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 Rodrick Williams visited Minnesota a year ago, he got a new home.
A new name, too.
During his official visit to campus, the Lewisville, Texas, native was hanging out with some of his future teammates, and they all walked over to the McDonalds next to campus. Since it was all paid for by the university, cost was no object.
"I found myself eating about 50 McNuggets," Williams said with a laugh. "And they've been calling me 'Nugget' ever since."
Yes, the Gophers' new running back, whom I wrote about in today's Star Tribune, has an appetite, for fast food and big yards. He'll get plenty of carries the rest of the season, coach Jerry Kill said, hinting that the 18-year-old rookie could become -- as he was against Northwestern -- the primary backup to starter Donnell Kirkwood.
That's probably a surprise to Gopher fans who expected sophomore David Cobb or junior-college transfer James Gillum to inherit that role, but Kill said the coaches have become more impressed with the 240-pound back as practices have gone on. And when they needed help on kick coverage, the decision was made to see what Williams can do.
It might have happened even sooner, Kill said, but he was concerned about "the maturity part of being a freshman. We were sensitive to the classroom part of it -- would he be able to deal with it?"
But Williams seems like a remarkably mature and disciplined teen-ager, character instilled, he said, by his parents. And that's part of the reason he's at Minnesota in the first place.
"My parents are really strict (about) making sure I'm getting grades. I remember I had paid tickets to go to a Rick Ross concert, tickets to go to Houston and everything for my birthday," Williams said. "My mom told me if I didn't have an A in all my classes by the end of the week, I couldn't go. I got A in one class, but I think it got an 88 in another class, and she told me I couldn't go. So when I took my visit up here, I met the coaches, and it felt like it was a footstep from them."
Kill and his coaches have that same sort of authority, Williams said, so he was inclined to come north anyway. And when Lewisville High teammate Scott Ekpe also committed to the Gophers, "it was a bonus."
So is having Williams and his sense of humor on the team, said safety Brock Vereen. "He is hilarious, he's a character. He definitely brings a certain vibe and a positive attitude to the team," Vereen said of "Nugget." "The running backs are a great group -- they bring so much positive energy."
And they don't even mind goofy nicknames.
"It's fine. it's not an insult," Nugget said. "After a couple of weeks, it kind of grew on me."
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