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.
Jerry Kill continues to have full confidence that the University of Minnesota will be ready to break ground on its new $150 athletic facilities project in August.
“I expect [the shovel] to be in the ground during two-a-day camp,” Kill said Friday. “That’s what I’ve said all along, and I expect that to happen. … I’ve told the recruits, and so it needs to get done.”
University CFO Richard Pfutzenreuter said last week that as with any university project, at least 80 percent of the money ($120 million) must be raised before construction can begin. Athletics Director Norwood Teague said $70 million has been raised thus far.
A Board of Regents document released last week states that a complete financing plan must be ready for approval at the June 11-12 Regents meeting in order to begin construction by October.
“I think when the board finalizes it in June, they should be able to get going immediately,” Kill said. “I don’t know the 80 percent rule, 70 percent rule, 90 percent rule -- that’s their job to figure all that out. They know we need to get it started in August.”
This week, the Board of Regents approved using $15 million of the money already raised for the project’s schematic design.
“That’s tremendous,” Kill said. “Right there, that tells you. Once you do that, things move pretty fast.”
* Offensive lineman Jon Christenson had a rod inserted into his left leg when he broke his tibia and fibula in a gruesome injury in November 2013. Christenson returned last season and started the Citrus Bowl at right guard. Christenson recently had the rod removed from the leg. The Gophers plan to withhold him from spring practice, but Kill said Christenson “will be a starter” again this fall.
* Cody Poock, who tore the ACL in his right knee last March, will be at full speed for spring practice and is a candidate to replace departing senior Damien Wilson as the starting middle linebacker.
* Duke Anyanwu, who tore the ACL in his right knee early in August, also has been cleared for spring practice, Kill said. Anyanwu is one of several candidates the Gophers are counting on to help replace NFL-bound tight end Maxx Williams.
* Scott Ekpe, who tore an ACL in last year’s season opener, is also making good progress but likely will be limited during spring ball. “We know what he can do,” Kill said. “We’ll make sure he’s healed up. He may get a few reps, but we’re going to be careful there.” The Gophers need to replace Cameron Botticelli, but they expect to have Ekpe and Steven Richardson back as their starting defensive tackles.
The Gophers are 6-1 since the start of last season in games that start at 11 a.m., and they’ll need to be strong early risers again Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium against Purdue.
It’s homecoming, and the fraternity houses along University Avenue are all decked out with big, hand-made signs, but we’ll see how much energy the students have for kickoff.
My main story today analyzes the possibilities of the Gophers pulling the unthinkable and winning the Big Ten West. National analysts are saying it’s possible, and the team has a conference title atop its list of goals.
Here’s what happens if there’s a tie atop the standings at regular season’s end, with a look a the division’s top five contenders.
Obviously, the Gophers must first focus on Purdue. Here’s my prediction for the game.
And here’s a column from Patrick Reusse on Jack Lynn, the “other guy” at linebacker, who’s underrated performance has been a big key for the defense.
Check back here for pregame updates.
Gophers coach Jerry Kill has made no secret that he wants to break ground on a new practice facility as soon as possible. Today, Big Ten Network visited campus, and BTN.com writer Tom Dienhart issued this tweet:
I don’t know the context of Kill’s conversation with Dienhart, but I do know that the university has yet to set a formal timeline for building any new practice facilities. They remain in the "silent fundraising phase" of their $190 million facilities plan.
“We are going to break ground as soon as we possibly can; that hasn’t changed,” Senior Associate Athletics Director Chris Werle said today.
At Big Ten Media Days last month, Kill was outspoken about his facility goals.
“I tell recruits, we’ve got a good idea where it’s going to be,” Kill told reporters. “We’ve got spring ball starting. In April, we finalize it, and start getting in the ground as soon as we can.
“April would be [a good time] to me. They can even do it in December the way they work around here in the weather. … That’s what Coach wants, and that’s what we need, and anything different than that, I’m not going to be happy.”
Caught up with Gophers coach Jerry Kill in his office today. Some quick notes:
* Spring practice will start on March 4, with the spring game on April 12. That’s much earlier than last year, as the team waited to start until March 26 with the spring game on April 27. This year, the team will hold two weeks of camp before spring break (March 17-21) and three weeks after the break.
* Players scheduled for offseason surgery include: CB Derrick Wells (shoulder), WR KJ Maye (groin), T Jonah Pirsig (hand), TE Alex Bisch (ankle), FB Tyler Hartman (shoulder).
CB Briean-Boddy Calhoun (knee surgery) will be ready for spring practice, but the Gophers plan to be careful with him. C Jon Christenson (broken leg) is doing well with his rehab but won’t participate in spring practice. C Matt Leidner (quarterback Mitch Leidner’s younger brother) has a foot injury but should be ready for spring practice.
* Two players from the 2014 recruiting class are scheduled to begin classes this month, allowing them to compete in spring practice: LB Cody Poock (a transfer from Iowa Western Community College) and QB Dimonic McKinzy from Kansas City (Mo.) Wyandotte High School.
It sounds like this could be a big recruiting weekend for Jerry Kill and the Gophers.
* Jeff Jones, the four-star Minneapolis Washburn running back who has given Minnesota a verbal commitment for 2014. (Star ratings from Rivals.com).
* Andrew Stelter, the three-star defensive end from Owatonna. He's on Stanford's radar, too.
Several other recruits will be in town this weekend, as well, as Kill is hosting his Junior Elite Camp on Sunday. Jones reportedly has been working hard on his fellow Minnesota natives to commit to the Gophers. It seems like a long shot that Cornell would commit now, but Stelter and/or Ragnow would be huge additions for Kill this summer.
Today Burns tweeted, "Some big recruiting news for Coach Kill tomorrow when it breaks."
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