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Kuznia keeps his head high

With fighter jets flying overhead, Former BOLD standout Ben Kuznia, right, runs out of the tunnel with Minnesota Gophers teammates in the first game of the new on-campus TFC Bank Stadium Sept. 12 in Minneapolis. Photo courtesy of University of Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS -- After starting every game last season for the Minnesota Gophers and catching 31 passes, former BOLD standout Ben Kuznia was looking forward to his senior year. Not only would he get to play in a new stadium, but he was looking forward to playing a part in the team getting to a bowl game.

But Kuznia has only lined up for one offensive play over the Gophers' first three games. On that play, Kuznia's number was called but quarterback Adam Weber's pass sailed over his head on a quick out. Kuznia has been playing on special teams with the kickoff and punt teams.

"I'm just going to keep working hard and hope my chance comes again," said Kuznia after the California game on Saturday in Minneapolis. "Sure, it's frustrating. Everyone wants to play. Especially in your senior year. But I'll do whatever I can to help the team win."

The Gophers have employed speedsters Troy Stoudermire, Brandon Green and Hayo Carpenter this season at wide receiver in an attempt to stretch the field and take some pressure off All-America candidate Eric Decker. None of the newcomers have established themselves as a deep threat yet. Decker has 27 of the team's total 61 receptions. Stoudermire is next with 10.

Kuznia is trying to stay positive and is enjoying any playing time he is getting.

"I know there are a lot of players that would trade places with me," Kuznia said. "I realize that I'm fortunate to be where I'm at, playing college football with the Gophers in a new stadium in front of huge crowds. And I got to start every game last year."

Kuznia, who won the Tribune's Hengstler-Ranweiler Award in 2005 as the area's outstanding high school male athlete, proved many area skeptics wrong when he announced he was going to walk on at the University of Minnesota five years ago. Several smaller Division II teams had interest in him, but he never heard from any Division I teams. Still, he wanted to at least give big-time college football a try.

"I never wanted to look back on my career and wonder," he said. "I know I would be playing more at a smaller college, but I wouldn't trade this opportunity for the world."

Kuznia watched from the sidelines for two years, playing in only five games and not catching any passes. He then got his chance last season under second-year coach Tim Brewster. Kuznia's 31 catches went for 310 yards, an average of 10 yards per reception. He was third on the team in receptions, didn't drop any passes and caught a pass in every single game as the Gophers went 7-5. Of his 31 receptions, 16 went for first downs. His hard work and dedication have since earned him a scholarship.

"I was told by coaches that the other guys playing ahead of me are a little more explosive," Kuznia said. "I can understand that. I just have to show that I can get open by running good routes, not drop passes and show that I can block." 

Brewster refers to Kuznia as someone he and the coaches can trust.

"Ben is a very dependable, trustworthy football player," he told Gopher Game Day writer Jim Strick. "He's not the biggest guy, he's not the fastest guy. But what we've found is we've got a tremendous level of comfort with him in the game because he's going to run the right route and he's going to do the right thing."

Kuznia was named the "Breakthrough Athlete" among male athletes from all Gopher sports after last season.

Decker, a senior from Rocori, has always been impressed with Kuznia's desire to play at this level.

"It's nice to see Ben isn't showing any frustration by not playing as much as last year," said Decker. "He's proved before that he can play and he's really working hard to get back on the field. You can see he really cares about the team and he wants to help the younger guys who are the ones taking his place on the field."

Kuznia, a 6-foot, 185-pound fifth-year senior, led BOLD to the state tournament as a quarterback his senior year. He also was named All-State at defensive back.

But playing in the state tournament was nothing when compared to stepping onto the new TCF Bank Stadium's turf for the home opener Sept. 12 against Air Force Academy.

With 50,000 boisterous fans all on their feet and fireworks going off, Kuznia and his teammates ran out of the tunnel for the first time.

"It was pretty exciting," he said. "It's hard to put into words. It was a little emotional. This is a special place and I'm very grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of the first team to play here."

Kuznia, who turned 23 in late August, graduated last May with an undergraduate degree in business administration and is working toward his master's degree in human resources this fall. He interned last summer in the marketing department at TCF Bank and helped promote the company's sponsorship of the new stadium.

But for now, the personable son of Curt and Fay Kuznia is trying to showcase his talents once again to the coaching staff.

"I have to always be ready," he said. "I can't get down because I'm not playing a lot. Our motto is "One Team, One Dream" and I'm going to keep working hard. I know I'm just an injury away from playing again."

He'll likely get his chance again. As he's shown before, it's hard to keep determination down too long.