MINNEAPOLIS From coaching changes to position changes to injuries to a new stadium to the death of a teammate, the seniors on the University of Minnesota football team have certainly been through a lot during their careers.
For fifth-year senior cornerback Troy Stoudermire, all of those scenarios and then some were a reality during his time as a Gopher.
Stoudermire came to Minneapolis from Dallas as a freshman in 2008. After starting that season under coach Tim Brewster as a cornerback, Stoudermire transitioned to wide receiver. During his sophomore year in 2009, Stoudermire had 26 catches for 306 yards and was also the Gophers' kick returner.
Just as Stoudermire was about ready to transition back to cornerback for his junior season, Brewster suspended him for "conduct detrimental to the team." Not happy with how things were working out for him on the football field, Stoudermire decided to quit the team. He posted a message on his Facebook page that said he was no longer a Gopher and that he was going to transfer.
Stoudermire eventually changed his mind and returned to the Gophers as a cornerback. He suffered an arm injury last season that allowed him to receive a fifth year of eligibility. Last spring, Stoudermire graduated with a degree in youth studies.
Now, how he'll close out his Gophers career as the school's all-time leader in kick return yards and he'll get one more chance to play in a bowl game.
"I'm really glad I stuck it out. I was thinking about leaving because I felt like things weren't organized and it was going downhill with us," Stoudermire said. "I wanted to get myself back on track. But I talked to a few people, talked to my parents. They changed my mind about it, and I'm really glad they did because if they didn't I wouldn't have a degree right now."
Stoudermire and the rest of the Gophers will play in a bowl game for the first time since 2009, a sendoff to the seniors such as Stoudermire who have been through so much and who stayed true to the program through thick and thin.
That includes fellow senior MarQueis Gray, whose career at Minnesota has taken a similar winding road. The Indianapolis native played wide receiver during his freshman and sophomore years before taking over at quarterback as a junior last season. Yet an ankle injury sidelined him this year and eventually led to his transition back to wide receiver for the remainder of his college career.
"I've done it all, seen it all. It's just another chapter in my book that's ready to come to an end," Gray said. "I was one of those guys who used to listen to seniors say, It comes fast and it goes fast.' Now I'm one of those guys that's going to be saying it to the younger guys. I've got to try to take this week as slowly as I can and just reflect on how my career went here."
Stoudermire, Gray and the rest of the seniors have helped lead the transition from the Brewster era to the Jerry Kill era. Kill is in his second season as the Gophers coach and has brought Minnesota back to a bowl game after back-to-back 3-9 records in 2010 and 2011.
This year's group of seniors can leave campus knowing it played a significant part in that turnaround.
"I'm happy for the program. I'm excited for the program," senior linebacker Mike Rallis said. "I'm glad that I got to be a part of the beginning of what hopefully turns this thing around and gets it going to where it's consistently a great program. But we've got to finish it if we want to do that."
That includes the final regular-season game this Saturday against Michigan State. The Spartans come to TCF Bank Stadium needing one more win to become bowl eligible. The Gophers already have their six wins but would love to add one more to guarantee a winning season and perhaps secure a berth in a better bowl game.
No matter the end result of Saturday's game, it will no doubt be bittersweet for Minnesota's seniors.
"Our seniors have through a lot of things over the last four and some five years, and we're excited about the game on Saturday," Kill said. "I think it's a very important game for us in a lot of ways, but more importantly for them."
And when Minnesota's seniors take the field at TCF Bank Stadium for one last time, they'll do so in honor of their late teammate, Gary Tinsley, who died of an enlarged heart last April. The Gophers have dedicated this season to Tinsley's memory. Each game, a linebacker Tinsley's position wears his No. 51 uniform. The entire team has worn a No. 51 patch on their jerseys.
Many of the seniors on the team were close to Tinsley, who was a senior on last year's team. Losing their friend and teammate was the lowest of all the lows they endured during their careers.
Winning one more game for their friend they call GT would be a perfect ending.
"It's been a wild ride," Rallis said. "We've seen the lows. Obviously, this spring, that was the toughest thing we've ever dealt with, with Gary. I just want to cap this thing off the right way."
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