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.
It says something about a player's stature with his team when he gets picked to attend the conference's media festivities. That's why it's worth noting that the Gophers will send Mitch Leidner, David Cobb and Cedric Thompson to Big Ten Media Days in Chicago, July 28-29.
That gives Minnesota three team leaders with three unique stories.
Leidner is a redshirt-sophomore and the clear starter at quarterback. (Here's a link to a profile I did on him last October, noting how the Gophers recruited him -- as a tight end.)
Cobb is heading into his senior season after rushing for 1,202 yards last year and becoming the first Gopher to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark since 2006. (Here's a story on how Cobb persevered despite limited carries as a freshman and sophomore.)
And Thompson is also heading into his senior season at safety, after leading the team with 79 tackles last year. (Here's Thompson's story, which is as interesting as anything I've come across in sports.)
Here's the full list of Big Ten players heading to Chicago later this month.
Gophers junior Peter Mortell was one of 25 punters from around the country named to the Ray Guy Award Preseason Watch List on Wednesday. The Big Ten had two other punters on the list -- Ohio State's Cameron Johnston and Michigan State's Mike Sadler.
Mortell averaged 43.3 yards per punt last year, the third best mark in Gophers history. He had 15 punts of 50 yards or more and kept 21 inside the 20-yard line. Here's my story from April about Mortell's sense of humor and serious punting ability.
Gophers tight end Maxx Williams on Tuesday was named to John Mackey Award Preseason Watch List. The Mackey Award goes to the nation's top tight end. Williams was among 40 tight ends named to the preseason watch list, including five others from the Big Ten: Kyle Carter and Jesse James from Penn State, Jeff Heuerman from Ohio State and Tyler Kroft from Rutgers.
Gophers center Tommy Olson was among 66 centers named to the Rimington Trophy Preseason Watch List. Other nominees from the Big Ten include Austin Blythe (Iowa), Betim Bujari (Rutgers), Sal Conaboy (Maryland), Robert Kugler (Purdue), Jack Allen (Michigan State), Mark Pelini (Nebraska), Collin Rahrig (Indiana), Brandon Vitabile, (Northwestern) and Dan Voltz (Wisconsin).
In 20-plus years in newspapers, I've come across few stories that compare with Gophers safety Cedric Thompson's. Last year, photographer Jerry Holt and I got the chance to visit Thompson's home in Bombay Beach, Calif., and travel the bus route that used to take him two hours -- one way -- to Calipatria High School.
Thompson, who went to this area along the Salton Sea to escape the gang violence in South Central Los Angeles, opened up about his story, as he had for director Alma Har'el, in her award-winning documentary "Bombay Beach."
Thompson continued to thrive on the field last year for the Gophers and has established himself as a senior leader heading into this fall. On Saturday, Thompson received the Wilma Rudolph Student Athlete Achievement Award in Orlando, Fla., at the annual National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics convention.
According to the Gophers' press release, the award "honors student athletes who have overcome great personal, academic, and/or emotional odds to achieve academic success while participating in intercollegiate athletics."
Former Gophers center Greg Eslinger made Athlon's recently released list of Top 50 college football players of the BCS era. He has some impressive company on a list that spanned from 1998 to 2013.
The rankings start with Vince Young, Tim Tebow, Ndamukong Suh, Adrian Peterson and Larry Fitzgerald.
Eslinger, from Bismarck, North Dakota, was a four-year starter for the Gophers and won the Outland Trophy as the nation's best interior lineman. He was a three-time first-team All-American.
He ranks 34th on this list, behind LaDanian Tomlinson (30th), Robert Griffin III (31st), Reggie Bush (32nd) and Drew Brees (33rd).
34. Greg Eslinger, C, Minnesota (2002-05)
Not many centers have an Outland Trophy on their mantle at home but Eslinger does. He was a freshman All-American in 2002, a third-team All-American as a sophomore, a first-teamer in '04 and earned consensus All-American honors as a senior. He won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center and earned Big Ten Lineman of the Year honors in ’05. Minnesota never had a losing record during his four-year career.
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