Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.
Email Joe to talk about the Gophers.
The Gophers plucked two football recruits from Alabama this year, and if you’re wondering how on Earth that happened, it starts with a recruiting staff spending countless hours, studying video and establishing contact with the right players.
It includes the tireless efforts of assistant coach Jay Sawvel, one of the team’s top recruiters, and of course, head coach Jerry Kill.
But the Gophers have a secret weapon now, too. His name is KJ Maye.
When Maye signed with the Gophers in 2012, out of Murphy High School in Alabama, it was a rarity. From what I could gather on the Rivals.com database, Maye was just the second Gophers signee from Alabama since 2002. The other was Ralph Spry, who lasted two seasons under Tim Brewster before leaving the program.
Maye has yet to make a huge mark on the field for the Gophers, as he was limited with a sports hernia as a sophomore last year. But the former high school quarterback looks like he’s back to full speed after surgery. He has been the team’s best slot receiver in spring camp.
Listening to offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover on Tuesday, I started to realize Maye’s importance to the team.
“He’s such a positive vibe guy that we missed some of that [last fall] -- his athletic ability, his positive energy -- we’re just happy to have it all back right now, without a doubt,” Limegrover said.
The fact Maye is having a good experience at Minnesota only helps the Gophers with recruiting. This year, they signed Jerry Gibson, a 6-3, 220-pound tight end out of Theodore, Ala., who had an offer from Steve Spurrier at South Carolina.
And they also landed Gary Moore, a 6-4, 285-pound defensive lineman from Murphy High School – Maye’s alma mater. Kill calls him “Baby Ra’Shede.”
“Yeah,” Maye said Tuesday. “If you see him, you’ll say the same thing.”
Moore was committed to Southern Mississippi but flipped his commitment to the Gophers.
“I knew I could get him here because Gary grew up playing with me,” Maye said. “He was on the D-line, when I was at quarterback, and he was kind of lazy, and I’d get after him. I kind of motivated him to play to his potential, being that big.”
It’s not just Alabama. Over the past two years, the Gophers have signed five players out of Georgia, thanks to the recruiting of assistant coach Brian Anderson. That list includes WR Donovahn Jones, S Daletavious McGhee, CB Jalen Myric, LB Jonathan Celestin and RB Rodney Smith.
Those players might love everything they hear from the coaching staff, but it helps when they can hear it from a player from that part of the country, too.
“Coming from the South to the North, the biggest thing was the weather,” Maye said. “So once you get here, you go through a full winter, all that stuff, it’s tough. But once you get used to it, you’re fine because it’s a good school and a good program.”
It's been more than seven weeks since National Signing Day, but the Gophers just added another member to their 2014 recruiting class. Ra'Shaun Croney, a defensive back from Pahokee, Fla., faxed his national letter of intent to Minnesota today, the Star Tribune has confirmed.
Croney, who is rated as a three-star recruit in the 247Sports.com composite rankings, becomes the 21st member of this year's Gophers recruiting class. He had offers from South Carolina and Arkansas, but those schools backed off when it looked like he wouldn't qualify academically.
He signed with Ellsworth (Iowa) Community College, but his grades have been on the rise, so the Gophers invited him in for an official visit last weekend. They were hoping to get one more defensive back for this class to go along with Craig James, and now they have him.
Gophers coaches have dropped big hints in recent days that at least two defensive linemen could play this fall – as true freshmen.
The Gophers need to replace two defensive tackles – potential first-round draft pick Ra’Shede Hageman and Roland Johnson, who was a key reserve.
Senior Cameron Botticelli is back as a starter, and junior Scott Ekpe should slide in next to him. The Gophers like to rotate at least four defensive tackles, so depth is critical. Sophomore Yoshoub Timms will see more playing time once his hamstring injury heals, and redshirt Demarius Peppers is progressing, too.
But the Gophers also have two defensive tackles coming this summer in Steven Richardson, from Chicago Mt. Carmel, and Gary Moore from Mobile, Ala.
“I’m going to tell you straight up that Roland and Ra’Shede -- pound for pound -- were our strongest people in the middle, and replacing them isn’t going to be easy,” defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said last week. “But at the same time, you’ve got two kids in there who took just as many reps and played awfully well and just didn’t get the publicity in Cameron Botticelli and Scott Ekpe.
“They will hold us up in the middle fine, and we’re going to have to rely on Shoobee Timms and Steven Richardson and Gary Moore and some of those kids to give us the depth in there. We redshirted Demarius Peppers, and I feel good about where that’s at.
“So there’s going to be some names in there that people haven’t heard of, and they’re going to be younger, but I feel like we cannot lose ground up front.”
Richardson is listed at just 6-foot tall, but he was 285 pounds, and the Gophers were ecstatic to get him. On National Signing Day, Coach Jerry Kill compared Richardson to Pittsburgh’s All-American Aaron Donald.
“Steve can run 4.7,” Kill said, of the scouting report he received from Mt. Carmel coach Frank Lenti. “And again, I’m going to believe it because he was at Mt. Carmel, and the last player I got out of Mt. Carmel – Jordan Lynch.
“Frank doesn’t tell you this is a guy unless he’s the guy, and this kid benches something like 400 pounds and runs 4.7.”
Moore also had some impressive measurables coming out of Murphy High School in Mobile, Ala. He’s 6-4, 285 pounds yet can reportedly squat 680 pounds and run the 40-yard dash in 4.75 seconds.
The Gophers also have two defensive ends coming this fall in Owatonna’s Aaron Stelter, and Julien Kafo, from the Montreal area.
“We’re bringing in four freshmen defensive linemen, and I think two of them will play, maybe three,” Kill said Thursday. “They’re talented. They’re all ready. One of them benches 400-something pounds, runs a 4.7, so I mean that’s going to create depth.”
Happy National Signing Day, everyone.
You can get the latest on the Gophers and other National Signing Day news on our Live Blog.
Jeff Jones made it official today, picking the Gophers in an announcement at Minneapolis Washburn. And soon after, the Gophers announced that Gary Moore signed his letter of intent.
That means all the players that were reportedly commited and speculated on heading into Wednesday, are in the fold. As of 11:25 a.m., the Gophers class ranked 49th in the Rivals.com rankings.
Earlier, Defensive back Craig James, who also delayed his official announcement until Wednesday, picked the Gophers. And the Gophers officially signed Jerry Gibson, who visited South Carolina last weekend. Here's a tweet from Gibson this morning:
Who can say that coach kill got on the phone and sung happy birthday #ICAN— Jerry Gibson (@TheNew_JG3) February 5, 2014
Here's a list of players already signed, sealed and delivered for Minnesota:
-Jonathan Celestin, LB, Jonesboro (Ga.) Mundy Mill, 6-1, 205: Gophers found this under-the-radar recruit while working on his high school teammate, Rodney Smith.
-Gaelin Elmore, TE, Somerset (Wisc.), 6-6, 245: Committed last June and held firm, despite offers from Wisconsin, Nebraska and Vanderbilt.
-Isaiah Gentry, WR, Cincinnati Moeller, 6-4, 185: Speedy receiver flipped his commitment from Kent State. Also had an offer from Rutgers.
-Jerry Gibson, ATH, Theodore (Ala.), 6-3, 220: Visited South Carolina last weekend. Top athlete who could be a tight end, defensive end or linebacker.
-Melvin Holland Jr., WR, Ashburn (Va.) Briar Woods, 6-3, 190: A converted linebacker who turned heads as a senior receiver. Had offers from Wisconsin and Rutgers.
-Craig James, CB Edwardsville (Ill.), 5-11, 175: Had strong interest from Indiana and delayed official announcement until Wednesday but signed with the Gophers.
-Jeff Jones, RB, Minneapolis Washburn, 6-0, 198: Co-MVP from Under Armour All-American Game announced his final decision Wednesday.
-Julien Kafo, DE, Montreal (Que.) Vanier College, 6-4, 245: Had offers from Iowa and Nebraska, according to Rivals.com. Will be a 20-year-old freshman.
-Conner Krizancic, WR, Mentor (Ohio), 6-2, 190: Flipped his commitment from Cincinnati. Played quarterback as a high school senior.
-Brandon Lingen, TE, Wayzata, 6-5, 245: Wasn’t heavily recruited after being injured as a junior, but added 35 pounds and was a force as a senior.
-Connor Mayes, C, Van Alstyne (Texas), 6-5, 315: Played in U.S. Army All-American Game. Brother of Gophers lineman Alex Mayes.
-Gary Moore, DT, Mobile (Ala.) Murphy, 6-4, 285: Flipped his commitment from Southern Mississippi. Big, strong kid who can run the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds.
-Cody Poock, LB, Iowa Western Community College, 6-2, 230: Picked the Gophers over TCU. Has three years of eligibility remaining. Already enrolled.
-Luke Rasmussen, OL, Brookfield (Wisc.) Central, 6-7, 270: Scored a 33 on his ACT exam, and had offers from Air Force, Harvard and Yale.
-Steven Richardson, DT, Chicago Mt. Carmel, 5-11, 285: Defensive MVP of the Chicago Catholic League had 34 tackles for a loss, including 17 sacks.
-Dimonic Roden-McKinzy, QB, Kansas City (Kan.) Wyandotte, 6-0, 210: Dual-threat passer had offers from Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas. Already enrolled.
-Andrew Stelter, DE, Owatonna (Minn.), 6-4, 250: Consensus three-star recruit had offers from Duke, Harvard, Yale, Iowa State and Northern Illinois.
-Rodney Smith, RB, Jonesboro (Ga.) Mundy Mill, 5-11, 195: Tore an ACL as a junior but bounced back to rush for 2,200 yards as a senior.
- Jared Weyler, OL, Dayton (Ohio) Centerville, 6-4, 280: Flipped his commitment from Bowling Green. He’ll be an interior lineman for the Gophers.
-Everett Williams, LB, Mansfield (Texas) Legacy, 6-2, 220: Strong tackler with terrific grades. He had offers from Western Michigan and Northern Illinois.
On Saturday at 4 a.m., ESPN’s national recruiting director Tom Luginbill was up studying videotape of recent Gophers commit Isaiah Gentry, a wide receiver from Cincinnati’s Moeller High School.
Luginbill tweeted about what he was doing, and this led to a quick exchange with a follower who has an Auburn logo for an avatar:
@ATL_JAY Yeah, good player too. Jerry Kill might be one of the top 5 coaches in CFB right now.— Tom Luginbill (@TomLuginbill) February 1, 2014
Two days later, ESPN held a media conference call with Luginbill, and I asked him to explain what inspired his tweet.
I used part of that answer in this story analyzing the class the Gophers are expected to unveil on National Signing Day. Here’s a longer version of Luginbill’s answer:
“Coaching can be defined in a lot of ways, but when you take a football team like the one [Kill] had this fall. You go through the off-the-field situation you had with the seizures and the epilepsy, you win eight-plus games with a roster -- and I don’t mean this to sound negative -- but that roster had no business winning eight games, and I think that’s a sign of coaching.
“In many ways, he’s like a Jim Grobe at Wake [Forest], when he had a great run there. There are guys out there that I don’t think get the credit they deserve, and [Kill’s] certainly one of them.
“And I think he’s in the process right now of enhancing the roster with more speed, more athleticism. It’s just not something you do overnight by waving a magic wand, it’s a process.
“All I know is, if you don’t believe in his process, then you haven’t been paying attention to his history because all he’s done is won.”
Note: Check back here in the morning for the latest Gophers signing updates, including the much anticipated decision by Jeff Jones at 10 a.m.
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