Kuznia finds stock rising with Gophers
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Ben Kuznia is an example of how patience and hard work can pay dividends in college football. The redshirt junior from Olivia has slowly climbed the depth charts at wide receiver for the Minnesota Gophers and now appears to be...
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Ben Kuznia is an example of how patience and hard work can pay dividends in college football. The redshirt junior from Olivia has slowly climbed the depth charts at wide receiver for the Minnesota Gophers and now appears to be on the threshold of significant playing time this season.
Injuries have plagued the former West Central Tribune Hengstler-Ranweiler Award winner's career so far.
"I have pulled my right quad muscle three or four times in my career," he said. "Last year, I pulled it right before the first game, came back and played on special teams in our third game against Florida Atlantic and ended up pulling it again."
He was sidelined for most of the rest of the season, coming back to play in two games at the end of the season.
The Gophers have several speedy and talented freshmen receivers who are expected to be part of the future. Some might help this season. But they are still trying to grasp the position and the system. Meanwhile, Kuznia, who has yet to catch a pass in a regular-season game for the Gophers, has been practicing with the first unit of Eric Decker and Ralph Spry in practice. In a team scrimmage this past Saturday, Kuznia led all receivers with seven catches for 64 yards.
"Being able to pick up and learn the offense has helped me the most," said Kuznia. "I still need to improve on my route technique and blocking."
Decker, a junior from Cold Spring, is the team's top receiver and one of the top wideouts in the Big Ten. He had 67 receptions for 909 yards last season. Spry, a sophomore, had 23 receptions last season and will likely replace the graduated Ernie Wheelwright as the other starting receiver in a two-receiver set. But Kuznia is expected to plenty of action, too.
The Gophers can use all the help they can get after going 1-11 last season in Tim Brewster's first year as coach.
The season opener is Aug. 30 at the Metrodome against Northern Illinois.
"We have put last season behind us and have learned a lot from it," Kuznia said.
It was never a sure thing that Kuznia would get much playing time for the Gophers and some area high school coaches he played against questioned his decision to try to play at the Division I level, feeling he would get significant playing time at a Division II or III school. After all, Kuznia played his junior season of high school at wide receiver for BOLD and caught very few passes because the team emphasized the run. Kuznia was switched to quarterback his senior year. His best position was defensve back.
Kuznia, however, never doubted his decision.
"I have enjoyed the commitment and camaraderie at the Division I level," he said. "Especially, the team concept. I feel that I have learned a lot from the experiences that football teaches you and can relate them to being successful in life. I've enjoyed the experiences and opportunities that this level of competition has to offer."
Playing and practicing with Decker has also benefited Kuznia.
"Eric is a good friend of mine and good person," said Kuznia. "He has a great work ethic and is a student of the game. He is a great athlete and has a bright future."
Adam Weber is back at quarterback after having a strong year for a freshman at this level. He completed 258-of-449 passes for 2,895 yards and 24 touchdowns.
"I think Adam's confidence and poise have improved tremendously," Kuznia remarked. "The game has slowed down a lot for him."
Kuznia feels the biggest improvement he notices on the team so far is the defense, which was a sore spot last season in which the Gophers ranked near the bottom among all Division I teams.
"We brought in a number of players that are going to help us a lot," he said.
Kuznia isn't used to playing on a team with a losing record. The BOLD teams he played on won 90 percent of its games during his tenure. Now he's hoping he can help turn things around for the Gophers.