HOUSTON – The coach opened it up for questions, and a little boy raised his hand. The child could have asked Jerry Kill anything, anything at all, and he would have gotten a straight answer. The Kill way is to tell the truth, even if the truth isn't too optimistic. The Minnesota head coach learned that as a boy growing up in a tiny Kansas town with a dad who spit truth like sunflower seeds. So this little boy was going to get the truth, even in front of a group of fans in neighboring Wisconsin, even if he asked why the Gophers never beat Michigan, and never beat Ohio State.
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"I have epilepsy," the boy said. "Do you think I'll ever have a girlfriend?"
Kill paused for a moment, and looked around the room.
It was one of many epilepsy questions Kill would face in 2012. It was perhaps the most poignant question, but not the toughest. The toughest would come months after the child raised his hand, well into the Gophers' season, after Kill had seizures during games and missed a half of football against Michigan State. Some of those questions would be asked to his face, and some behind his back.
What does it feel like when you have a seizure?
Is it the stress from coaching?
Won't recruits be scared off?
Isn't this too much of a distraction for the program?
Might you die on the field?
Are you fit to coach this team?
Kill is still surprised by all of this. He had his first seizure 12 years ago. He's had many since. They are a part of his life. In fact, they are a reason for his life. One of his seizures brought him to the hospital, where doctors did tests and found out he had kidney cancer. If he didn't have the epilepsy, maybe he doesn't have the surprise diagnosis, the successful treatment, the rocket ship that is his coaching career and, in five months, the 30th wedding anniversary with wife Rebecca. So in a roundabout way, Jerry Kill is grateful for epilepsy.