Kill's mentality makes New Mexico State a feisty adversary

·4 min read

Sep. 22—Think an 0-4 start to an NCAA football season is insurmountable ?

Think an 0-4 start to an NCAA football season is insurmountable ?

Not to New Mexico State head coach Jerry Kill, who is tougher than month-old pipikaula.

Kill conquered stage-4 kidney cancer twice after being diagnosed in 2006 and 2015.

"I'm a tough son of a bitch, " Kill said. "That's how I beat it. ... I'm a lucky dude. God don't want me (yet ), I can tell you that."

Kill's Aggies play host to Hawaii this Saturday in Las Cruces, N.M.

As Minnesota's head coach in 2011, Kill, who suffers from adult epilepsy, collapsed from a seizure on the sideline during a game.

Kill decided to call attention to the ailment. He gave speeches across the country. He founded "Chasing Dreams, " which supports a camp for youths with epilepsy and Seizure Smart Schools. He said he receives emails from sufferers seeking advice. "I try to help others who have it a lot worse than I do, " said Kill, noting "there are young kids who have 15, 20 seizures a day."

With the right combination of medication and care from Dr. Ilo Leppik, an epilepsy specialist, Kill is coping with the condition. He said he has suffered about three seizures in the past three years.

"Have they slowed down ?" Kill said. "I wouldn't be able to do what I'm doing over the last five years or so. I've done a lot of work to get where I'm at. I've got one of the best doctors in the country, maybe the world. Guy's an expert. He's helped educate me pretty good."

During a 23-year career as a head coach, Kill earned a reputation for repairing broken football programs. In 2001, he was hired at Southern Illinois, which had two winning seasons in the previous 17 years. Two years later, the Salukis went 10-2. In 2008, Kill inherited a 2-10 Northern Illinois team. Kill's Huskies went to three consecutive bowls. He then transformed Minnesota from a program that was sub-.500 for four of five years into a bowl participant in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Soon after Doug Martin's expiring contract was not renewed last November, Kill was hired as the 35th head coach in New Mexico State's football history. The first 34 were not consistently successful. NMSU, which competes as an independent, has won only three bowls in 127 years.

"They've lost here for a long time, " Kill said. "We've won at some tough-assed places, and so we're going to see if we can do it one more time."

Kill said his rebuilding formula emphasizes "hiring a great staff, academics, and weight room. Those are the three things I start with."

Kill hired Tim Beck, who was an offensive analyst at TCU, as offensive coordinator, and Nate Dreiling, who has coached at Oregon and Southeast Missouri State, to run the Aggies' defense. Kill's wish is to develop a team that is strong in both establishing and defending the run.

"I think that's where it all starts, " Kill said. "You've got to have a tough team mentally and physically. That's what we've got to work on. We're not very mentally and physically tough right now. But someday we will be because we'll recruit it."

The Aggies are trying to resolve the quarterback duel between Diego Pavia and Gavin Frakes. They have played three freshmen in the front seven. After playing Minnesota and Wisconsin, there are no more power-five schools the rest of the schedule.

"I'm just glad to get out of the Big Ten Conference, " Kill mused.

Kill is involved in the fund-raising efforts to improve NMSU's facilities. Next academic year, the Aggies join Conference USA in all sports. And Kill has put his money behind his belief in the Aggies.

"I'm one of the largest givers, " said Kill, who has donated $120, 000 to the Aggies. "I invested in the program. I want them to know I'm serious about this deal. I challenge everybody (to donate ). They need to pick it up a little bit."

Correction : An earlier version of this story included a photo and caption that misidentified Jerry Kill.