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 have successfully recruited a 6-foot-6 transfer student who is expected to compete for playing time right away. Nice going, Tubby, right?
But this recruit isn't a basketball player, and Jerry Kill signed him, not Tubby Smith. His name is Chris Hawthorne, and if he earns the job in spring and fall practices, he will become Minnesota's new placekicker.
"I've got such long (legs), I need to pay attention to my mechanics," Hawthorne said. "But if I put on some weight and refine my technique, I should be able to really launch the ball."
He's still learning the craft, Hawthorne admits, since he played soccer, not football, until his senior year of high school at Leesville Road High in Raleigh, N.C. But he kicked so well there -- 8-for-8, including a 44-yarder -- that N.C. State convinced him to walk on last fall.
Hawthorne planned to redshirt while senior Josh Czajkowski did the kicking last season, but when the starter injured a hamstring in November, Hawthorne sacrificed his redshirt season by kicking a field goal and five extra points in a victory over Wake Forest. Czajkowski returned the following week, but Hawthorne handled kickoffs for the rest of the year.
"It came down to doing what was best for the team," Hawthorne said of giving up his redshirt year. "It wasn't hard."
But the Wolfpack recruited a scholarship kicker for next season, and Hawthorne decided to find a new opportunity. A coach from a kicking camp he attended put him in touch with Kill, who was looking for a way to replace Eric Ellestad, who made 11 of 17 field goals during his senior season last fall.
Hawthorne liked what he heard from Kill and his staff, then visited campus with his mother over the weekend. When Kill offered a scholarship, Hawthorne quickly accepted, and he'll be in Minneapolis by the end of the week to enroll in spring semester. Since he wasn't a scholarship athlete at N.C. State, he won't have to sit out a season like transfers normally do.
"The coaching staff really won my family over," said Hawthorne, whose parents are Michigan alum. His kicking coaches "told me Coach Kill is a great coach, really knows how to treat his players. He's a straight shooter."
Hawthorne said he is working on his flexibiilty, in order to keep his kicking mechanics straight, but is confident he will make an impact with the Gophers. He'll compete for the place-kicking job with junior David Schwerman, who backed up Ellestad.
"Right now, (his kicking) is the best it's ever been," the freshman said. "Working all season helped me become as technically perfect as possible. Now it's a matter of trying to get acclimated to a new setting."
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