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.
Gophers coaches have dropped big hints in recent days that at least two defensive linemen could play this fall – as true freshmen.
The Gophers need to replace two defensive tackles – potential first-round draft pick Ra’Shede Hageman and Roland Johnson, who was a key reserve.
Senior Cameron Botticelli is back as a starter, and junior Scott Ekpe should slide in next to him. The Gophers like to rotate at least four defensive tackles, so depth is critical. Sophomore Yoshoub Timms will see more playing time once his hamstring injury heals, and redshirt Demarius Peppers is progressing, too.
But the Gophers also have two defensive tackles coming this summer in Steven Richardson, from Chicago Mt. Carmel, and Gary Moore from Mobile, Ala.
“I’m going to tell you straight up that Roland and Ra’Shede -- pound for pound -- were our strongest people in the middle, and replacing them isn’t going to be easy,” defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said last week. “But at the same time, you’ve got two kids in there who took just as many reps and played awfully well and just didn’t get the publicity in Cameron Botticelli and Scott Ekpe.
“They will hold us up in the middle fine, and we’re going to have to rely on Shoobee Timms and Steven Richardson and Gary Moore and some of those kids to give us the depth in there. We redshirted Demarius Peppers, and I feel good about where that’s at.
“So there’s going to be some names in there that people haven’t heard of, and they’re going to be younger, but I feel like we cannot lose ground up front.”
Richardson is listed at just 6-foot tall, but he was 285 pounds, and the Gophers were ecstatic to get him. On National Signing Day, Coach Jerry Kill compared Richardson to Pittsburgh’s All-American Aaron Donald.
“Steve can run 4.7,” Kill said, of the scouting report he received from Mt. Carmel coach Frank Lenti. “And again, I’m going to believe it because he was at Mt. Carmel, and the last player I got out of Mt. Carmel – Jordan Lynch.
“Frank doesn’t tell you this is a guy unless he’s the guy, and this kid benches something like 400 pounds and runs 4.7.”
Moore also had some impressive measurables coming out of Murphy High School in Mobile, Ala. He’s 6-4, 285 pounds yet can reportedly squat 680 pounds and run the 40-yard dash in 4.75 seconds.
The Gophers also have two defensive ends coming this fall in Owatonna’s Aaron Stelter, and Julien Kafo, from the Montreal area.
“We’re bringing in four freshmen defensive linemen, and I think two of them will play, maybe three,” Kill said Thursday. “They’re talented. They’re all ready. One of them benches 400-something pounds, runs a 4.7, so I mean that’s going to create depth.”
Happy National Signing Day, everyone.
You can get the latest on the Gophers and other National Signing Day news on our Live Blog.
Jeff Jones made it official today, picking the Gophers in an announcement at Minneapolis Washburn. And soon after, the Gophers announced that Gary Moore signed his letter of intent.
That means all the players that were reportedly commited and speculated on heading into Wednesday, are in the fold. As of 11:25 a.m., the Gophers class ranked 49th in the Rivals.com rankings.
Earlier, Defensive back Craig James, who also delayed his official announcement until Wednesday, picked the Gophers. And the Gophers officially signed Jerry Gibson, who visited South Carolina last weekend. Here's a tweet from Gibson this morning:
Who can say that coach kill got on the phone and sung happy birthday #ICAN— Jerry Gibson (@TheNew_JG3) February 5, 2014
Here's a list of players already signed, sealed and delivered for Minnesota:
-Jonathan Celestin, LB, Jonesboro (Ga.) Mundy Mill, 6-1, 205: Gophers found this under-the-radar recruit while working on his high school teammate, Rodney Smith.
-Gaelin Elmore, TE, Somerset (Wisc.), 6-6, 245: Committed last June and held firm, despite offers from Wisconsin, Nebraska and Vanderbilt.
-Isaiah Gentry, WR, Cincinnati Moeller, 6-4, 185: Speedy receiver flipped his commitment from Kent State. Also had an offer from Rutgers.
-Jerry Gibson, ATH, Theodore (Ala.), 6-3, 220: Visited South Carolina last weekend. Top athlete who could be a tight end, defensive end or linebacker.
-Melvin Holland Jr., WR, Ashburn (Va.) Briar Woods, 6-3, 190: A converted linebacker who turned heads as a senior receiver. Had offers from Wisconsin and Rutgers.
-Craig James, CB Edwardsville (Ill.), 5-11, 175: Had strong interest from Indiana and delayed official announcement until Wednesday but signed with the Gophers.
-Jeff Jones, RB, Minneapolis Washburn, 6-0, 198: Co-MVP from Under Armour All-American Game announced his final decision Wednesday.
-Julien Kafo, DE, Montreal (Que.) Vanier College, 6-4, 245: Had offers from Iowa and Nebraska, according to Rivals.com. Will be a 20-year-old freshman.
-Conner Krizancic, WR, Mentor (Ohio), 6-2, 190: Flipped his commitment from Cincinnati. Played quarterback as a high school senior.
-Brandon Lingen, TE, Wayzata, 6-5, 245: Wasn’t heavily recruited after being injured as a junior, but added 35 pounds and was a force as a senior.
-Connor Mayes, C, Van Alstyne (Texas), 6-5, 315: Played in U.S. Army All-American Game. Brother of Gophers lineman Alex Mayes.
-Gary Moore, DT, Mobile (Ala.) Murphy, 6-4, 285: Flipped his commitment from Southern Mississippi. Big, strong kid who can run the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds.
-Cody Poock, LB, Iowa Western Community College, 6-2, 230: Picked the Gophers over TCU. Has three years of eligibility remaining. Already enrolled.
-Luke Rasmussen, OL, Brookfield (Wisc.) Central, 6-7, 270: Scored a 33 on his ACT exam, and had offers from Air Force, Harvard and Yale.
-Steven Richardson, DT, Chicago Mt. Carmel, 5-11, 285: Defensive MVP of the Chicago Catholic League had 34 tackles for a loss, including 17 sacks.
-Dimonic Roden-McKinzy, QB, Kansas City (Kan.) Wyandotte, 6-0, 210: Dual-threat passer had offers from Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas. Already enrolled.
-Andrew Stelter, DE, Owatonna (Minn.), 6-4, 250: Consensus three-star recruit had offers from Duke, Harvard, Yale, Iowa State and Northern Illinois.
-Rodney Smith, RB, Jonesboro (Ga.) Mundy Mill, 5-11, 195: Tore an ACL as a junior but bounced back to rush for 2,200 yards as a senior.
- Jared Weyler, OL, Dayton (Ohio) Centerville, 6-4, 280: Flipped his commitment from Bowling Green. He’ll be an interior lineman for the Gophers.
-Everett Williams, LB, Mansfield (Texas) Legacy, 6-2, 220: Strong tackler with terrific grades. He had offers from Western Michigan and Northern Illinois.
On Saturday at 4 a.m., ESPN’s national recruiting director Tom Luginbill was up studying videotape of recent Gophers commit Isaiah Gentry, a wide receiver from Cincinnati’s Moeller High School.
Luginbill tweeted about what he was doing, and this led to a quick exchange with a follower who has an Auburn logo for an avatar:
@ATL_JAY Yeah, good player too. Jerry Kill might be one of the top 5 coaches in CFB right now.— Tom Luginbill (@TomLuginbill) February 1, 2014
Two days later, ESPN held a media conference call with Luginbill, and I asked him to explain what inspired his tweet.
I used part of that answer in this story analyzing the class the Gophers are expected to unveil on National Signing Day. Here’s a longer version of Luginbill’s answer:
“Coaching can be defined in a lot of ways, but when you take a football team like the one [Kill] had this fall. You go through the off-the-field situation you had with the seizures and the epilepsy, you win eight-plus games with a roster -- and I don’t mean this to sound negative -- but that roster had no business winning eight games, and I think that’s a sign of coaching.
“In many ways, he’s like a Jim Grobe at Wake [Forest], when he had a great run there. There are guys out there that I don’t think get the credit they deserve, and [Kill’s] certainly one of them.
“And I think he’s in the process right now of enhancing the roster with more speed, more athleticism. It’s just not something you do overnight by waving a magic wand, it’s a process.
“All I know is, if you don’t believe in his process, then you haven’t been paying attention to his history because all he’s done is won.”
Note: Check back here in the morning for the latest Gophers signing updates, including the much anticipated decision by Jeff Jones at 10 a.m.
Twelve months after giving the Gophers a verbal commitment, Minneapolis Washburn running back Jeff Jones finally made it official Wednesday, when he announced his final decision to play for Minnesota on National Signing Day.
“The staff over there is great, and it’s just a great opportunity to come in and be able to contribute right away," Jones said at a press conference in the Washburn gym following his announcement. "Coach Kill’s a genuine guy. He seems to have the best interests for his players before and after football, and right now he has about five guys on his staff that he’s coached before, so I feel like that was the best spot for me.”
Rivals.com ranks Jones as the nation’s 44th best recruit and No. 7 running back. He had narrowed his choices to Minnesota, Iowa State and Tennessee.
Jones still needs to qualify academically to play Division I, but Washburn coach Giovan Jenkins has said that Jones is close, needing just one more point on his ACT score and two-tenths of a point on his GPA.
Jones has three more chances to take the ACT, with the next coming Saturday.
Then, his next goal will be to play as a freshman.
“Yeah, that’s my goal, work hard this summer and come in and possibly have a chance to play right away.”
Jones committed to the Gophers shortly before National Signing Day last year but kept his recruiting options open as he gained in national prominence. He was named co-MVP of the Under Armour All-American Game in January and was scheduled to visit Florida and Michigan before those schools canceled.
Jones joked with reporters about not really having any doubts about coming to Minnesota.
“I had to make it seem that way for you guys, but not to me," he said. "I knew Minnesota was the right choice for me. They run the ball, and Coach Kill’s staff – you look at his track record, they win games, and so I wanted to come into a program that’s going to win.”
“He’s the best player from Minnesota and one of the best running backs in the country,” said Tom Lemming, a recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network. “I think he could become an impact player for [the Gophers]; that’s what they really need.”
The Gophers added a third receiver to this year's recruiting class Monday night, when Conner Krizancic, from Mentor, Ohio, flipped his commitment from Cincinnati to Minnesota.
Wide receiver was a main position of need for the Gophers, and they have addressed it with three commitments in the past week. Krizancic joins Melvin Holland Jr. (from Ashburn, Va.) and Isaiah Gentry (Cincinnati Moeller), and all are ranked as three-star recruits by Rivals.com.
Krizancic tweeted the news:
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