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With Decker out, Kuznia ready to pick up the slack

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It's time for Ben Kuznia to prove naysayers wrong one more time.

Kuznia, a Minnesota Gophers wide receiver from Olivia, turned a deaf ear when critics said he wasn't a Division I-caliber player. The ex-BOLD quarterback/receiver/defensive back wasn't recruited by any of the Division I schools so he walked on at the University of Minnesota.

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Entering his junior year, the 6-foot, 186-pound wide receiver hadn't caught a pass and had only been in a handful of games on special teams.

But through hard work and perseverance, the personable Kuznia earn-ed a starting spot this year and also a scholarship.

Critics recently have pointed out that standout wide receiver Eric Decker of Rocori, an All-America candidate, has not been getting any help from the other receivers on the team and was being double-teamed too often.

Decker has caught 74 passes through 10 games. Kuznia is second on the team with 28 receptions.

Kuznia stepped up two weeks ago against Northwestern as Decker was hobbled by an ankle sprain and caught a career-high seven passes for 98 yards.

Decker, trying to play last week against Michigan, re-injured his ankle and sat out the second half. Kuznia and the passing game struggled in his absence against a swarming Wolverine defense and lost 29-6.

"We just were out of synch all day," said Kuznia, who had just one catch for three yards. "Michigan might be struggling this year, but they still are Michigan. "They have some of the best athletes in the country. And their defense is still very good."

Decker has now been ruled out of today's game against Wisconsin so it's up to Kuznia and others to step up in his absence.

"I felt a little pressure against Michigan last week with Eric being out," said Kuznia. "I maybe tried to do too much. That won't happen again. I'm up for the challenge."

After a 7-1 start, fans began talking about a possible Rose Bowl bid for the Gophers, who then lost their next two to fall to 7-3.

The Gophers play Wisconsin at 2:30 p.m. today in Madison. ABC will televise the game.

"We've still got a good chance to win these last two games and go to a bigger bowl game," said Kuznia. "We can't worry about those two losses. We need to play like we were earlier this season."

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