Gophers' Mike Rallis a leader at linebacker

Mike Rallis felt like any player would as he lay on the field at TCF Bank Stadium, his leg mangled after being hit on kickoff coverage against Cal.

A broken leg and torn ankle ligaments ended Rallis' season after just three games. It was a rough reality for the former Minnesota walk-on.

These days, Rallis has a dramatically different take on what happened.

"Looking back at it now, it was definitely a blessing in disguise," Rallis told me Wednesday afternoon. "When it first happened, I was pretty devastated, as you'd expect, just because I'd worked so hard all offseason, all spring, for the season, just as everyone had. But I didn't pout over it too long. Went right back to work the next day in the weight room."

It was there where Rallis started the transition from safety to linebacker, even though he didn't know it.

At the time of the injury, Rallis weighed 210 pounds. But his work in the weight room during the Big Ten season added eight more pounds of good weight to his frame. Then Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster summoned Rallis to his office and told him he would switch to linebacker.

"Coach Brew, as usual, got me fired up about the move, and I just embraced it," Rallis said. "Went straight back to the weight room and kept lifting."

Working with strength coach Mark Hill, Rallis increased his weight to 225 pounds, saw how it felt, and kept going. He now checks in at 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds, ideal size for a linebacker, and expects to stay at this weight for the season.

After a very impressive performance in spring ball, Rallis is being viewed as the leader of a unit that loses all three starters from 2009.

Lee Campbell, Nate Triplett and Simoni Lawrence combined for 309 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions, four fumble recoveries and 18 passes defended last fall. Their departures didn't serve as the primary motivation for Rallis' excitement about the switch, although he acknowledges the obvious.

"You can say there's an opportunity, but there’s also a void that's left," Rallis said. "Someone needs to step up and fill that void. That’s an exciting thing, to have people expecting you to do something. I step up to the challenge. I'm a guy who loves a challenge, and to live up to what those three guys did, we definitely have a challenge in front of us as a group of linebackers."

Minnesota also returns Keanon Cooper and Gary Tinsley, both of whom appeared in every game last season as reserves and combined for 64 tackles. But it's clear the coaches are looking to Rallis to lead the way.

"I've always believed this," he said, "you have to lead by example first; show them what to do before you can tell them what to do. Especially at linebacker, you can be more physical day in and day out and just go to work every single day. That's what I tried to do from the moment I got back from my broken leg."