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Minnesota tries to balance grief with football

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- Glen Mason wonders how he'll find the right balance. He knows he must prepare his players for games, but he also knows he must allow them time to grieve.

"I don't have the answer," the Minnesota coach said. "I'm going with the slow approach. I make the calls as I see them. I've got to listen to the kids. I don't want to force anybody to do anything at this point."

The Minnesota football team practiced Tuesday for the first time since the shooting death of Brandon Hall early Sunday outside a Minneapolis dance club. It was the first day of classes for fall semester, but the players' minds were far from books or blocking schemes.

"It's been a tough few days around here," Mason said.

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The Golden Gophers, who beat Southwest Texas State 42-0 in their opener just a few hours before Hall was shot, will practice Wednesday and Thursday. They will travel on Friday for their game at Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday, but nobody will be worrying about the Ragin' Cajuns much this week.

"I haven't even thought about it all weekend," tight end Ben Utecht said. "The game disappeared. Everything disappeared."

A memorial service, open to the public, will be held Thursday night for Hall at Williams Arena, and Mason plans to attend the funeral in Detroit on Monday.

The Gophers will wear a No. 71 patch on their jerseys for the rest of the season and retire Hall's number until 2005, when he was scheduled to graduate.

As a redshirt freshman and reserve defensive lineman, Hall didn't have a significant role on the team.

"I've never seen a defensive lineman who smiled so much," said quarterback and co-captain Asad Abdul-Khaliq. "Most all of those guys are mean and tough, but 95 percent of the time he was the most hilarious guy. You never saw him sad or upset.

"His future was limitless, man. He had some of the rawest talent I'd ever seen."

Hall was with a group of players who went looking for three men accused of assaulting and robbing defensive end Damian Haye earlier that night, police said.

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Police added that they broke up at least three fights between Gophers football players and several other men in the hour before Hall was shot. Charges against the three suspects most likely will be filed Wednesday, a spokesman for the Hennepin County attorney's office said.

Teammates believe Hall wasn't headed downtown to look for trouble, simply to play peacemaker.

"It's difficult," Abdul-Khaliq said. "How many times we've all been out and seen an altercation, but nothing like this has ever happened before."

Mason often warns his players to be careful about where postgame revelry might take them.

"I am one of the biggest second-guessers in the business as far as how to prepare a team," Mason said. "I'm driving down (Interstate) 394 at 4 a.m. thinking, 'What could I have done different?'

"But other than sending the kids back to the practice facility to watch film and locking the door and saying, 'You can't leave,' there's not a darn thing I could've done."

If anything, Abdul-Khaliq said, a tragedy like this can bring a team closer.

"You realize, even though it's sad to say, that you have to move on," he said. "We're going to be all right. We're going to come out of this so strong."

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