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.
I caught up with Gophers coach Jerry Kill today and got his thoughts on a few subjects:
On Maxx Williams turning pro:
"You give all the information to their family, and they’ve got to make a decision," Kill said. "As I told Maxx, ‘Boy it would be great to have you back. At the same time, you go out, all these are going to help our program.
"People are going to say, 'Those guys are doing things right. They’re recruiting good people, they’re getting developed and shoot they’re leaving early.'
"Plus Maxx is smart. He’s going to get his education and so forth. So to be honest, certainly we’d like to have him back. But at the same time, you do what’s best for his family, and he’s also helped our program by doing that in a lot of ways."
I asked Kill for his thoughts on recruiting heading into signing day, Feb 4, mentioning that a couple Minnesota commits have torn it up in recent All-Star Games. Running back Jonathan Femi-Cole was named the MVP of the NUC All-American Game in in South Carolina, with 23 carries for 137 yards. And quarterback Demry Croft completed 12 of 15 passes for more than 200 yards, with two touchdowns, in the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl. Kill can't talk about specific recruits, but he gave a general answer:
"I think things are going pretty good. You know, some of those guys playing, I don’t want them playing that good. That means they’ll get a lot more attention and with [new Michigan coach Jim] Harbaugh running around here late, that’s the whole thing. When these coaching jobs change, you never know what’s going to happen, so you’ve got to stay on the kids you’ve got committed, and then you’ve just got to continue to recruit.
"But so far, our class is exactly what we need, and certainly with the athletes we’ve got redshirted. We feel right now, we’d like another defensive back, another linebacker, three defensive linemen, which I think we’re fairly close on one. Offensively, we want another wide receiver, and really trying to figure out whether we wanted another tight end or not."
Finally, I asked about Jon Christenson playing right guard in the Citrus Bowl. It was Christenson's first start since he broke the tibia and fibula in his left leg at Indiana in November 2013. With center Tommy Olson and guard Zac Epping both graduating, Christenson's return to health has been a big development, as he has experience at both center and guard:
"That’s huge," Kill said. "And I wished we could have redshirted him because of injuries, but Connor Mayes -- that allows him to be the guard, or we could flip that with Joe Bjorklund. We know we have Joe, Connor, and Jon between the center, two guard spots. Jon being able to be healthy and come back -- he’ll be a leader and a captain on our team. I can tell you that because of the way he is.
"The reason [Christenson] played in that game was because of his size, and Joe did a good job, too, but the physical size of Jon helps you against their D-line. And then with Joe’s situation he played on a bad knee all year, and he’s going to be better a year from now.
"We’ve got a chance to be a really, really good football team next year. I don’t think we’ll be under the stone so to speak, being picked fifth or sixth or something like that. I think people know that we’re getting better."
Note: I'll have much more on the Gophers' 2015 outlook in our Sunday edition. Have a good weekend everyone.
ORLANDO, FLA. -- Gophers coach Jerry Kill had another chance to watch the freshmen who are redshirting during Saturday's practice and liked what he saw. He has long pined for a rule change that would allow teams to use the redshirted players in bowl games.
"We’ve got three or four guys that would start for us, if they were in the bowl game," Kill said. "I wish we had a rule where they could play. It makes sense because we’re starting a new year, and then everybody goes into the bowl games limping in because of injuries."
Kill didn't want to name names, but true freshmen wide receivers Isaiah Gentry, Desmond Gant, Jerry Gibson and Melvin Holland Jr. would all be starting candidates.
"We’ve got four wide receivers that we’ve redshirted," Kill said. "We’ve got two great running backs [Rodney Smith and Jeff Jones] that are guys that are redshirted. We’ve got some offensive linemen.
"I could keep going, but our football team a year from now, I think, will even be better. We’ll be better because we’ve got some guys who redshirted."
The Gophers lost one of their 2015 recruiting commitments over the weekend, when Almonzo Brown, a wide receiver from Suwanee, Ga., made it public that he was back on the market.
I will be Decommitting from the university of Minnesota. Thanks to all the fans and the coaches for the opportunity.— Almonzo Brown (@the_OCHO_brown) December 21, 2014
Brown is a consensus three-star recruit who has received offers from Florida, Iowa, Georgia Tech and Kansas State. He committed to the Gophers in August, so they'll be back on the market for at least one more receiver in this class.
Meanwhile, coach Jerry Kill continues to rave about the four wide receivers who redshirted this year, especially Isaiah Gentry. After coming back from knee surgery, Gentry has been opening eyes this month in practice. It sounds like Gentry has a very good chance to start next year. Desmond Gant, Melvin Holland Jr., and Conner Krizancic aren't far behind.
The Gophers added another coveted offensive lineman to their 2015 recruiting class Tuesday, when Tyler Moore, a center/guard from Houston North Shore High School gave a verbal commitment to Minnesota.
Moore, a consensus three-star recruit, also had reported offers from Texas, Kansas and BYU.
I am glad to announce my commitment to the UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA! #Ski-U-Mah I could be more fired up!— Tyler Moore (@Ohh_MOE) December 16, 2014
He is Minnesota's 18th commitment for the 2015 class and fifth offensive lineman. The Gophers have made the offensive line and secondary big priorities in this class. The other O-line commits are Nick Connelly (Red Wing), Bronson Dovich (Chaska), Ted Stieber (Akron, Ohio) and Quinn Oseland (Springfield, Ill.).
Here's a highlight video:
The Gophers continued stocking up on defensive back recruits Wednesday, when they landed a commitment from Iowa Western Community College safety Charlie Rogers.
Rogers is a consensus three-star recruit who also had a reported offers from Illinois, Utah State and Wyoming, among other schools. The Iowa City native has two years of college eligibility remaining and plans to enroll at the university next month, so he can take part in spring practice.
The Gophers will have holes in their secondary next year with Cedric Thompson, Derrick Wells, Grayson Levine and Marcus Jones all set to graduate.
They now have 17 commitments for 2015, including six defensive backs.
Rogers announced his commitment on Twitter:
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