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.
At the risk of being accused of papering over his flaws, of covering for the coach in order to gain his trust, I suppose I should confess something. I uncovered some dirt on Jerry Kill when I visited his hometown last month, and I left it out of my profile of him that ran Sunday. (That story is now online, by the way, at http://www.startribune.com/sports/gophers/126910093.html)
So here's the story of Kill's shady past, straight from the mouth of his high school football coach Ken Diskin, a charming retiree in his 80s who loves coaching so much, he's still in charge of a girl's basketball team at a local high school:
"Jerry Kill hid from the police in my house," Diskin said. "I don't think they ever found him."
Go ahead, alert the NCAA.
OK, there's more to the story. I asked Kill about it recently, and he confessed.
"I was 14 or so. In Cheney, it was a tradition at Halloween to drag stuff out into the street" as a prank, Kill said. Never heard of that one before, but whatever. "There was one police officer in Cheney, and he tried to catch you every year. So a bunch of us kids were out and the police started to chase us. They were building Coach Diskin's new house by the fire station, and they had dug the basement for it, so we ran in there to hide."
Even better? Diskin's memory is that the boys couldn't get out of the newly dug hole, and after an hour or so, had to yell for help.
"I always accuse him of using our house without permission," Diskin said with a laugh. "I think he paid the price for it," probably by serving the coach's favorite punishment: By running to Garden Plain, another tiny Kansas town that is Cheney's arch-rival, and back, a distance of six miles each way, with Diskin setting a time limit.
So ended Kill's life of crime.
"That same officer who was chasing us, he'd wave at you as you drove the wheat truck into town," Kill said. "It was a fun time."
I have a few more tidbits about Kill's background from his mother Sonja and his brother Frank that I'll share over the next few days.
Until then, back to practice. The Gophers' fourth practice is today at 3:55 p.m., and is open to the public.
So far, the practices are mostly about fundamentals, which is to be expected given all the freshmen in uniform. Kill and defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys have been spending the majority of their time testing the newcomers, trying to determine which ones can play this year, and which ones will redshirt. I'm sure they appreciate all the attention, since they won't get much once it's time to install the gameplan for USC. But there's a flip side to it, too -- Kill was in freshman quarterback Dexter Foreman's face during one drill, after the QB repeated a mistake.
Kill also entertained the crowd of onlookers with his assessment of a couple of linemen who didn't impress him with their effort during a one-on-one drill: "That is soft! Both of you -- soft! Go get an ice cream cone!"
The intensity seemed ratcheted up yesterday, particularly on the part of the coaches. I'm guessing they saw lots they didn't like on Tuesday's film, and made sure the players knew it Wednesday. The intensity was so high, I had to laugh at the surprise on the part of the players when Kill gave them a momentary break. At the end of a special-teams drill, after working the players hard on one kickoff return after another, Kill told his players to go drink some water. Take off your helmets, walk to the sidelines, go get a drink, he said.
Kim Royston was shocked. "We can walk? Really?" he said.
Yep. Expectations are so high, it's a shock when they are let down, even for a moment.
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