Scoop on junior college defenders pans out

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 6, 2012 - 6:09 AM
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Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune file

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You know how you put references at the bottom of your rsum, in hopes someone who knows your work will recommend you for the job?

Football works that way, too.

"Sometimes you have to roll the dice [by recruiting] a player that you don't know much about," Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. "But if you have a connection and know people on the staff that can tell you about what a player's like, that makes junior-college kids less of a gamble."

The Gophers got good inside info on their three new juco cornerbacks, and whatever the odds, the Gophers feel like winners already from what they've seen. Martez Shabazz is the quickest of the three. Jeremy Baltazar is the biggest and most physical, and Briean Boddy has an extra year of eligibility.

"We were fortunate -- I think we've hit on all three of those," coach Jerry Kill said. "We make mistakes sometimes in recruiting, but they all can play."

They all can learn, too, which is important for junior-college players. The Big Ten obviously has bigger and better players, but it's the mental part that catches some newcomers by surprise. It's why arriving in January, in time for spring practice, was so critical.

"I wouldn't say it's harder, but it's way more mental," said Baltazar, a Californian who transferred from Blinn College in Brenham, Texas. "There are a lot more calls to know."

"Inside of one play, there are three more plays, options -- if your guy does this, then you do that," added Boddy, a Delaware native who spent last year in Coffeyville, Kan. "In JC ball, it was more straightforward -- this is your job, that's how to do it, boom. And if it doesn't work, just be an athlete and make a play. This is a lot tighter system."

The trio has grown tight during their first few months in Minnesota; both Boddy and Baltazar have roomed with Shabazz, a Texan from Trinity Valley Community College. But as alike as they are, "we all bring different attributes," Boddy said. His responsibility, like Shabazz's, likely will focus in the middle of the field, "where you get those fast, speedy receivers."

Baltazar is a boundary corner, liable to blitz more often but also to handle the biggest receivers. "Offenses want to put their best receiver on the boundary, and in the Big Ten, that's usually a big, strong, physical receiver. Which means we need big, fast, physical corners to cover them," Boddy said.

It's too soon to say how much they will play, but Claeys said the defense will be free to use more cover schemes, just because the Gophers have far more depth this year.

Many happy returners

From the looks of Sunday's tryouts, the Gophers have narrowed the pool of kick returners to ... well, anyone wearing maroon.

Ten different players took a turn catching a kickoff and heading upfield with it, all in the name of investigating every possibility. Some candidates, such as freshmen K.J. Maye and Andre McDonald, are fast but inexperienced, and some, such as receiver Brandon Green and cornerback Troy Stoudermire, might be too busy with other duties. All got an equal look, just in case.

"We've got some guys who are going to get a lot of minutes on offense and defense," Kill said. "Maybe we can find somebody that's not going to get as many minutes."

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