Hartman: U juco transfers expected to help

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 6, 2012 - 5:29 AM

Jerry Kill appears to have found the right players from junior colleges to fill holes on the Gophers roster.

Gophers football coach Jerry Kill spoke in glowing terms about the junior college transfers who are expected to contribute this fall. There are a number of them, particularly in the secondary.

"We lost seven seniors [in the secondary] and we couldn't replace them with seven freshmen all at once, so that was one of the problems that we had," Kill said.

The Gophers brought in three junior college cornerbacks in Briean Boddy, Jeremy Baltazar and Martez Shabazz. All three have been in school since January.

"Briean could play wide receiver, he's a great athlete, a great basketball player out of Delaware," Kill said. "He's a very good student, a very good football player and he has three years left. Normally, a lot of junior college players have only two, but he has three years left, and he's going to be a very, very good football player and a very pleasant person to be around.

"Martez Shabazz is a young man out of Texas that has tremendous speed, I would say maybe the second- or third-fastest kid on the team. A corner that can cover you, likes to play press-corner, just makes plays, and somebody we need to do that.

"Jeremy looks like a linebacker. A 205-210-pound corner that is very physical at the line of scrimmage and comes from Blinn Junior College, which has a rich history."

Also on defense is Roland Johnson, whom Kill said should help provide depth on the line but who also did not enroll until recently. "Roland comes out of Butler County Community College, a great junior college in the state of Kansas where they've won numerous national championships," Kill said. "Roland joined us this summer and went through the transition of being a student here at the University of Minnesota and going through the offseason. We know what he can do at junior college, but two-a-day camp will be important for him for how well he picks up the transition, because he was not here for spring practice."

Talking about junior college transfers on the offensive side, Kill first pointed to Caledonia High School product Isaac Fruechte. "He went to Rochester [Community and Technical] College and the coach was kind enough to us to let him sit this year so he'd have three years of eligibility," Kill said. "Isaac came in the spring, he's a 6-3, 205-210-pound wide receiver who is one of the faster guys on our team. He got the opportunity to kind of learn what to do in the spring and I really look for him to excel, and we need him to. He needs to do a really good job for us."

As for running back James Gillum, Kill said the transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College "is again doing a great job in the classroom, is a very studied guy, did a great job of picking up things in the spring and did a great job with pass protection and all the little things. I'm anxious to see how much farther along he'll be during two-a-day camp.

"Those five or six gentlemen have all done a great job in the transition. Roland is the one that we'll have to see how he adjusts to being at the University of Minnesota and how he handles things through two-a-day camp."

Normally junior college transfers are a gamble both in the classroom and on the field. But so far it looks like Kill and his coaching staff have guessed right on every one that they recruited. And that is one reason why the Gophers will have a much better team than they had last season.

Kill also reported that the Gophers don't plan any position changes any time soon, after making several in spring practice that the coach believes will make the team better.

"We feel good about the changes that we made," Kill said. "Certainly with moving Derrick Wells back to safety [from cornerback], James Manuel back to linebacker [from safety], I think that was a critical move on defense that helped us a lot."

Sports at Starkey

The Starkey Hearing Foundation held its annual gala on Saturday night in St. Paul to raise money for hearing aids for poor people around the world, and among the more than 1,000 guests were a number of people connected with sports.

Former Chicago Cubs star outfielder Sammy Sosa contributed to the fundraising when he bid $60,000 for a guitar autographed by the Eagles' Glenn Frey.

Starkey President Jerry Ruzicka also reported that John Calipari, coach of Kentucky's NCAA championship men's basketball team, was on hand and had a reunion with Gophers coach Tubby Smith, who like Calipari won a national title with the Wildcats. Calipari predicted that even though he lost five players to the NBA draft, he would have another team that would compete with the best.

Also attending the event were former major league pitching stars Pedro Martinez and Rollie Fingers; former NFL players Ed "Too Tall" Jones and Tommie Harris; Oklahoma City Thunder center Cole Aldrich, the former Bloomington Jefferson standout; and Wild goalie Josh Harding, among others.

And speaking of Starkey, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier credits the hearing aid company for implanting a device in the ear of former UCLA running back Derrick Coleman that might help him make the team.

"Coleman has been one of the surprises in camp so far," Frazier said of Coleman, an undrafted free agent who has been deaf most of his life. "... We'll see how it goes once we get him into some games, but so far he's doing pretty good."

Jottings

• Tubby Smith, who recently signed his new contract, admitted the other day that after last season he turned down a chance to coach at a Southeastern Conference university that offered him a job. It was likely South Carolina, which ended up hiring Kansas State's Frank Martin. ... Smith's Gophers play Mike Krzyzewski's Duke team on Nov. 22, Thanksgiving Day, in the Bahamas. It will be the first time the two basketball teams have met since the Gophers lost to the Blue Devils in the Sweet 16 in 1989.

Justin Morneau has shown fantastic improvement in hitting lefthanded pitchers of late. The Twins first baseman hit .076 off lefties in April (2-for-26), .125 in May (2-for-16) and .096 in June (3-for-31). But he went .309 in July (13-for-42) and is at .545 (6-for-11) in August. So Morneau is now hitting .206 off southpaws after a horrible start. He's also coming off a July when he hit .315 with three homers and 13 RBI, and he has stayed hot in five games in August, hitting .421.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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