Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 4/10/12
MINNEAPOLIS As tough as it may have been, the University of Minnesota football team eventually had to return to the field. Since Friday, the Gophers have grieved the loss of friend and former linebacker Gary Tinsley, who was found dead in his campus apartment. But they know Tinsley would have wanted them to get back to playing the sport they all love. After canceling Saturday's practice, that's exactly what Minnesota did Tuesday afternoon."It's tough to get back out here sometimes, but it also feels good to get back out here and get going. I know that's what Gary would want us to do," said Gophers senior linebacker Mike Rallis. "The main thing I keep coming back to and reminding myself is just the best thing I can do is honor Gary in the way I live my life by following the way he lived his life, which is bringing it and living it to the fullest every day, whether it be on the football field or in the classroom or the locker room, hanging out with the guys, family, whatever."There was a noticeable difference in the mood at Tuesday's practice, as the Gophers were only four days removed from hearing about Tinsley's death at the young age of 22. The cause of death is still not known, but University of Minnesota police said late last week that violence was not suspected. They also said that neither drugs nor alcohol were found on the scene, but officials are awaiting the results of a toxicology report.Tinsley's roommate and current Gophers linebacker, senior Keanon Cooper, found Tinsley unresponsive in his room early Friday morning and called police around 7:40 a.m. When emergency personnel arrived, they were unable to resuscitate Tinsley, and he was pronounced dead."He was a special kid and a great student, a great person overall," Cooper said. "It was a blessing to have met a guy like him. It was even more of a blessing to have his teammate and even his roommate."Four days after seeing his roommate and close friend pass away at such a young age, Cooper has carried himself very well during this tough time. As a senior leader, he knows younger players will look to him for guidance during the healing process."He's been such a rock. I'm so proud of him, just how he's handled everything," Minnesota linebackers coach Bill Miller said of Cooper. "He's had his moments everybody has. I've had my own times there where you've got to let down. But most of these guys are tough people, and most of these guys understand what he'd want. I know Gary would want us to quit hanging our heads and get back out and go practice and celebrate his life, remember him, remember all the things that he did that were great memories for us."Tinsley was a senior during the Gophers' 2011 season and was second on the Minnesota defense with 87 total tackles in 12 games. He also had a team-high four sacks and nine tackles for loss. Tinsley had signed an agent and was hoping to continue his football career at the professional level.Yet while he was a key member of Minnesota's defense, those who knew him remember Tinsley, a business marketing education major, more for the person he was off the field than his athletic achievements. Gophers head coach Jerry Kill said he received a visit Tuesday from one of Tinsley's professors, as well as several of his classmates. They brought flowers and offered plenty of kind words about what Tinsley was like as a student."They came over and told me what a tremendous asset (it was) having Gary in class and talked about how hard he worked at the education side of it and talked about him being an entrepreneur and how he was such an inspiration in his class," Kill said. "The respect that Gary had, we all understand, you hear about it on the football side. But the respect he had on the academic side and what he stood for and how hard he worked to get where he wanted to be, he is a tremendous role (model) for us to look at and say, Hey, this is what it's all about. We can all step it up and be like Gary.'"Minnesota was originally scheduled to have practice Saturday, but the Gophers opted to cancel practice and instead meet as a team at a local Dave and Buster's restaurant and arcade. It allowed the players and coaches to enjoy being with each other and provided at least a temporary respite during a trying time."That's indescribable, what went on and the fellowship," Kill said of the team's get-together on Saturday. "I said when we got on the bus coming back, I said, Shoot, this is the best practice, the best thing we've done since we've been here.'"Kill said the Gophers will travel to Jacksonville this weekend to attend Tinsley's funeral. During the past several days, Kill has also been in contact with Tinsley's parents. Kill also said he hopes to invite Tinsley's parents to campus in the future, whether it be for a Gophers game this fall or to receive Tinsley's diploma, which he will be awarded posthumously.The Gophers will never forget Gary Tinsley, and they'll likely pay tribute to him during the 2012 season. But as they returned to the practice field that he once roamed as a leader of the defense, Tinsley's former teammates know he was looking down on them."I've always said it's kind of hard to ever think about having to bury your children. That's a hard one," Kill said. "But I also know that the Good Lord needs young people, too. So you deal with it and you move on. I am very comfortable knowing Gary's got a tremendous seat in the best house."Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter.
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