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Cancer survivor Kill begins new journey at Minnesota

(Associated Press) New Minnesota Gophers head football coach Jerry Kill exhorted his players during the first day of spring practice March 24 at Bierman Field in Minneapolis. At left is running back Donnell Kirkwood.

CHICAGO (AP) -- Nearly six years removed from a battle with kidney cancer, Minnesota football coach Jerry Kill is in good health and starting a new job in the Big Ten.

"I'm cancer-free," the first-year Gophers coach said Friday at the second and final Big Ten media day. "I don't know if you ever win that battle, but I am coaching and I'm blessed to do that."

Diagnosed with kidney cancer in late 2005 while at Southern Illinois, Kill underwent surgery and follow-up treatment.

After going through his ordeal, Kill created a Southern Illinois-based foundation to help low-income cancer patients pay for treatment and decided he would never waste a day.

"I almost lost my life, so I don't understand anybody who gets up in the morning and is moaning and groaning and complaining," he said. "When you don't know if you're going to be there the next day you have a little change of thought.

"Life is short and you better take advantage of it."

Kill spent seven seasons at Southern Illinois, posting a 55-32 record with three Gateway Conference titles. He moved to Northern Illinois in 2008 and his teams went 23-16 over the next three years with three bowl appearances.

Minnesota hired Kill, who turns 50 next month, in late 2010, the latest move in a career he thought he'd never have.

"I figured I'd (still) be at Southern Illinois. Once you get cancer you don't figure people are going to hire you. (But) Jim Phillips (then Northern Illinois athletic director now at Northwestern) rolled the dice on me and gave me the chance and he's probably the reason I'm around now."