Filkins to play final game for Gophers in Texas Bowl
PRESCOTT - When a college football team is invited to a postseason bowl game, one of the perks of invitation is the NCAA allowed gifts which go to the participating squads.
“They gave us Galaxy tablets, an engraved belt buckle and a watch,” Jake Filkins said. “Last year we just got backpacks.”
The gift upgrades (or “swag” as the slag term is often used) are a reminder, said the Prescott native and senior on the University of Minnesota football team, that even though U fans might be disappointed the Golden Gophers are going to the same bowl destination as last season’s team did despite having a better record, for the players no bowl game is a bad bowl game to be at.
“I know some fans might be disappointed but the team is really looking forward to it,” Filkins said. “I thought Reliant Stadium was a great, modern venue to be in and we’re facing a Syracuse team we played a year ago and we’re confident we can beat and get nine wins. As a team we had a lot of fun last time we were down here, especially the rodeo both teams are involved in, so I can’t wait to get going.”
The team flew out from the Twin Cities last weekend to take in a week’s worth of events leading up to Saturday’s bowl game. For Filkins the week-long build-up are finals steps of a journey which took him from being just another fan in the stands to being part of the select few who have played Big Ten football from 1896 to today.
Filkins originally enrolled at the U to wrestle starting in the fall of 2009 but after watching a Gopher game from in the new TCF Stadium, thought he could he do as good a job long snapping the ball, which he did playing football in high school, as what the Gophers had on the team that year. After wrestling season he pursued this course through the Gophers’ spring practice and was able to get a tryout, which led to him making the team for the 2010 season and beyond.
Filkins tried to compete in both sports along with taking a full course load but it proved too much to handle. He put aside his wrestling aspirations to concentrate on football but he never forgot what wrestling had taught him.
“Wrestling taught me how to focus,” Filkins said. “It’s easy to lose focus when you’re in a huge venue and you feel all those eyes looking down upon you, and that’s just the fans, let alone the other team. But I never was nervous snapping ball and I think it’s due to having wrestled at state and other big gyms and areas with lots people. It never occurred to be to be anxious because I had that experience. It’s strange how it worked out because I had wrestled all my life but only played football for a few seasons, but I put my wrestling experience to good use.”
Filkins split time long-snapping during first season with the U’s football program. That fall was one of turmoil as head coach Tim Brewster was fired midway through it and Jeff Horton filled-in the rest of the way. But Gophers found a way to beat Illinois and Iowa to end at least on an upswing and provide a level ground for new head coach Jerry Kill to start building a foundation.
The Kill years so far have had their ups and downs too but he and his staff’s coaching helped Filkins take over the long-snapping duties fulltime and provided a stability which allowed the team to get through Kill’s absences from the team due to his health.
“Just like last year we started off well but then we lost some games and we were worried we wouldn’t even make a bowl much less worry about what bowl we were in,” Filkins said. “And then you had Coach Kill leaving as well. But he never really leaves, because his staff knows what is expected of them and continues to coach the same way as if he’s there in person. His presence is the same on or off the field. We were trying to do everything to help him and all he asked of us is just to win and that’s what we did.”
The Gophers won four straight Big Ten games for the first time since 1973, including their first win over Nebraska since 1960 and their first win at Indiana since 1985. The winning streak saved the season and was the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae that was Filkins’ post-graduate semester of football. He went through commencement at the U last spring.
“I enrolled in a graduate certificate course to stay eligible which involved online course work and lot of reading and other busywork for school,” Filkins said. “But it was a lot less time consuming than playing football during a regular school year. It allowed me to work out a horse barn in Jordan, Minnesota, which I enjoyed a lot. It kept me fresh for football practice and games. “
Filkins future plans entailed graduate school for chiropractic care at Northwestern. But his special teams coach has told him some NFL clubs are starting to show interest in Filkins as a long-snapper, which has him excited about a potential pro career.
“Grad school is definitely Plan B for right now,” Filkins said. “I plan to come back to Minneapolis after the bowl game and work out all winter and spring to stay in shape and hope I can sign with an NFL team. They don’t exactly draft long-snappers but I like to pursue a pro career if I have opportunity to do so.”
Indeed, it could be another case of one opportunity leading to another for Filkins.