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.

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Posts about Gopher coaches

Gophers get Sunday to rest and watch film after opening week grind

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: August 10, 2014 - 9:09 AM

The Gophers coaches saw some things they liked and some things they didn't like during Saturday's scrimmage at TCF Bank Stadium.

"We’re into kind of the grind," Jerry Kill said. "They haven’t had a day off [since Aug. 1], and they’ve had school and all that. So we pushed them pretty hard, and I think some kids were tired. [Sunday], we’ll watch film with them and give them and give them some time off."

As Kill noted, his players are busy from about 7 a.m., through 9-10 p.m., throughout these early stages of camp.

They'll be back at practice Monday. Meantime, here's my Sunday story on linebackers De'Vondre Campbell and Damien Wilson. And here's my scrimmage report.

Claeys bullish about Gophers defense; injury and weight room updates

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: June 25, 2014 - 3:00 PM

I caught up today with Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys. Here are a few tidbits:

* CB Derrick Wells, who missed spring practice while recovering from shoulder surgery, is getting back to full strength. CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun was back to full speed from his knee surgery by the end of spring practice.

“You’re taking a secondary that played well a year ago, and we’ve got the core back,” Claeys said, referring to a unit that lost Brock Vereen but returns Eric Murray, Cedric Thompson, Antonio Johnson and Damarius Travis, among others. “And then you’re adding Derrick Wells and Briean Boddy to it. It’s by far as deep and as good as we’ve been, with kids who’ve proven they can play at the Big Ten level.”

* DE Hank Ekpe missed most of spring practice because of a virus, but he’s fully recovered and has his weight back to 250 pounds.

* LB De’Vondre Campbell weighed in at 238 pounds this morning. The weights were just updated on the roster, but those were from the end of spring practice. Campbell was listed at 226 then, but the 6-5 specimen has really bulked up in recent weeks.

“The funny thing is he doesn’t look as long, like a spider anymore because he’s put on some weight,” Claeys said. “He really looks good.”

* Middle linebacker Damien Wilson was asked to shed weight, and he’s down from 254 to 245.

* And Jack Lynn, the other projected starting linebacker, who came to campus at 220 pounds, is pushing 240.

The Gophers ranked 25th in the country in points allowed last year (22.2) after ranking 45th (24.7) the previous year. Now they have to replace five defensive starters, including Vereen and fellow NFL pick Ra’Shede Hageman.

“I’ll be disappointed if we don’t play better this year again,” Claeys said. “We’re going to have more kids this year than ever who are going to play who’ve already got two years or more of experience. So the depth is going to be there, and we’re getting better athletically.”

Jerry Kill says he plans to coach from the sideline this fall

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: May 20, 2014 - 3:11 PM

WILLMAR -- Jerry Kill said Tuesday that he plans to coach from the sideline this fall after coaching mostly from the press box toward the end of last season.

Kill was among the coaches who spoke at the first stop of the annual Gopher Road Trip, at the Willmar American Legion.

After missing the Oct. 5 game at Michigan because of a seizure, Kill took a two-week leave to treat his epilepsy. He coached the final seven games from the press box but returned to the sideline for the second half of the Texas Bowl loss to Syracuse.

“I’ll be on the sideline [this fall],” Kill said in response to a question from the audience. “That’s who I am, and I think that’s best for our team. However, if we need to adjust something, [the coaches have] all been together a long time.”

Kill continues to drive to work each day, in a sign that he’s been seizure free since last fall.

“I’m feeling pretty good,” he said. “I’ve lost a few pounds. I’ve been walking. [Associate Athletics Director Dan] O’Brien and a lot of people are trying to keep me in line. But the No. 1 person is me.”

In other news:

- Kill said he would have loved to see Tony Nelson, the four-time All-American heavyweight wrestler for the Gophers, try out for the football team. But Nelson used a redshirt year in wrestling and competed for four years, using up all his NCAA eligibility.

- Add Alabama to the list of schools that have offered a scholarship to Cretin Derham-Hall defensive tackle Jashon Cornell. The Gophers remain interested but they aren’t too optimistic. He recently told the Detroit News that he was leaning toward Michigan State.

Kill launches Chasing Dreams fund through Minn. Epilepsy Foundation

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: May 15, 2014 - 1:01 PM

Gophers coach Jerry Kill on Thursday announced that he was starting the Chasing Dreams fund through the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota.

Kill and his wife, Rebecca, donated $100,000 and have an initial goal of raising $500,000. They already have one corporate sponsor in the Upsher-Smith pharmaceutical company, headquartered in Maple Grove.

The money will help fund seizure-smart school initiatives, along with Camp Oz, a specially designed camp for epilepsy patients in Hudson, Wis.

"We want to get in every single school in the state of Minnesota and educate them on how to handle seizures in the schools," Kill said. He added, "We want to keep Camp Oz going for a long time."

Kill, 52, was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2005 and has missed parts of four games in three seasons at Minnesota because of seizures. Last October, after a seizure kept him from joining the team for its game at Michigan, Kill took a two-week leave.

He coached from the press box for the team’s final seven games before returning to the sideline for the second half of the Texas Bowl.

Kill said, "I wouldn't be standing here today" if it weren't for Rebecca Kill and others knowing what to do when he had his October seizure.

"They saved my life, and now it’s time for me to help others in our great state," Kill said.

Kill plans Thursday announcement in conjunction with Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: May 13, 2014 - 1:56 PM

According to a press release, Gophers coach Jerry Kill plans to make a "major announcement" Thursday in conjunction with the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota's Rise Above Seizures Day.

Kill, who suffers from epilepsy, will speak at Kieran's Irish Pub in Minneapolis at 10:45 a.m., and take questions from the media, before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at the Twins/Red Sox game.

“Coach and Rebecca Kill’s partnership continues to help thousands of people and elevate epilepsy awareness to a level we never dreamed possible,” Executive Director Vicki Kopplin said in the release.

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