MINNEAPOLIS Former Gophers quarterback and Super Bowl winning coach Tony Dungy spoke to the University of Minnesota football team before its practice Tuesday, and linebacker Mike Rallis paid extra close attention.
Rallis had heard Dungy speak once before. But now a leader on the Gophers defense, Rallis took Dungy's inspirational words to heart Tuesday.
"I had my notepad out and took down a page of notes," Rallis said. "That's a rare, great opportunity to hear a guy like that speak. So much wisdom. I picked up a lot of good things that I'm going to take with me. A great opportunity for the whole team."
In many ways, Rallis is becoming the heart of Minnesota's defense as he helps try to bolster a unit that ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten in many categories last year. Rallis, an Edina, Minn., native, will be a redshirt senior for the 2012 season, meaning he's seen plenty during his time on campus. He played in 13 games as a freshman in 2008, was granted a medical redshirt in 2009 after a leg injury limited him to three games, and made six starts at linebacker during his sophomore campaign in 2010.In 2011, Rallis was third on the Gophers in tackles with 83 (53 solo) and appeared in all 12 games for Minnesota. The two players that finished ahead of him in tackles, defensive back Kim Royston and linebacker Gary Tinsley, graduated after last season. That means Rallis will be lean upon as the leader on the defense, a challenge he's fully embracing."Coach (Jerry) Kill has really made an emphasis that the players need to step up and take control of this team. It's our team," Rallis said. "I've listened to him and listened to all the great speakers we've had in Tony Dungy today, the same thing. At some point it can't come all from Coach Kill. It's got to be the players, too. That's something that I really try to do."There are a few noticeable differences with Rallis this spring. For one, he put on between 10-15 pounds of "good weight" in the offseason and is visibly bigger than he was as a junior when he measured in at 6-foot-2, 236 pounds. The other change is his position on the field, as he's moved from outside linebacker to middle linebacker.So far, Rallis has handled the position change with no problem, barking out signals to other linebackers and telling the defense where to line up."He's really done well. Up front, he got us lined up a lot a year ago too," said Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys. "But we moved him to the middle. He's really played well. Since we've done that, for all spring ball, seven practices, we haven't had any alignment mistakes, and that's his job to make sure they do get lined up. I think he's adjusting really good."Adding the extra muscle mass in the offseason wasn't done with the intent of moving to middle linebacker, Rallis said, but Claeys sees the benefit of Rallis playing the new position at his current weight of 245 pounds."He was able to add a little bit of weight and he didn't lose any speed or change of direction. That's always a positive," Claeys said. "He was big enough prior to gaining the weight, but what that'll do for him is it'll help him hold up through the season, because you're bound to lose a little bit of weight going through the season."Come fall, Mike won't be the only Rallis on the Gophers. His younger brother, Nick, will be joining him on the football team. Nick Rallis is currently a senior at Edina and is listed as a linebacker for the upcoming season. Scout.com ranked Nick Rallis as a three-star recruit and the No. 65 outside linebacker in the country. While Mike said he's not sure which position his brother might play for the Gophers either linebacker or safety he does know Nick is anxious to get on campus and join his big brother on the field. "He bugs me all the time about the playbook and little details of calls and stuff like that. He's excited to get down here and get going," Mike Rallis said. "He's at every meeting, every practice that he's able to go to. I'm excited to get him down here and just continue working with him. He and my older brother, we're all best friends. It's a good situation."Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter.