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.

Posts about Gopher recruiting

Late addition to Gophers' 2014 recruiting class isn't coming, after all

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: July 2, 2014 - 2:12 PM

While the Gophers continue waiting and hoping running back recruit Jeff Jones can become academically eligible this summer, they know for certain another member of their 2014 recruiting class didn't make it.

Ra'Shaun Croney, a defensive back from Pahokee, Fla., hit a snag, trying to meet his academic requirements. The consensus three-star recruit also had offers from South Carolina and Arkansas and committed to Ellsworth (Iowa) Community College at one point.

The Gophers made him a late addition to their 2014 class on March 31, knowing they were taking a chance. They are loaded with defensive backs for this fall and plan to use Croney's scholarship on an additional defensive back for the 2015 class.

Cretin-Derham Hall's Jashon Cornell picks Ohio State

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: July 1, 2014 - 2:42 PM

Cretin-Derham Hall defensive end Jashon Cornell had his pick of the nation’s top college football programs as one of the country’s highest rated recruits in the 2015 class.

On Wednesday morning, Cornell announced his choice: Ohio State.

Cornell and Justin Hilliard, a linebacker from Cincinnati, timed their announcements together on ESPN.com -- and both picked the Buckeyes.

 It was reminiscent to November, when Tyus Jones of Apple Valley and Jahlil Okafor, of Chicago, announced simultaneously that they’d be playing basketball for Duke.

“I think it was my relationship with [Buckeyes defensive line coach] Larry Johnson, and my auntie lives 30 minutes from their stadium,” Cornell said. “I have family down there, so I don’t have to worry about getting homesick.”

Heading into this announcement, Cornell had said his five finalists were Ohio State, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Penn State and Iowa. The Gophers made a strong push but realized months ago that Cornell wouldn't be staying home.

Cornell said the Gophers "were actually number six on my list. The reason they weren’t in my top [five] is because when I was coming to the last couple weeks of my decision, they didn’t recruit me like they were. They were originally in my Top 5, and Iowa just stepped in because they had me call them a couple times.”

Last year at this time, ESPN.com had Cornell ranked as the nation’s No. 1 prospect in the 2015 class. Cornell has since slipped to No. 16 on that list, and Hilliard is ranked No. 15. Rivals.com has Cornell ranked 76th in the nation, with Hilliard ranked 49th.

The 6-3, 260-pound Cornell joined a list of other highly ranked Cretin-Derham Hall football players to leave the state for college over the years, including Seantrel Henderson (Miami), James Onwualu (Notre Dame), Michael Floyd (Notre Dame), Rafael Eubanks (Iowa) and Matt Carufel (Notre Dame).

 

Gophers land a big quarterback target in Croft

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: June 30, 2014 - 10:58 PM

The Gophers landed a quarterback they've been coveting Monday night, when Demry Croft, from Rockford (Ill.) Boylan Catholic, gave them a verbal commitment.

Croft is a 6-5, 190-pound dual-threat quarterback who impressed Gophers coaches at a camp this past month. A consensus three-star recruit, Croft has a big frame, a good arm and plenty of athleticism. Northern Illinois is among the other schools that have offered him a scholarship.

Croft tweeted the news (@Princeofthe66): "I have decided to further my education at the University of Minnesota [class of] 2015."

Without mentioning a name, Gophers recruiting director Billy Glasscock tweeted his own excitement (@BillyGlasscock4): "Big time news tonight for Gopher Football! Golden Ticket!!"

Croft is the sixth player to commit to the Gophers for the 2015 class.

Here's a look at Croft's junior tape on Hudl.com:

Jones still short of qualifying academically; several options for eligibility at U

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: June 30, 2014 - 4:49 PM

Jeff Jones was unable to raise his overall ACT score on his latest attempt, leaving it uncertain whether the highly rated recruit from Minneapolis Washburn will qualify for his scholarship.

The former Minneapolis Washburn running back retook the ACT exam June 14, needing just a slight improvement to qualify. According to Washburn coach Giovan Jenkins, Jones improved in some sections but not with his overall score.

The NCAA uses a sliding scale that combines grade-point average and test scores to determine eligibility. Jones had a high enough ACT score to qualify, but needed an even higher score because of a lower GPA.

Jones also is re-taking two summer school classes, which could allow him to replace two low grades from earlier in his high school tenure with higher grades. That would raise his GPA, but it’s uncertain if it would be enough to qualify. Summer school ends July 10.

The Gophers will be awaiting word from the NCAA clearinghouse.

Plan A is for Jones to qualify for his scholarship.

Plan B is for Jones to go to Iowa Western Community College for two years.

But there’s a new wrinkle ahead of Plan B. Call it Plan 1A.

People familiar with Jones situation have said he could still end up at the University this fall. If he’s admitted, he wouldn’t be on scholarship, so he would have to take out a school loan.

He wouldn’t be eligible to work out with the football team. But he could get his feet settled in college and work out in the weight room with an eye toward competing for the Gophers in 2015. He would need to finish at least 24 University credits by the end of the 2015 summer session, with at least a 2.0 GPA to be eligible to compete for the Gophers that fall.

Rivals.com ranked Jones as the nation’s seventh-best running back on national signing day in February. As a senior, he had 1,525 yards rushing, 493 yards receiving and scored 42 touchdowns.

In January, he was named co-MVP of the Under Armour All-American Game, which featured several of the nation’s top recruits.

The Gophers already had strong running back depth going into this season, with seniors David Cobb (1,202 yards last year) and Donnell Kirkwood (926 yards in 2013), junior Rodrick Williams and redshirt freshman Berkley Edwards. Jones might have redshirted this fall anyway.

Cornell to name his college Wednesday morning on ESPN

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: June 29, 2014 - 2:43 PM

Cretin-Derham Hall defensive end Jashon Cornell will announce his college decision Wednesday morning on ESPN, and according to 247Sports.com, the five finalists are Iowa, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Penn State.

Cretin-Derham Hall coach Mike Scanlan said in an e-mail that Cornell will announce his decision at the high school at 9 a.m. Cornell and Cincinnati St. Xavier linebacker Justin Hilliard will be making their announcements at the same time, and much of the speculation has them choosing Ohio State.

ESPN had Cornell ranked as the nation's No. 1 player in the 2015 class last year and has since lowered him to No. 16. The 6-3, 265-pound Cornell is a consensus four-star recruit. The Gophers were one of the first teams to offer Cornell a scholarship, but their hopes of landing him haven't been high for months.

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