Salukis coach Kill back at work after cancer surgery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Three months since losing part of a kidney to cancer, Southern Illinois football coach Jerry Kill is back at work -- and as demanding as ever.

"I feel like I'm getting better each day," the 44-year-old Kill said Wednesday, a week after the Salukis began spring football. "I've been going hard and strong, and hopefully that will continue."

The health scare, in fact, may have emboldened the coach.

"He's definitely not taking it easy by any means," said quarterback Nick Hill, who will be a junior next season. "If there's been any change, he's got more energy and seems to have
more drive, more desire.

"It seems like he's got a new passion and is just thankful for being out there, like he's living each practice like it's his last," Hill added.

At least publicly, Kill has been a rock since last fall, when he weathered a series of seizures that included one on the sidelines in the waning seconds of an Oct. 15 home loss to Illinois State. The university attributed the seizures then to an unspecified condition that occasionally manifested itself with such episodes but was not considered life-threatening.

Tests revealed Kill had cancer not long after the Salukis' biggest victory of last season -- an Oct. 27 victory at Western Kentucky, then Division I-AA's top-ranked team.

Apart from his family and the athletic director, Kill kept his cancer secret. He didn't want to distract the team.

The Salukis' season ended Dec. 3 with a loss to Appalachian State in the quarterfinals of the Division I-AA playoffs. Kill had the tumor removed about a month later. Since then, he has taken several days off to spend with his wife, "but other than that I haven't changed any." Translation: Work, work, work.

"I haven't changed my hours, and I'm not working any differently than I've worked the previous 23 years of spring ball" at colleges in Kansas and Michigan, he said. "I haven't changed a whole lot."

No one's challenging that.

"From talking to the guys on the team, they say he's a man on a mission. His energy level and desire and passion haven't faded," said Joel Sambursky, who last season closed his college career with most of the Salukis' passing records.

Kill downplays his ordeal.

"There's a lot of people out there who have struggled a lot worse than Jerry Kill," he said. "I'm a fortunate man."