High school juniors-to-be attended the University of Minnesota's Elite Junior football camp at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday. Gophers coach Jerry Kill urged the players to focus on details. Photos by Courtney Perry, Special to the Star Tribune
It’s all about the details.
That was the motto recited over and over by University of Minnesota coaches as they ran players through warm-ups Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium for Gophers coach Jerry Kill’s Junior Elite football camp. Each drill, each repetition, the coaches wanted the 170 or so juniors-to-be to focus on the little things that can make them effective.
And the coaches — stopwatches and clipboards in hand — were watching closely, recording every 40 time, every bench press rep that can add a tangible number to the imperfect process of recruiting.
Players hope these details get them noticed and help them get that much closer to their goals of playing at the next level. Here is a look at three of the metro’s top incoming juniors who already are turning coaches’ heads:
Will Rains, junior, RB, Eastview
Football future: Undecided. He’s a big, fast and physical runner, and his goal is to play Division I football.
Quotable: “It’s the only way you’re going to get to where you want to be — the team being successful. You can’t just have one good player and hope to accomplish your goals.”
It’s a change of mind-set more than anything. Everything, from his style of play to his expectations to his demeanor, needs to change, Rains said.
“It’s a big difference being a sophomore to being a junior,” said Rains, a 5-11, 220-pounder. “You expect a little more out of yourself.”
And coming into Sunday’s camp at TCF Bank Stadium, Rains was hoping to show everyone in attendance exactly what to expect out of him this coming fall.
Rains always has been a physical runner. It’s one of the reasons he was called up from the freshman team to play fullback during Eastview’s 2011 playoff run, and it’s what helped quickly establish himself as one of the most promising runners in the South Suburban Conference a year ago. As a sophomore in 2012, he led the Lightning in rushing, helping the team to advance to the state tournament.
“I was always kind of focused on between the tackles and just bounc- ing off people,” Rains said. “This year, I’m hoping to add a little more to my running style.”
Having wrestled and run track during his freshman season, Rains spent his offseason this year focusing on only football, adding muscle and improving his speed. He said that now, on a good day, his 40-yard dash time is down in the 4.5-second range. He hopes to bring that improved speed to the field this fall.
“Last year, I didn’t know what to expect, and was just hoping for playing time,” he said. “This year, I really want to step up and be one of the people to help lead my team.”
Jack Burns, junior, LB, Minnetonka
Football future: Undecided. A three-sport athlete, Burns is leaning toward football as his sport of choice in college.
Quotable: “Playing in [the Lake Conference] is a pretty huge jump from freshman ball. I was pretty nervous that first game.”
Jack Burns prefers to be busy. During the summer, he gets that wish.
He has football practice at Minnetonka High School twice each week with lifting and training every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Then he has both on- and off-ice offseason training for hockey, and a full slate of baseball practices and games.
Burnout isn’t a concern for Burns, though.
“I like it that way,” he said of the busy schedule. “[Playing multiple sports] is definitely an advantage. It keeps me in really good shape, and I get something new all the time.”
Last fall was a whole new experience for Burns, making the leap from playing freshman football to playing in what might be the state’s toughest conference as a sophomore. He started every game in 2012, playing outside linebacker in the Skippers’ 3-4 defense.
It was a different year for Minnetonka, too, as the Skippers lost every game on their Lake schedule before making a playoff run that ended with a trip to the state tournament.
“Our seniors really took me under their wing last year,” said Burns, whose season ended with a 21-18 loss to Eden Prairie. “We want to end this season with a ‘W.’ ”
And Burns will play a big role in that. At 6-2 and 215 pounds, Burns provides an imposing force on the Skipper defense. And heading into the fall, his focus is now solely on football.
“We’re expecting a really good year,” he said, “and I’m eager to get going.”
Adam Burige, junior, CB, Park Center
Football future: Undecided. The athletic defensive back says he “dreams of playing for the Gophers.”
Quotable: “I’ve been waiting for this next season to start ever since the end of our last game last year. I can’t wait to get out there.”
He hears it all the time. Whether it’s teammates on his AAU basketball team, or other metro football players he works out with, all of people share the same position on the subject of his choice in high schools.
Adam Burige transferred from state powerhouse Totino-Grace to Park Center before his sophomore season in 2011.
“Everyone acts like it was a huge mistake to leave a program like that,” Burige said. “I just want to prove everyone wrong.”
He’s off to a good start. Before coming to Park Center, Burige had played quarterback and nothing else since sixth grade. With a quarterback already in place, Park Center coach Rickey Foggie decided to take advantage of Burige’s athletic abilities by switching him to cornerback.
“It was pretty tough at first,” Burige said. “I’d never played defense at all. I didn’t know the footwork. I didn’t know the concepts. I didn’t know any of it.”
After getting roughly 75 percent of the snaps in the opener last year, Burige started the rest of the way.
It was a tough season for the Pirates — they won only one game — but Burige quickly became comfortable on the defensive side of the ball. He now considers his footwork to be one of his strengths — that, and his speed. He was clocked at 4.47 seconds in the 40-yard dash at a Minnesota Duluth camp this summer.
“I just want to help my team in any way that I can,” said Burige, who might get some reps on offense this fall as either a read-option quarterback or at wide receiver. “I want people to see that you don’t have to be at a great program to have success in football. I kind of have a chip on my shoulder.”