Vikings' Sullivan is ready for challenge

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 21, 2009 - 7:13 AM

The second-year center hopes to replace the departed Matt Birk but knows the job won't be handed to him.

John Sullivan:

John Sullivan, the second-year Vikings center from Notre Dame, sees a lot of competition for the center position to replace Matt Birk, who signed with the Baltimore Ravens as a free agent in March.

"I anticipate as much competition as there possibly could be," Sullivan said. "I'm going out there to earn a job. I know nothing is going to be handed to me. I hope there is a lot of competition because that's the only way to make the team better."

Sullivan said he didn't work any harder this offseason because he always works hard to improve.

"I think I was really focused," he said. "I was here during the entire offseason. I spent the year round in Minnesota. I love it here. I'm in great shape. I never really let myself get out of shape after last season. You always have to work your hardest and be prepared to play."

Sullivan said he learned a lot last season even though Birk saw all of the action.

"I learned how to prepare, get ready for a game on game day," he said. "I tried to follow in those guys' footsteps and do what they do.

"I was the scout team center last year. I played a lot of center. Just because you don't play in the games doesn't mean you aren't getting a lot of work during the week.

"Obviously, experience is always a great thing. I was dressed for every game last year. I was always one play away. So I feel there is some experience. I got some time in there during the preseason and was out there on special teams. Obviously, it can only help to go out there and play the center position."

Does he think the team will miss Birk and his 11 years of experience?

"I have a lot of confidence in myself. I hope I do a great job," he said. "I'm going out there to prove it to myself and my teammates and the fans of the Minnesota Vikings that I'm the guy for the job.

"I'm not trying to replace Matt. Matt's a local guy. He was a great player for the Minnesota Vikings."

Yes, the Vikings have had some great centers, including Mick Tingelhoff, Kirk Lowdermilk, Jeff Christy, Birk and others.

You want my opinion from getting to know Sullivan and watching him operate around Winter Park? He will join that list of great centers.

Won both twice

The Gophers men's track team has won both the Big Ten indoor and outdoor titles in the same year twice, in 1998 and this year.

The future is good, with the 10 seniors out of the 30 athletes who competed at the conference meet last weekend contributing only 26 of the 130 points the Gophers scored in winning the title.

The main scorers among seniors were Ibrahim Kabia, who finished second in the 100 meters and sixth in the 200; Ben Puhl, third in the steeplechase, and Andy Bastian, fourth in the hammer throw.

Those who will return for 2009-10 were led by sophomore Hassan Mead, who scored 20 points by winning the 5,000 and 10,000 meters; junior Aaron Studt, who scored 16 points by winning the shot put and placing third in the hammer throw, and junior Chris Rombough, who earned 12 points with two third-place finishes in the 5,000 and 10,000.

Seventeen athletes will go on to the NCAA Midwest Regional at the University of Oklahoma on May 29-30. The regional decides qualifiers for the NCAA Championships on June 10-13 at the University of Arkansas.

Jottings

Rivals.com has the Gophers' Adam Weber as the third-ranked quarterback in the Big Ten. Daryll Clark of Penn State is rated sixth, Terrelle Pryor of Ohio State is 16th and Weber is 22nd among the top 25 QBs in the country. No. 1 is Florida's Tim Tebow, who will be shooting for a third national title and a second Heisman Trophy. However, Gophers football coach Tim Brewster says he wouldn't trade Weber for any college quarterback in the country.

Talk about an injustice. Gophers infielder Derek McCallum hit .401 this season (.440 in Big Ten games), scored 46 runs, had 79 hits, 15 home runs, 72 RBI, 142 total bases and a .721 slugging percentage. Still, he didn't get the Big Ten Player of the Year award. It went to Ohio State's Dan Burkhart, who hit . 362 (.350 in the Big Ten), scored 45 runs, had 67 hits, nine home runs, 57 RBI, 113 total bases and a .611 slugging percentage. Ohio State won the regular-season conference title. ... The Gophers baseball team was ranked in the top 25 in three different polls on May 18. They were No 20 in Rivals.com, No. 21 in Baseball America and No. 24 in Collegiate Baseball Magazine.

The base contract for Darren Sharper, the former Vikings safety, for one year with the Saints is $1.7 million with some incentives. ... If the Vikings are still looking for offensive linemen next season, former Gopher Ben Hamilton, who has been a starter for Denver except for the year he sat out because of an illness, will be a free agent after this year. He earned $2.8 million last year. Another local offensive lineman who starts for Denver is Ryan Harris, who played high school football at Cretin-Derham Hall and college ball at Notre Dame and is going into his third year with the Broncos.

St. Cloud State defensive end Ryan Kees has signed an undrafted-free-agent contract with the Detroit Lions. Kees, from Eagan, was a three-year starter for the Huskies. ... Goldensports.net reports that A.J. Tarpley, a 6-2, 222-pound junior linebacker from Wayzata who helped lead the Trojans to a 13-0 record and the Class 5A title last fall, has made a verbal commitment to Stanford. His brother, Matt, a wide receiver and quarterback, is going to walk on at Mississippi this season.

Bloomington native Erik Johnson, the former Gophers defenseman and the first overall pick in the 2006 NHL draft by the Blues, is back home from St. Louis after rehabilitating the knee he injured while playing golf last September. His knee is about 85 percent healed and he definitely will be ready to play this coming season. ... Lou Nanne, a outstanding hockey player, coach and general manager, has some ideas about what the Wild needs to compete next year. "I'd go out and sign [Montreal free agent forward] Saku Koivo, who I'm sure would want to come here because his brother, Mikko, is here [with the Wild] and he still has some good hockey left," Nanne said. "And I think they want to add a defensive defenseman, and I think they've got to try and get another good scorer up front on the wing. If they can add those ... pieces and keep Marian Gaborik healthy [Gaborik can become a free agent July 1], I think they would be very formidable as a hockey club."

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast once a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com

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