Mason Looks Ahead to 2003 Gophers Season

Veteran University of Minnesota football observers lately have noted that coach Glen Mason has never appeared so upbeat.

“I always thought I’ve been optimistic about our team, but I’m more optimistic now,” Mason said. “Why? Because we have more puzzle pieces in place.”

“On defense, I expect us to be improved. Everybody expects us to be improved probably because of how well the defense played against a very good Arkansas team in the Music City Bowl.

“Well, one bowl game won’t make or break us. The Arkansas game was an indication of what’s going on. The key thing is we have most of those players [from the Music City Bowl] back, and they’re bigger, faster, stronger, and have more experience. Plus, they have more confidence.

“You look at us on defense. It starts right up the middle. We try first to defend the run. We now look at our defensive tackle position and we have four good ones. Dan Kwapinski came back off knee surgery. He couldn’t even participate in the bowl game, but he’s in better shape and playing better than I’ve ever seen him. Darrell Reid has a year under his belt playing in the defensive tackle position and he’ll be good. Anthony Montgomery, who came on the scene and really played well toward the end of the season, is in there along with Scott Stephenson. There you have four guys just for two positions, and they’re pretty good players. At defensive end, Mark Losli is back with after a year of starting for us, and he is bigger, stronger, and more savvy. Paul Nixon is back and has also started in the past. We also have some young guys in Eric Clark, Keith Lipka and Maurice Buchanan. They’re good football players.

“If you look at the linebacker position, we’ve got Ben West, Kyle McKenzie and Terrance Campbell all returning starters, along with the addition of Dominique Sims, who really played well at the linebacker position in the spring. I think he’s found a home. And then there is Brian Smith who is a promising junior college player who was here for spring practice. So we’ve got five guys at linebacker that we feel are experienced players."

“In the secondary, we’ve got Eli Ward, Justin Isom, Ukee Dozier, and Ken Williams all returning starters. We also have Trumaine Banks, who’s a redshirt freshman that we’re really high on, and Justin Fraley, who has been a starter around here. In addition, Mike Wojciechowski has been around here for a long time and has played a lot of minutes in the secondary as well. And there are a few other guys in that mix. On defense, I would have to say we’ve got talent. Plus, now we’ve got some depth there. That’s why I think we’ll be a much-improved defense.

“On offense, we’ve got two returning starters at quarterback. Asad Abdul-Khaliq and Benji Kamrath.

“At running back, it’s been well publicized that we have at least three good ones in Terry Jackson, Thomas Tapeh, and Marion Barber. It’s funny how things change, but right now Tapeh and Barber are healthy, and Jackson’s a little banged up. But he’ll be okay. As long as those three stay healthy and continue to play well, don’t look for us to just be in a one-back set all the time. We’re going to utilize our talent, we’re going to play the best players that we have, and right now those guys are our best players.

“Sometimes you might see one of those guys in the game, sometimes you might see two, and sometimes you might see all three. And I’m happy about that. We’ve got another guy that I am very high on, and he is Jason Lamers, who came to us as a walk-on. He really, for the first time since I’ve been here, gives us a true blocking fullback. So he also figures into the mix. “On the offensive line, we have Rian Melander back as a starter, Mark Setterstrom back as a starter, and Greg Eslinger back as a starter. I wouldn’t trade Eslinger for anything, not only because he’s a good football player but because of what he brings to the table in every way, shape, and form to our program. He’s a leader on our program and he’s still a young guy, and that’s hard to find. Joe Quinn’s a starter, and we moved Brandon Harston over from defense where he had started at times, so he’s had starting experience at the Big Ten level and will help us at guard. And then we’ve got two other guys, Matt McIntosh and Mike Nicholson who will help fill out what I think will be a very good offensive line.

“At tight end, I feel good about Ben Utecht. He’s proven to be a very good football player. Last year, he was banged up but he still played. Right now he’s healthy. Matt Spaeth came here as a linebacker, and we moved him to end and then made a tight end. I’m not sure there’s been a more impressive guy in practice. Jarod Posthumus is a guy that we moved from quarterback, to tight end, and he figures prominently into our plays. He’s embraced that position and worked hard. He’s still a young guy, but he’ll play for us this year.

“At wide receiver, we’ve got Aaron Hosack and Tony Patterson back as starters, and Jared Ellerson has had a lot of playing time at the position.

“Kicking is the question mark. I’m sure I’m going to handle a lot of questions from the media about the kicking game, and my answer would be the same I don’t know. We’ve got a couple of weeks to go, and we have a number of guys out there. We have one scholarship guy out there and another who we recruited out of junior college. And we have a list of other guys that we’re going to work extremely hard.

“As for our freshmen group, I’d say there are a lot of good athletes in that group. Probably a couple of them will help us out this year, just like they seem to do every year.

“I like my football team. I think they have good attitude, good talent and I’m looking forward to 2003 with great anticipation.

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