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.

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Leidner, Cobb and Thompson picked to represent Gophers at Big Ten Media Days

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gophers preseason practice, Gophers awards and honors Updated: July 10, 2014 - 12:17 PM

It says something about a player's stature with his team when he gets picked to attend the conference's media festivities. That's why it's worth noting that the Gophers will send Mitch Leidner, David Cobb and Cedric Thompson to Big Ten Media Days in Chicago, July 28-29.

That gives Minnesota three team leaders with three unique stories.

Leidner is a redshirt-sophomore and the clear starter at quarterback. (Here's a link to a profile I did on him last October, noting how the Gophers recruited him -- as a tight end.)

Cobb is heading into his senior season after rushing for 1,202 yards last year and becoming the first Gopher to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark since 2006. (Here's a story on how Cobb persevered despite limited carries as a freshman and sophomore.)

And Thompson is also heading into his senior season at safety, after leading the team with 79 tackles last year. (Here's Thompson's story, which is as interesting as anything I've come across in sports.)

Here's the full list of Big Ten players heading to Chicago later this month.

Gophers' Mortell one of 25 punters named to Ray Guy Award Preseason Watch List

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gophers awards and honors Updated: July 9, 2014 - 9:22 AM

Gophers junior Peter Mortell was one of 25 punters from around the country named to the Ray Guy Award Preseason Watch List on Wednesday. The Big Ten had two other punters on the list -- Ohio State's Cameron Johnston and Michigan State's Mike Sadler.

Mortell averaged 43.3 yards per punt last year, the third best mark in Gophers history. He had 15 punts of 50 yards or more and kept 21 inside the 20-yard line. Here's my story from April about Mortell's sense of humor and serious punting ability.

Gophers' Williams, Olson named to preseason football watch lists

Posted by: Joe Christensen under College football, Gophers awards and honors Updated: July 8, 2014 - 10:52 AM

Gophers tight end Maxx Williams on Tuesday was named to John Mackey Award Preseason Watch List. The Mackey Award goes to the nation's top tight end. Williams was among 40 tight ends named to the preseason watch list, including five others from the Big Ten: Kyle Carter and Jesse James from Penn State, Jeff Heuerman from Ohio State and Tyler Kroft from Rutgers.

Gophers center Tommy Olson was among 66 centers named to the Rimington Trophy Preseason Watch List. Other nominees from the Big Ten include Austin Blythe (Iowa), Betim Bujari (Rutgers), Sal Conaboy (Maryland), Robert Kugler (Purdue), Jack Allen (Michigan State), Mark Pelini (Nebraska), Collin Rahrig (Indiana), Brandon Vitabile, (Northwestern) and Dan Voltz (Wisconsin).

Late addition to Gophers' 2014 recruiting class isn't coming, after all

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gopher recruiting Updated: July 2, 2014 - 2:12 PM

While the Gophers continue waiting and hoping running back recruit Jeff Jones can become academically eligible this summer, they know for certain another member of their 2014 recruiting class didn't make it.

Ra'Shaun Croney, a defensive back from Pahokee, Fla., hit a snag, trying to meet his academic requirements. The consensus three-star recruit also had offers from South Carolina and Arkansas and committed to Ellsworth (Iowa) Community College at one point.

The Gophers made him a late addition to their 2014 class on March 31, knowing they were taking a chance. They are loaded with defensive backs for this fall and plan to use Croney's scholarship on an additional defensive back for the 2015 class.

Cretin-Derham Hall's Jashon Cornell picks Ohio State

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gopher recruiting, NCAA: football Updated: July 1, 2014 - 2:42 PM

Cretin-Derham Hall defensive end Jashon Cornell had his pick of the nation’s top college football programs as one of the country’s highest rated recruits in the 2015 class.

On Wednesday morning, Cornell announced his choice: Ohio State.

Cornell and Justin Hilliard, a linebacker from Cincinnati, timed their announcements together on ESPN.com -- and both picked the Buckeyes.

 It was reminiscent to November, when Tyus Jones of Apple Valley and Jahlil Okafor, of Chicago, announced simultaneously that they’d be playing basketball for Duke.

“I think it was my relationship with [Buckeyes defensive line coach] Larry Johnson, and my auntie lives 30 minutes from their stadium,” Cornell said. “I have family down there, so I don’t have to worry about getting homesick.”

Heading into this announcement, Cornell had said his five finalists were Ohio State, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Penn State and Iowa. The Gophers made a strong push but realized months ago that Cornell wouldn't be staying home.

Cornell said the Gophers "were actually number six on my list. The reason they weren’t in my top [five] is because when I was coming to the last couple weeks of my decision, they didn’t recruit me like they were. They were originally in my Top 5, and Iowa just stepped in because they had me call them a couple times.”

Last year at this time, ESPN.com had Cornell ranked as the nation’s No. 1 prospect in the 2015 class. Cornell has since slipped to No. 16 on that list, and Hilliard is ranked No. 15. Rivals.com has Cornell ranked 76th in the nation, with Hilliard ranked 49th.

The 6-3, 260-pound Cornell joined a list of other highly ranked Cretin-Derham Hall football players to leave the state for college over the years, including Seantrel Henderson (Miami), James Onwualu (Notre Dame), Michael Floyd (Notre Dame), Rafael Eubanks (Iowa) and Matt Carufel (Notre Dame).

 

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