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Gophers defense under-represented on all-Big Ten football teams

Jerry Kill: ‘I’ll get booed’ in his return to face Gophers in September

The Gophers football team had one of the best defenses in the Big Ten Conference in 2021, but only one Minnesota player was represented on all-conference teams released Tuesday.

Minnesota was second in the league in total defense (284 yards per game) and fifth in scoring defense (18 points per game). In those categories, the Gophers were within the top 12 in the nation. But the Gophers had only one representative on the league’s first-, second- and three-team defenses.

Defensive end Boye Mafe was a third-team selection by the conference’s coaches and second-team by media members. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound player from Hopkins had 30 tackles, six sacks, three tackles for lost yards and a forced fumble in 12 games.

Four other Gophers received honorable mention by coaches and media — defensive end Esezi Otomewo, safety Tyler Nubin, and linebackers Mariano Sori-Marin and Jack Gibbens.

Other than Mafe, Gibbens was the Gophers player with the best case to be named to one of the three all-Big Ten teams. The graduate transfer from Abilene Christian was the fifth-highest-graded linebacker by Pro Football Focus College and led Minnesota with 86 tackles in 12 games.

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The Gophers did not have any representatives make all-conference during a 3-4 season in 2020, but unlike this fall, the Gophers defense wasn’t the backbone of a team that went 8-4 overall and 6-3 in Big Ten play.

The all-Big Ten offensive teams will be released Wednesday, with tight end Ko Kieft and members of the offensive line the most-deserving Minnesota players on that side of the ball.

Two to transfer

Second-year tight end Austin Henderson and first-year receiver Dylan Hillard-McGill have entered the NCAA transfer portal, a source confirmed to the Pioneer Press.

Henderson, of Nashville, Tenn., played in one game in 2020, and Hillard-McGill, of Altus, Okla., did not play this year for the Gophers.

Minnesota has had eight players enter the transfer portal since October.

Two more to Senior Bowl

Mafe and Otomewo accepted invitations to participate in the Senior Bowl in February. They join offensive lineman Daniel Faalele, who confirmed his spot on Monday.

With three invited, it’s the most the Gophers have had in the top showcase for NFL draft prospects since 2001, when offensive lineman Ben Hamilton, and defensive linemen Karon Riley and John Schlecht were selected.

Axe at steakhouse

After beating Wisconsin 23-13 on Saturday, head coach P.J. Fleck said he would take Paul Bunyan’s Axe out for his 41st birthday celebration. He wasn’t joking.

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Manny’s Steakhouse in Minneapolis posted photos of staff members smiling with the 6-foot wooden rivalry trophy on Monday.

Kill plans on getting booed

Jerry Kill’s introductory news conference as head coach at New Mexico State on Monday took nearly 50 minutes before the upcoming Minnesota reconnection was fully addressed.

After coaching the Gophers from 2011-15, Kill’s first Aggies team will face P.J. Fleck’s Gophers in the 2022 season opener at Huntington Bank Stadium on Sept. 1.

“You don’t think I haven’t had a million text messages about that?” Fleck responded to a reporter’s question. “I’ll get booed out of that stadium, probably. I don’t know. It will be interesting. I’ve had several people let me know that we are playing Minnesota. I did not know that when I took the job, but we’ll go up there.”

After Kill stepped down for health reasons in 2015, he told KSTP-AM in 2017: “I won’t be stepping foot back in the stadium.” In 2019, Kill went after Fleck in a Sirius XM interview, saying, “I just think sometimes ego gets carried away. … Do I think he’s about the players? No. He’s about himself.”

Since his time at Minnesota, Kill, 60, has bounced around the country holding down various jobs. On Monday, he said he’s in “great health,” has lost 20 pounds, is on a diet and is sleeping six hours a night, up from 2 1/2 hours. The cancer survivor said he has had no issues with the epileptic seizures that forced him to step down at Minnesota.

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