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.
The Gophers didn’t have anyone drafted this year, but three players have latched on with NFL teams as undrafted free agents:
* TE/QB MarQueis Gray agreed to a deal with the 49ers.
* CB Troy Stoudermire agreed to a deal with the Bengals.
* And CB Michael Carter announced today that he has agreed to a deal with the Vikings.
Also, GopherIllustrated.com reported today that the Gophers have received their third verbal commitment for the 2014 class. Steven Richardson, a DE from Mt. Carmel High School in Chicago, joins Minneapolis Washburn RB Jeff Jones and Kansas City Wyandotte QB Dimonic McKinzy on Minnesota’s commitment list.
I sat down with Gophers AD Norwood Teague this morning to get his thoughts on the football program with spring practice in full swing. Teague has been understandably busy of late, replacing men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith with Richard Pitino.
Asked what that move signifies for the football program, Teague said, “I think it shows we have high expectations, but when I look at football, I don’t know if anybody on this Earth has higher expectations for himself or his program than Jerry Kill. I mean, he is relentless. So the basketball change was difficult, but I think something had to happen. But with football, I mean, let me tell you something: Jerry Kill runs 100 miles per hour every day, and he has high expectations for himself, no doubt.”
Asked to describe his vision for a successful football program, Teague said it’s a team that’s “in the upper half of the league and competing for championships, and one that there’s an incredible amount of hope each year for our success and people seeing improvement. Not only the way the program is managed, but seeing improvement in recruiting and also -- this is very big for football -- seeing improvement in player development, and also your retention."
Asked how excited he is for this fall, knowing Kill’s track record for success in Year 3, Teague said: “I’m real excited, but I think we’ve all got to be careful about putting a number on how many games we think we should win to see progress. Building a football program is an art. And as long as I’m excited about what I see, which is what I am excited about -- his management of the program, his building of the program, doing all the right things behind the scenes, recruiting really well, developing our kids and making retention a big priority -- then we’re growing.”
Kill’s recruiting classes at Minnesota have ranked toward the bottom of the Big Ten, but Teague said, “That does not cause me any pause. I follow recruiting quite a bit, and ... football kids develop. They grow. A lot of football is growing into your body. And I am so confident and so impressed with Jerry’s group and how they evaluate. They trust their own judgment and I think that’s tremendous.”
Pitino’s contract allows him to spend up to $50,000 per year on a private jet for recruiting. Will Kill have access to a private plane now, too?
“Yeah, we’ll do that for Jerry moving forward,” Teague said. “It won’t necessarily be in his contract, but when appropriate, we’ll use those planes. They provide a lot of logistical benefits more than any type of luxury. To get our coaches from one point to another quickly, to see multiple recruits in one day and get them back for practice is invaluable.”
It was only the fifth spring practice, too soon to read much into things, but Gophers sophomore cornerback Eric Murray continues to establish himself as a player to watch.
Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said he waits until after the sixth practice of the spring to establish a firm depth chart, so the team is still at the stage where the staff is mixing personnel.
Still, it was notable that sophomore Eric Murray was with the first-team defense at cornerback, instead of senior Martez Shabazz. Derrick Wells was at the other corner, as he has been all spring.
The Gophers need to replace two outgoing seniors at cornerback this year, in Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire. Murray is definitely in the mix.
"After the first four days of practice, he’s really emerged," Coach Jerry Kill said. "He’s got such great focus and great maturity for a young person and tremendous talent.”
Murray -- a 6-0, 194-pound speedster out of Riverside University High School in Milwaukee -- played in all 13 games last season as a true freshman, mostly on special teams.
"Being a freshman coming out of high school, you’re really not accustomed to the speed of the game," Murray said. "So I think that really helped and gave me some more football knowledge on top of the football knowledge I already had."
Gophers WR/DB recruit Nate Andrews has flipped his commitment from Minnesota to Florida State, according to AL.com.
Andrews is rated a three-star recruit by Rivals.com and committed to Minnesota in late-November. He's from Fairhope, Ala., and reportedly had interest from Alabama and Tennessee, among others.
Chip Scoggins told me a few weeks ago that Andrews might make a good column if he indeed stuck with the Gophers with all those southern schools recruiting him. Scoggins has followed Minnesota's recruiting for years and seen this many times.
The 6-foot, 180-pound Andrews apparently visited Florida State last weekend and notified Minnesota's coaching staff of his decision today.
"It's done," Fairhope coach Adam Winegarden told AL.com, a conglomerate that includes The Birmingham News. "He's going to Florida State."
NEW MEXICO STATE COACH BOLTS FOR NFL
One team on the Gophers 2013 schedule is suddenly looking for a new head coach.
New Mexico State coach DeWayne Walker left his post to become an assistant coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars, overseeing defensive backs, according to the Las Cruces Sun-News.
Walker, 52, actually lettered for the Gophers in 1981. He was the defensive coordinator at UCLA for three years before becoming New Mexico State's head coach in 2009.
The Aggies went 4-9 in 2011 but fell to 1-11 last year, so this move wasn't surprise. McKinley Boston, former Gophers athletic director and now the AD at NMSU, named offensive coordinator Doug Martin interim head coach and plans to conduct a national search.
The Gophers play at New Mexico State in their second game of the season, on Sept. 7.
TUSLER FLIPS, TOO
Bridgeport Tusler, the Star Tribune's Metro Player of the Year, has already decommitted from Northern Iowa and committed to South Dakota State, according to our David La Vaque (via Twitter).
And yes, as a newbie to these college football recruiting wars, I can officially say my head is spinning.
After signing 27 players last February, the Gophers have been working on a much smaller class heading into this year’s signing day, on Feb. 6.
The Gophers had just 12 graduating seniors. But Max Shortell and a few others have left the program, opening up some spots.
As Sid Hartman reported in today’s column, LB Brendan Beal is taking medical leave after a series of knee injuries, and defensive ends Matt Garin and Eric Jacques have both graduated and left the program.
I believe the Gophers now have at least 18 scholarships available and am checking to confirm. According to GopherIllustrated.com, they currently have 15 verbal commitments, and that number can fluctuate as signing day nears.
TUSLER PICKS NORTHERN IOWA
Bridgeport Tusler wanted one of those scholarships, but now he’s committed to Northern Iowa. The do-everything Osseo senior cleaned up on the postseason awards. He was named the Metro Player of the Year by the Star Tribune, and Minnesota Player of the Year by the Associated Press and Gatorade.
The 5-11, 200-pound RB/DB rushed for 1,173 yards, had eight interceptions and racked up 23 touchdowns -- including 16 rushing, three receiving, one passing, two on punt returns and one on a pick six.
The Gophers offered to make Tusler a preferred walk-on, but he took the full scholarship from UNI.
“His first choice was the U of M,” Osseo coach Derrin Lamker told me. “He’s the all-around package. He’s 200 pounds. He’s the best punt returner, kick returner in the state of Minnesota. He has a 3.6 GPA. He’s a can’t miss leader. The Gophers must have a great recruiting class this year to be able to avoid Mr. Tusler.”
FOUR WALK-ONS COMMIT
According to GopherIllustrated.com, the Gophers have received recent commitments from four preferred walk-ons, who will add to the list of incoming players on Feb. 6. That list includes Wayzata WR Jeff Borchardt, Wayzata OL Chandler Wright, Prior Lake TE Nick Hart and Cretin-Derham Hall QB Conor Rhoda.
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