MINNEAPOLIS Sixty minutes.
For the seniors on the Minnesota Golden Gophers football team, thats all that remains of their college careers. For many, those 60 minutes will be the final hour of organized football theyll ever play.
Its just weird. I was thinking about it. Next Tuesday at this time, Ill be probably at home working on homework or trying to get a job, stuff like that, said senior center Ryan Wynn. My Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursdays have been football, football, football. I think the weird thing thats going to hit me is next Saturday with no game, and there never will be another game for me to play on Saturday again.
Wynn said hes hanging up his cleats after the season and focusing on getting into law school. The Plymouth, Minn., native will be taking the LSAT this spring with the aspirations of being a lawyer in the future, not a football player.
I dont look at this as football being over, he said. I just look at it as the next chapter of my life coming up.
While Wynns last football game will be Saturday when Minnesota hosts Illinois, some of his teammates hope their playing careers will extend past college. That includes Kim Royston, a sixth-year senior who has had a long journey to his final season. The Minneapolis native originally enrolled at Wisconsin, but transferred back to Minnesota after two seasons with the Badgers.
Then, in a spring practice of what was supposed to be his senior season last year, Royston broke his leg. He received a medical redshirt, giving him the ability to play in 2011.
Saturday, hell put on the maroon and gold for one last time.
Its a bittersweet feeling, Royston said. But after not knowing if I was going to get this opportunity last year, there was a point last year when I thought my college career was over. This whole season was just an extra blessing in my eyes.
Royston had to sit out the 2008 season due to NCAA transfer rules, and he didnt play in 2010. So hes already received his degree in communications studies and is working on his masters degree in sports management.
The veteran Royston has been a leader on and off the field for the young Gophers squad. He easily leads the team in tackles with 110, and recorded his first interception of the year last week against Northwestern.
So when the final whistle blows to signify the last game of Roystons long, winding career, what will he do next?
I dont know. Im just going to play this last game, he said. Im just going to play it by ear. If I have the opportunity to play after college, Ill definitely look into that.
Playing in the NFL is the goal for many college football players. Linebacker Gary Tinsley is no different. The senior from Jacksonville is tied for the team lead with three sacks and is second behind Royston in total tackles with 81. His eight tackles for loss lead all Gophers defenders.
Hes hoping those skills can translate to the professional level.
Thats something I want to do, Tinsley said of playing professionally. I love football, and I want to go as long as I can. Im going to try to work hard to get to the next level.
Senior defensive lineman Brandon Kirksey also aspires to play at the next level, but he has a more immediate goal first: record a sack.
In his nearly four years at Minnesota, Kirksey has yet to get to the opposing quarterback. Hes made 19 tackles this year and recovered a fumble in the Gophers win against Iowa. But his first career sack continues to elude him.
Now, he has just one game left to get it.
Thats what me and some of the D-linemen guys are working on, Kirksey said. Theyre like, Weve got to get you a sack before you leave. It could be my last game ever. Just go all out.
Running back Duane Bennett is among the seniors who have been through the thick and thin. The fifth-year senior from St. Louis has just about seen it all during his Gophers career.
Like Royston, Bennett is currently working on his masters degree. If Saturday is his last football game, he has other plans for the future.
Ive been kind of talking to different people about broadcasting, talking to different people about coaching as well as maybe some type of counselor. I have different avenues Im looking to go down, Bennett said. Not really sure which ones the right one to go down this soon. I feel like I have a great plan set in place to where if football doesnt work out, Ill have something else to fall back on.
While each senior may have individual goals set, they all share one goal in common: Get a win in their final game as teammates.
Last years senior class went out victorious as Minnesota beat rival Iowa to claim the Floyd of Rosedale trophy. Fans stormed the field to celebrate the win, which capped a tumultuous season for the Gophers. They saw the firing of head coach Tim Brewster during the season and finished just 3-9.
In fact, the current group of seniors will have only experienced one winning season 2008, when Minnesota finished 7-6 and went to the Insight Bowl. The Gophers went to the same bowl game the next year as well, but finished 6-7 overall and just 3-5 in the Big Ten.
But the seniors finish their careers at Minnesota knowing theyll leave behind a legacy. They were part of Kills first season at the helm in what the Gophers hope is the beginning of good things to come.
Definitely, this season in terms of the win-loss column has been an extreme disappointment. I was hoping wed get to go somewhere warm for my last year, Wynn said. But I think the thing is we saw our team kind of grow up a lot.
I think Coach Kill and the coaching staff are going to do a great job of building this program up, added Tinsley. Im going to continue to watch here. This is going to always be my team here. Im always going to continue to follow and watch as they continue to grow and get better.
For the fifth-year seniors, there was also the 1-11 season in 2007. Minnesota can finish no better than 3-9 for the second straight year with a win Saturday against Illinois.
But if the seniors can go out victorious in their finale, itd make it all worth it.
Weve been through a lot of adversity, Royston said. Probably not the win-loss record that we wanted, but it all could be made a little bit better with a W on Saturday.