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College Athletics: In the right direction

University of Minnesota athletics director Norwood Teague introduces coaching staff members Thursday at the 14th annual U of M fundraiser dinner at Cragun’s Legacy Courses in East Gull Lake. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch)2 / 2

Norwood Teague is impatiently happy.

Jerry Kill sees things headed in the right direction.

John Carlson would like the men's golf season to start tomorrow.

But all three enjoyed yet another night to describe the things happening in the University of Minnesota athletic department at the 14th annual U of M fundraiser at Cragun's Legacy Courses.

The event hosted by Dutch and Erma Cragun, brought in a larger than usual crowd to hear Teague, the department's activities director, describe why Minnesotans should be proud of its Division I college.

"I see day-to-day how our coaches operate," said Teague. "The experience our kids have is second to none. We have a staff that cares about kids and cares about them getting their degree. Our grade-point average is through the roof right now. Things are going very well. There are a lot of things happening that people should feel good about.

"I've never been around a group of coaches that I feel so strong about from a talent standpoint. We're positioned really well."

Teague's concerns lie with practice facilities and providing his coaching staff a level playing field to compete against conference foes and national institutions. That means fundraising.

"It's going really well it's just not really public right now," said Teague. "We're doing a lot of behind-the-scenes fundraising. We'll announce soon as far as the campaign going live. That's kind of the fundraising world and how things work. We're in the silent phase right now. Fundraising takes time. You don't just go out and ask somebody for a million dollars. You have to cultivate them. You have to show them vision and show them the process. It's going very well. I feel very good about it. I wanted it done yesterday and that's the only thing I don't feel good about. It just takes awhile."

But Teague said he sees the next five years filled with major construction projects -- buildings that Gopher fans probably will never see.

"They're what recruits see and what our kids will operate in on a day-to-day basis," Teague said. "That is going to offer some great foundations for the future. It's what the kids really use and it's what our coaches get asked about by parents and recruits. That's what we've really struggled with for the last 10 years."

After three seasons, Kill's struggles are changing and that's good. The head football coach is coming off an eight win season and a spot in the Texas Bowl.

This offseason he watched Ra'Sheded Hageman get drafted in the second round by the Atlanta Falcons and Brock Vereen drafted in the fourth round by the Chicago Bears.

"It feels great and you're happy for the kid," said Kill about watching his players get drafted. "Both of them have a college degree. They get drafted and that's a dream for those type of kids. But I also get excited about the kids who go on to law school and become doctors. You want them eventually to be good husbands, good fathers and successful in whatever they choose to do. That's really when you get evaluated as as a football coach."

Kill is still driven around the state by his staff. He told the crowd of Maroon and Gold faithful that instead of "Driving Ms. Daisy. I'm Mr. Daisy." But he conceded after three seasons things are becoming more streamlined for him.

"You're always learning," said Kill. "You go to understanding how the big picture works. To understanding what needs to be fixed and what's getting better, how to approach certain things and recruiting. The longer you're at some place the more knowledge you get to see how things are run and then what you need to do to fix things within the parameters."

He's excited about the addition of the two east coast based teams to the Big Ten Conference in Maryland and Rutgers. He said their addition makes the Big Ten a national conference.

"They're programs that we'll transition in and Randy Edsall (Maryland) is a terrific coach," said Kill. "I don't know the coach at Rutgers as well. Nebraska didn't have much trouble with the transition into the conference and I think both of those schools will step up to play."

The Gopher men's golf team stepped up to play and did so in conference championship fashion this spring. Led by Big Ten freshman of the year Jose Mendez of Costa Rica, the Gophers won the conference for the first time since 2007.

Despite losing seniors Jon Trasamer and Alex Gaugert, Carlson is confident his team is ready to become a perennial power.

"Our season was a tremendous success," said Carlson. "Winning four times as a team and having an individual. who led us as a freshman. certainly sets us up to have a bright future. But we also have a Minnesota State Open champ who played No. 4 for us in Jon DuToit.

"A lot of people from the outside are asking me how the recruiting is going to fill in some of those holes, and I keep telling them that we are very fortunate after winning a Big Ten championship that we can recruit some top talent."

Enter Riley Johnson of Fargo, a double North Dakota state champion. Carlson is also excited about transfer student William Leaf, who is originally from Winona, Carlson believes Leaf could be the No. 2 or 3 player.

The big prize was Iceland's Runar Arnorsson.

"He's the fourth-ranked player in Europe," said Carlson. "He's going to come in and make an immediate impact I think. He may challenge Jose for the top spot. I think we can build off what we have this year."

Despite the international flair, Carlson loves staying at home. The former Bagley Flyer wants to keep a home-town feel to the Gopher team.

"When I first took over the program my goal was to try to win with midwestern players," Carlson said. "I remember what it was like when everyone overlooked except for a couple of schools. Fortunately Minnesota and Wisconsin were a few that gave some attention to me. I want to make sure I do that. We're up in the area three or four times a year."

Jeremy Millsop
My career at the Brainerd Dispatch began May 11, 1999 after graduating from North Dakota State University. My areas of emphasis includes local high school sports, Central Lakes College, the lakes area golf mecca and once a year I dabble in the NHRA when the Lucas Oil Nationals come to Brainerd International Raceway.
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