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.
Interesting email reaction to today's story on Eric Klein, the Gophers' new strength coach. A couple of skeptics wrote to say they found a story about offseason workouts to be too obvious, that everybody does it and it's not news. Which is true, though I was trying to make the point that the Gophers' emphasis is a little unusual, that they spend an inordinate time on flexibility and stamina over sheer strength. Plus, it was interesting to hear that the new coaching staff feels like they have some ground to make up after a so-so first impression of their new players.
Here's one thing that didn't make the story, but that amazed me: Duane Bennett told me that while the 6 a.m. workouts aren't popular among his teammates, the Gophers have a perfect record of being on time. Considering we're talking about 60 players, four days a week, and two months of workouts, that's pretty remarkable.
"I've never seen anyone late," the senior tailback said. "Coach (Jerry) Kill has instilled how important that is. If you're late, it's probably one of the worst things you'll do in your life."
Well, that may be overstating it; the penalty for a first offense is actually a week of extra drills, while wearing a brown t-shirt that says "I let down my teammates." But the Gophers, Bennett said, take Kill's new rules seriously.
OK, but 100 percent? I called Klein to do a little fact-checking.
Turns out, they're not perfect. But pretty close. "I'd say 99 percent," Klein said. "Only a couple of slips in the first six weeks. They're doing a good job of making that commitment."
It wasn't easy at first, Bennett assured me, particularly on those below-zero mornings. "It's dark, so you put your headphones on, head down, and just walk as paceful as you can," he said. "We're college students, we like to sleep in. But it's not the worst thing. It teaches discipline. We get Wednesdays off, and sleeping in until 7 is heaven."
The pre-dawn workouts have the notable side benefit, Bennett said, of bringing the team closer. They watch out for each other, so nobody misses the 5:55 start time (yep, if you're not five minutes early, you're late).
"We're very big on the buddy system. Wake your roommate, call a teammate, make sure the young guys are up and at it," Bennett said. "If the clock hits 5:45, we start calling. If that happens, we'll meet them at the door -- throw your stuff down, get out on the field."
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