Eric Small looks forward to Gopher season

Eric Small, a 6-foot-2, 280-pound sophomore defensive tackle, has emerged as a likely starter for the Minnesota Gopher football team. Small was a JC signee in December and has had to deal with a new coaching staff and new position. GoldenSports.Net recently caught up with Small to learn the latest on his adjustment to Big Ten football.

Eric Small played at Joliet Junior College after transferring from Missouri State, where he redshirted as a freshman. Small was named honorable-mention National Junior College Athletic Association All-America as a defensive lineman.

Small was also named a first-team NJCAA All-Region IV selection and was a first-team All-Midwest Football Conference performer. He was the runner-up for the Midwest Conference Defensive Player of the Year Award last year and finished the 2006 season ranked fourth on the team in total tackles with 35, including 27 solo stops and six quarterback sacks.

Small was standout during Minnesota's team camp at St. John's University. Small made the hit of the day during the "Oklahoma" drill, shedding a lineman's block to force a fumble from a Gopher running back. Small said that the hit is part of defensive line coach Tim Cross' philosophy.

"One of the ways that Coach Cross puts it is, 'Someone has got to start the fire, then everyone else throws their log in to keep the fire going.' Once we get that first hit, that definitely helps," Small said.

Small's hit in the Oklahoma drill started a spirited end of training camp with several skirmishes breaking out. Small admitted that he enjoyed the two-on-one drill,

"It's fun. It is obviously high-intensity, high-energy. Everyone is getting after it. You see us getting into fights out there, but it is all in good nature," he said. "We're actually not fighting each other as a team. We're just competing and that stuff happens. We don't mean it personally and once we are off the field, we are teammates."

Small said that he fairly happy with his play to-date.

"I'm happy, but I know that there is a lot of work I still have to do. I am still somewhat new to the position. I'm still making mistakes, so I have a lot of work to do," he said.

Small was joined by Joliet teammate Mark Dietz, who walked-on to the team, before deciding recently to leave the squad. Small felt that having Dietz on the team helped with his transition.

"It was nice at first," Small said. "We roomed together at first and it was just nice to have someone here that I knew right off the bat. It is good having someone here from back home."

Small felt that going through spring practice helped with his chances of getting immediate playing time.

"That's huge. It was a big, big help. I came in and got to know the guys a lot earlier. Obviously, I got to learn the defense. They are throwing a lot of stuff at us right now. Just in this one week, we've learned almost half of the defense. Without spring ball, it would be tough. It helped a lot. I'm glad I did it," he said.

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