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.
When I saw the Gopher Illustrated tweet announcing that an unnamed prospect "has decommitted from a BCS school for the Gophers," I was impressed. This Minnesota coaching staff must be doing a great selling job, I figured, to pry away a recruit from another major school to a program coming off a 3-9 season.
And that's probably the way the Gophers would prefer to characterize the recruitment of Martez Shabazz, a junior-college cornerback who originally chose Baylor.
But the newest Gophers recruit, who just finished his second season at Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College, was honest about the reason he switched to his second-choice school. "Baylor wouldn't take some of my D's I had, so I would have had to do a mini-mester (class) at Baylor in order to play," he told the rivals.com-affiliated recruiting site. "But I didn't have enough money to do that, so I gave Minnesota a call on Thursday, and they accepted my commitment."
Give Shabazz credit -- most borderline academic cases couch their status in buzzwords, talk about "getting my paperwork in order" or "working on some issues." But the sophomore cornerback, considered one of the fastest JC defenders available, was blunt about his grades, honest about his decision, and also ecstatic about his new first choice.
"I can't wait to get up to Minnesota and start proving myself to all that Coach (Jerry) Kill has said," Shabazz told GI, explaining that the Gophers coach envisions using him on blitzes as well as in coverage, ala LSU's Tyrann Mathieu. "The early playing opportunity I would have and the chance to play in the Big Ten is unmatched."
It will be interesting to watch Shabazz's progress, given Kill's oft-stated wariness about junior-college players, particularly those with grade problems. Two JC prospects from last winter, after all, never made it to Minnesota due to academic issues.
College coaches can't comment on recruits until they sign letters of intent. But judging by Shabazz's quotes, Kill believes he can motivate the junior-to-be to work harder in the classroom, and that his low grades won't be as big a hurdle at Minnesota as it was at Baylor. (It's also possible that the Bears simply preferred other players, and used the grades as a way to sever their relationship -- such maneuverings are common as schools try to allocate their scholarships to the best players they can find.) Kill has called him every day since Shabazz switched to the Gophers, he said, and plans to visit him in Texas later this week.
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