In this inaugural edition of our The Fifth Quarter series, GopherDigest caught up with departed senior offensive lineman Zac Epping for an in-depth interview profiling his career in Minneapolis and five seasons as a Gopher.
GopherDigest.com: You came in under Tim Brewster in 2010, what was he like as a recruiter and coach?
Epping: "Brewster and his coaching staff were great recruiters. They knew all the right things to say to make a student athlete like me want to attend the University of Minnesota. I thought he was a good coach as well, but the team struggled getting wins because the whole coaching staff didn't have chemistry as a whole."
GopherDigest.com: What do you mean by they didn't have good chemistry as a whole?
Epping: "I just didn't think most of the position coaches got along with each other. They didn't enjoy working together. With Kill's staff, they all get along and enjoy coming into work everyday and have the same goals."
GopherDigest.com: What was the transition like when Brewster was let go to Kill's first year on the job?
Epping: "It had to of been the hardest work any of us player ever put in. Coach Kill came in and he wanted to know who truly wanted to a part of the program. Because of that, the winter workouts were crazy when Kill was initially hired. So much work had to be put in if you want to become a player that contributes on Saturday's. Then spring ball came that year and we had to learn a whole new playbook, but Coach Limegrover is a great coach and took the time to teach us the players. It was a lot easier to learn the playbook then any player thought. Practices in spring ball were also a lot harder than any practice we had with Brewster."
GopherDigest.com: I'm curious, what were Brewster practices like in comparison?
Epping: "At Brewster's practice, there was only one huddle. So the first group would get a majority of the reps, but in Kill's practices, you have two, possibly three huddles at times. That makes practice much faster and we got two or three reps in by the time we would get one in under Brewster. Plus those reps mean the younger guys have opportunities to grow as football players while the older guys are getting their reps in."
GopherDigest.com:Have you had a chance to reflect on your career as a Gopher yet or is it still too soon?
Epping: "Yeah I've reflected a little bit on my career and I'm just so thankful Coach Kill and Limegrover gave me the opportunity to start at a young age because that made me a better player throughout my career. Coach Kill and Limegrover and I butted heads a few times, but it was always because they cared about me doing my best and me knowing that I could do better. I also love the friendships that I've made at the U."
GopherDigest.com: Who were some of the guys along the offensive line that you got to know well?
Epping: "I mean in that offensive group, we were all great friends. But certain players I loved playing next to were the Olson brothers, Josh Campion, Caleb Bak and Jon Christenson. I loved playing next to them because we would always try and put the player we were going against on their backs. That's when it was really fun being an offensive lineman and it made it even better when it was with one of your teammates."
GopherDigest.com: How did you and the team respond to Coach Kill's medical issues?
Epping: "We were all definitely worried for Coach Kill and his family, but we were all praying for him. Everyone knew they had to step up so that we could still get the victory as it's what Coach Kill wanted. All the coaches did a great job of getting us ready for the games."
GopherDigest.com: How were you a different player as a senior from who you were as a freshman?
Epping: "I was a completely different player. Way better technique and just playing in so many games early on made me a smarter player. Made a large difference in knowing when the defense was going to move or blitz."
GopherDigest.com: In all of the 50+ games you played in throughout your career, which one stands out to you and why?
Epping: "I have two games in mind. Beating Michigan in the Big House and beating Nebraska in Nebraska. Going into a stadium that holds 90,000 and one that holds over 110,000 and hearing the crowd go silent because their team lost is an amazing feeling. Then getting to hear out fans that made the trip going crazy in the corner of the stadium made it that much sweeter."
GopherDigest.com: Same question reversed, is there a game or two you look back on and say man, that was a tough loss.
Epping: "Losing to Wisconsin this past year. We had a chance to go to the Big Ten Championship leading into halftime, but we didn't finish it. If we would have been able to win the Axe in my last Big Ten game, that would of been the best ending to a great season, but we didn't finish. That one will haunt me for the rest of my life. We needed to finish more drives."
GopherDigest.com: Were there any particular plays that'll always stand out to you from your long Gopher career?
Epping: "Against Nebraska this past year when Mitch fumbled and it popped into my hands and then I ran for four yards. Then there was a time against San Jose State on the goal line, when I pulled around and blocked three people and Cobb scored."
GopherDigest.com: How'd it feel being the ball carrier for a change?
Epping: "It was pretty fun. I got up and Tommy Olson asked me, "Did you just carry the ball?" and I said, "I believe so, I kind of blacked out there." I also got a few kick off returns in my day."
GopherDigest.com: What's the best story you could tell about Coach Kill from your time at Minnesota?
Epping: "After a big win, him dancing in the locker room. I'm sure you saw the video of it."
GopherDigest.com: So if your playing career done now or what's the next step?
Epping: "I'm waiting until the end of August to hopefully get picked up by an NFL team. If that doesn't happen though, I'll start looking for a full time job. I'm on several teams big boards and it's just a waiting game for me right now. I'm waiting for some camp invites."
GopherDigest.com:Any parting thoughts you'd want Gopher fans to know?
Epping: "I just would love to thank the Gopher nation for a great five years."
The Fifth Quarter: Zac Epping
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