dodgers swept a two-game April series in Minneapolis by scores of 7-2 and 7-0.

The Twins, struggling to hold first place in the AL Central, haven’t finished a month over .500 since May when they were 18-12. Minnesota was two games below .500 in both June and July, and 4-3 so far in August.

The Dodgers are No. 1 in MLB.com’s latest power rankings, with the Twins No. 11.

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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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