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 spent a few hours inside the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex at Minnesota's Pro Day on Monday and took heart knowing the weather should be considerably better once spring practice begins for the Gophers, on March 26.
Here's a look at one of the players the coaching staff can't wait to see back out on the field:
Position: Wide receiver
Eligibility: Redshirt freshman
High School: Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard Creek
Recruiting flashback: He scored 21 touchdowns as a high school senior in 2011, and drew a four-star rating from ESPN.com, which ranked him as the nation’s No. 32 receiving recruit. Rivals.com listed him as a three-star recruit, with other offers from West Virginia, Vanderbilt, Virginia and North Carolina State.
2012 rewind: Harbison had a terrific fall camp and started the season opener against UNLV. But in the second quarter, he was tackled hard on a running play and tore the ACL in his right knee. The only salvation for the Gophers was knowing it happened early enough for Haribson to qualify for a medical redshirt. “The good Lord is probably telling us we need to redshirt him anyway,” Coach Jerry Kill said that week. “Am I disappointed? Yeah, I think Jamel had a chance to be one of our premier offensive players. At the same time, I know I’ve got him for four years.”
2013 outlook: Harbison’s rehab is said to be going well. It sounds like he’ll be ready for spring practice, though the Gophers will be careful not to push him too hard only six months out of surgery. The focus will be on getting Harbison ready for the Aug. 29 season opener against UNLV. With A.J. Barker’s departure, Derrick Engel (375 yards) and Isaac Fruechte (256 yards) are the team’s top returning receivers. That unit could take a big step forward once Harbison returns to full speed.
Let's continue studying the Gophers roster today with a look at another key returnee on the defensive line:
Position: Defensive end
High School: Arlington (Texas) Bowie
Recruiting flashback: Part of Jerry Kill’s first recruiting class at Minnesota, Amaefula was listed as a three-star recruit by Rivals.com, with offers from Iowa, Iowa State and Kansas State.
Early college: As a true freshman in 2011, he played all 12 games and started four, recording 17 tackles, with 1 1/2 sacks and two fumble recoveries.
2012 rewind: Amaefula started all 13 games and finished with 19 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks and two fumble recoveries. He was one of the team’s 31 Academic All-Big Ten selections.
2013 outlook: Amaefula is one of three returning starters on the defensive line, along with DT's Ra’Shede Hageman and Cameron Botticelli. The Gophers will look for Amaefula to take another step forward from his DE spot.
In honor of the basketball upset over top-ranked Indiana, let’s take a closer look today at a Gophers football player from the Hoosier State:
High School: Indianapolis Warren
Recruiting flashback: Tim Brewster’s staff recruited him as a safety after he helped lead Warren High School to Indiana’s 5A state championship in 2009. Rivals.com listed Manuel as a three-star recruit, who also had offers to Iowa and Michigan State.
Early college: As a true freshman in 2010, he played all 12 games at safety and started three, making 29 tackles and forcing two turnovers. Jerry Kill’s staff took over for 2011, and Manuel again played all 12 games but finished with fewer tackles (11).
2012 rewind: The Gophers moved Manuel to linebacker last year for spring practice. At the time, Kill said: “He’s an in-between guy. ... We felt like moving him down [closer to the line] gave him a chance to play in the box, not be in as much space, and use his abilities better.” Manuel finished seventh on the team with 50 tackles. He played in all 13 games and started one.
2013 outlook: At linebacker, Aaron Hill is back, but the Gophers need to replace two starters, in Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper. With 37 games of experience under his belt, including a full year at linebacker, Manuel will be among those looking to fill the void.
It’s almost time for spring football -- at Northwestern, at least. The Wildcats open spring practice Wednesday.
The Gophers don’t start until March 26, with the annual spring game on April 27, which gives us plenty of time to study the roster. Let’s keep the player capsule series going today with a look at another one of the key returnees on defense:
Position: Defensive back
High School: Lehigh (Fla.)
Recruiting flashback: Minnesota was one of two Division I programs to offer Wells a scholarship. The other was Ball State. Wells was listed as a two-star recruit by Rivals.com, and committed to Minnesota a week before signing day in 2011. Coach Jerry Kill’s staff can use him as a prime example of how they can take unheralded players and turn them into standouts.
Early college: Wells played 11 games at cornerback as a true freshman in 2011 and finished with eight tackles.
2012 rewind: Wells switched to safety and made an immediate impact in the season-opener at UNLV, with eight tackles and two interceptions. He finished non-conference play with 32 tackles in four games. But he lacerated his knee in the second Big Ten game, against Northwestern, and remained on the injury report, as the knee needed restitching two times. He wound up playing in all 13 games and started 11, finishing tied for third on the team with 74 tackles. He didn’t have another interception after the UNLV game, but he recovered a fumble against Illinois.
2013 outlook: In Wells, Brock Vereen and Cedric Thompson, the Gophers will return three experienced safeties this year, but they need to replace two starting cornerbacks, in Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire. So it’s possible Wells could be asked to move back to corner. Either way, he’ll look to build on a breakout season.
I’ve received some good feedback from readers who’ve stopped by this blog, and it’s much appreciated. As I told one e-mailer today, however, I’ve still got a lonnnnng way to go in the new gig as a football writer.
If anything, I’m like an early enrollee who’s off to a determined start in the offseason conditioning program. We’ll see how I do with spring practice, and especially this fall.
Meantime, I’m getting some fun variety over at the University. I’ve covered Rachel Banham and the women’s basketball team. I’ve met Noora Raty, Amanda Kessell and Megan Bozek -- three stars from the amazing women’s hockey team. I spoke to ace lefthander Tom Windle before he helped knock off No. 2 UCLA in last weekend's baseball season opener.
For now, let’s keep this Gophers player capsule series going with a look at one of the guys anchoring the offensive line:
Position: Offensive tackle
2013 class: Fifth-year senior
High School: Mahtomedi
Recruiting flashback: Olson was a first-team All-State pick and listed as a three-star recruit by Rivals.com.
Early college: After redshirting in 2009, Olson started eight games at left tackle in 2010 and played in all 12 games the next year, starting 10.
2012: He started the first six games, missed four games with a sprained ankle, and then started the final four games. He was an Academic All-Big Ten selection for the second time.
2013 outlook: Olson and his younger brother, Tommy, are two members of an offensive line that returns everyone this fall. The line was beat up for stretches last year, helping contribute to the team's struggles. But the extra time to recover made a difference for the bowl game, as the Gophers rushed for 222 yards.
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