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Gophers coach Kill makes unlikely stop in small town

Minnesota football head coach Jerry Kill introduces the crowd to Nick Winge, who like Kill, is affected by epilepsy, on Monday in Argyle. Kile Brewer / Forum News Service

Argyle, Minn. - Minnesota football coach Jerry Kill didn’t go back to his small Kansas hometown Monday. But Argyle was close enough. And the Gophers coach said he felt like he was once again back home in Cheney, Kan., population 2,060.

Kill made an appearance in Argyle, population 639. Hundreds turned out to meet the Minnesota coach on a sunny, warm afternoon called “Jerrysota Day” that not only promoted Gophers football, but also served as a fundraiser for the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota and for the American Cancer Society – Relay for Life,

“I’m a small-town guy, and this reminds me of Cheney. I’m kind of at home,” said Kill as he signed T-shirt after T-shirt and posed for picture after picture at the high school football field. “This is a great time, and it’s great to see people enjoying themselves.”

Entering his fourth season as the Gophers coach, Kill said he wants to visit all parts of Minnesota to promote the program.

Argyle turned out in a big way. The bleachers at Jay Sorenson Memorial Field were packed as the coach delivered a message that focused on how hard work and small-town values lead to good things.

“There are a tremendous amount of Gopher fans around the state,” said Kill. “Some of the most loyal ones are from right here, because they have to drive 5 to 6 hours for a game. Hopefully, we picked up a few more today.”

Minnesota won its first four games in 2013 under Kill and ended the regular season at 8-4 before falling to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl. The season’s success, however, didn’t start on the field, said Kill. It started with hard work in the classroom.

“As our academics have gotten better, we’ve gotten more wins,” said Kill. “The only way you can win the Big Ten is with fundamentals. And fundamentals start with going to school.”

He said the program’s GPA was 2.1 before he arrived. The past four semesters, he added, Minnesota’s football program has had GPAs of better than 3.0.

While football took up a good portion of his visit, Kill also raised awareness in the fight against epilepsy and cancer. Kill has epilepsy and is a Stage IV kidney cancer survivor.

He said his wife, Rebecca, plays a major role in raising awareness of epilepsy.

“It’s one of those things where whether I want it to be at the forefront or not, it is,” Kill said of his fight against epilepsy. “You take a tough, bad situation and try to make it a positive. We want to do as much as we can for people and take the stigma out of it.

“Give my wife a lot of credit. She’s seen it. I don’t know when it happens. She’s seen it, lived it and wants to make sure everyone understands it.”

Kill spent approximately three hours in Argyle before flying back to the Twin Cities. Everyone who wanted an autograph or a photo taken with the Minnesota coach was obliged.

Don Loeslie, a retired area farmer, was instrumental in getting Kill to visit the northwest part of the state.

“It’s incredible to think that a Big Ten coach would come here,” said Loeslie. “That speaks to the quality coach that he is. He’s a great, great football coach and an even better person.”

The day also featured games for kids, a seven-on-seven passing tournament for area high school players, and a bean and brat lunch. Area business and service clubs helped in bringing about the day.

Mark Kroulik, who guided the powerful Stephen-Argyle 9-man football teams to state titles, was on the committee to bring Kill to the community.

The day couldn’t have gone any better.

“It’s really exciting to have coach Kill up here,” said Kroulik, who is retiring from education. “It’s a big event, and it was made even bigger because it is contributing to good causes.”