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 Gophers recruiting

Gophers spring game set for April 12; Wells, Maye have surgery

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: January 9, 2014 - 3:17 PM

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.

Big recruiting weekend on tap for Jerry Kill and the Gophers

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: July 19, 2013 - 12:42 PM

It sounds like this could be a big recruiting weekend for Jerry Kill and the Gophers.

Ryan Burns, from GopherIllustrated.com, reports via Twitter (@RyanBurnsGI) that four high-profile Minnesota recruits will be visiting campus Saturday:

* 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.

* Frank Ragnow, the three-star offensive tackle from Chanhassen. Besides Minnesota, he has offers from Arkansas, Florida State and Nebraska. Here's a Q&A Ragnow did with the Star Tribune in May.

* Jashon Cornell, junior defensive end from Cretin-Derham Hall who was recently ranked by ESPN as the nation's No. 1 recruit for the 2015 class.

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."

Gophers spring practice notes: Pirsig injured, two big recruits on hand

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: April 6, 2013 - 6:13 PM

I'm writing a story on Gophers defensive back Derrick Wells for our Sunday editions. In the meantime, here's some quick notes from Spring Practice #6:

  • Jonah Pirsig, a redshirt freshman tackle from Blue Earth, went down with an apparent knee injury and had to be carted off the field after being helped to the sideline. The extent of the injury was not known, but he was on crutches after practice.
  • CB Jeremy Baltazar was in an orange non-participation jersey with a back injury.
  • The Gophers had two more highly coveted recruits visit practice -- Jeff Jones, the junior running back from Minneapolis Washburn, who has given the Gophers a verbal commitment for 2014, and Jashon Cornell, the sophomore defensive end from Cretin-Derham Hall, who has offers from Minnesota, USC, Notre Dame and Florida.
  • The Gophers have held a moment of silence before each practice honoring linebacker Gary Tinsley, who died with an enlarged heart April 6, 2012. On Saturday, linebacker Aaron Hill wore Tinsley’s No. 51 as a tribute on the one-year anniversary of his death.
  • There were two scuffles during practice, including one between defensive end Therein Cockran and offensive lineman Josh Campion. Coach Jerry Kill jumped right in both times to help restore order.

Washburn running back's commitment should help the Gophers' recruiting efforts

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: February 15, 2013 - 10:31 AM

In my first seven weeks on the Gophers beat, there have been some sizeable developments, even though it's the offseason.

In the last week before the Feb. 6 signing day, the Gophers won recruiting battles for four key players in their 2013 class -- TE Nate Wozniak, DB Daletavius McGhee, QB/WR Donovahn Jones and LB De’Vondre Campbell.

On Feb. 2, the Gophers landed their first verbal commitment for 2014, and it was a big one. Minneapolis Washburn running back Jeff Jones is rated as the nation’s 169th best recruit for that class, by Rivals.com. It’ll be another 50 weeks before he signs an official letter of intent, but it should only help the Gophers recruiting efforts.

“It’s good for Minnesota to kind of put a fence around their own state,” said Tom Lemming, recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network. “Initially, you’ve got to land your top guys, and then you go out of state after that. I think it really bodes well for the class of 2014. They can use him sort of a centerpiece to attract [De La Salle QB] Reid Travis and some of the other guys.”

Travis is a highly coveted basketball recruit, too. Another key recruiting prize from Minnesota for 2014 is Owatonna DE Andrew Stelter. It’ll be interesting to see if Jones’ commitment helps the Gophers lure the other premier players from Minnesota.

Jones sounds determined to help. As he told ESPN1500, "I want the Minnesota kids who Minnesota wants to be able to say, 'Jeff Jones chose this school, so it must be a good option.' "

Report shows how Minnesota's high school football talent compares nationally

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: February 14, 2013 - 9:17 AM

Need more proof that Minnesota’s in-state high school football talent was down this year?

Rivals.com released its annual report this week, showing the number of scholarship players each state is sending to FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) schools.

Minnesota has seven: James Onwualu (Notre Dame), Keelon Brookins (Wisconsin), Malik Rucker (Iowa), Jack Cottrell (Boston College), Chris Wipson (Gophers), Tyson Reinke (Kent State) and Jackson Wilson (Air Force).

For comparison, the state of Wisconsin produced 24 FBS scholarship players this year, Iowa had eight, and Idaho had seven. So Minnesota and Idaho were tied.

Last year, Minnesota produced 17 FBS signees, and 10 of those landed with the Gophers, including Philip Nelson, Jonah Pirsig, Isaac Hayes and Andre McDonald.

In 2011, Minnesota had 11 FBS signees, so maybe the number will bounce back again next year. The Gophers already have a verbal commitment from Jeff Jones, a four-star junior running back from Minneapolis Washburn.

According to Rivals.com, one of every 124 high school players in Florida signed an FBS scholarship this year. In Minnesota, it was one of every 3,403 players.

Last week, Chip Scoggins wrote about the effect Minnesota’s talent deficit is having on the Gophers, and here’s my story explaining why the Gophers signed just one scholarship player from their home state this year.

As for the possibility that Big Ten teams will drop FCS (formerly Division I-AA) opponents from future schedules, Michael Rand weighs in here on how that might impact the Gophers and FCS programs from the Dakotas.

Update: An e-mailer made a terrific point that bears mentioning here. Minnesota has produced a ton of players who've been a big part of the recent success at St. Thomas, North Dakota State and Minnesota-Duluth. The Rivals.com report focused on players heading to FBS schools, but Minnesota's contributions to those other programs shouldn't be overlooked.

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