IOWA CITY — Troy Stoudermire burst on the Big Ten scene as a true freshman in 2008 as a premier kick returner for Minnesota.
Stoudermire, a fifth-year senior cornerback, led the league with a 25.8 yard-per-return average. He was a weapon on a team that started 7-1 and appeared set for a run toward a New Year’s Day bowl.
Then came a late-season collapse. Minnesota lost three straight and were emotionally flat entering its traditional season finale against Iowa. The Hawkeyes showed no mercy and buried the Gophers, 55-0.
But Stoudermire was the one Minnesota player who could hold his head high afterward. He tied a Big Ten mark with nine kickoff returns for a league record 283 yards. He took four returns into Iowa territory. Minnesota’s worst starting position after a kickoff was its 37.
“All I could remember was just going out there, every kick return, and doing my best,” Stoudermire said. “No matter what the score was. I didn’t look at the scoreboard. I just tried to give the offense and the team in good field position every time I returned a kick. That’s exactly what I did. That was my main focus, just getting it to the 50 or taking it to the crib.”
Stoudermire’s performance was solid enough for Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz to remember him years later, saying, “I think he’s 28 or 29 right now.”
“The return part of it is he’s just he’s got a knack,” Ferentz said. “Some guys do that really well, some don’t. He had it coming in as a true freshman, as we found out firsthand.”
Stoudermire is the Big Ten’s record holder in kickoff return yards (3,189). He needs just 228 yards to set the NCAA record. Once that was a focus for Stoudermire. But that’s not true anymore.
The Gophers’ 4-0 start under second-year coach Jerry Kill has Stoudermire and his teammates re-evaluating their priorities. Individual records are nice but lack the substance that team success breeds. Stoudermire has matured, as have the Gophers.
“This year it’s just been a focus of helping the team win,” Stoudermire said. “Trying to break this little hex on our team.”
Stoudermire bounced from cornerback to receiver and back to cornerback under former coach Tim Brewster. Now he’s set at that position and ranks second in team tackles with 25. He enjoyed getting on the field as an underclassmen but looking back, he would have preferred to stay strictly at defensive back.
“I felt like I wasted a lot of time going to receiver and coming back to corner and realizing that I feel more comfortable playing at corner than I do at receiver,” Stoudermire said. “If I could get those years back playing cornerback as a freshman, I felt like I’d be better off than I am right now. I feel like every since Coach Kill and his staff came here, my play at corner has gotten a lot better. My technique I cleaned up. I feel like I’m doing great at corner.”
Stoudermire, a Dallas, Texas native, suffered a broken arm in the Gophers’ fourth game last year and was lost for the season. He received another season of eligibility and used that time wisely. He graduated with a degree in youth studies and takes two graduate-level courses.
“I can get in the film room and study more Iowa, which is great,” Stoudermire said.
He also perfected his technique and has grown as a cornerback, Kill said.
“As far corner, each week he gets better because it’s a new position relatively,” Kill said. “He missed all of last year. I think he’s playing very well.”