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.
OK, as I keep saying, I'm new to this. But Urban Meyer is either one of the most egotistical, self-righteous coaches in sports, or he's exactly what the Big Ten needs.
Maybe he's both.
In an interview Thursday on 97.1-FM in Columbus, Meyer acknowledged his concerns about Big Ten recruiting lagging behind the SEC and said this needs to be the focus of the discussions Monday at the conference coaching meeting.
Some media outlets have run with this, suggesting Meyer is going sit there with Brady Hoke, Bo Pelini, Bill O'Brien, Mark Dantonio, Jerry Kill, etc., and tell them it's time to step up their recruiting game. Can you imagine?
I wanted to make sure Meyer wasn't taken out of context, so I went back to listen to the interview. The question comes at the 2:25 mark:
Question: "Urban, you won two national titles in the SEC, and that league is on a heck of a roll, and I know you get asked this question all the time. ... You guys are on a heck of a roll right now, your rival to the north [Michigan] seems to be doing pretty good -- they had the nice class [Wednesday]. Is there any concern for you that the rest of the Big Ten isn’t holding up its end of the bargain, and do you think that’s important for what you’re trying to build here at Ohio State?"
Meyer: "Well, it’s not only important, it’s essential. It has to happen. And I don’t know enough about what goes on in the other programs. I know I have a lot of respect for the tradition and their historical success they’ve had, but we do need to as a conference need to keep pushing that envelope to be better. And I think ... our whole conversation [Monday] needs to be about how do we recruit? When you see 11 of the SEC teams are in the Top 25 in recruiting, that’s something we need to continue to work on and improve."
Here's the breakdown of the Top 40 classes, as ranked by Rivals.com:
SEC -- Alabama (1), Florida (4), LSU (6), Ole Miss (7), Auburn (8), Texas A&M (10), Georgia (12), South Carolina (16), Vanderbilt (19), Tennessee (20), Mississippi State (25), Arkansas (26), Kentucky (28), Missouri (39).
BIG TEN -- Ohio State (2), Michigan (5), Nebraska (17), Michigan State (38).
Now, if Meyer wants to lead a discussion about how to put the Big Ten, as a whole, in better position to recruit, more power to him. He has concerns about 11 a.m. (Central) kickoffs, for example, and the difficulty teams have getting recruits to campus in time after their Friday night games.
But he didn't handle the question very well. He could have taken the high road and been careful not to make it sound like he was calling out the other coaching staffs. His isn't the only one that recruits 24/7/365.
This year's 61st-ranked Gophers class can't match up with Ohio State's. Is that because Urban Meyer outhustled and outflanked Jerry Kill? Not necessarily. There are countless factors that go into it -- a program's recent success, facilities, game-day atmosphere, nearby talent pools.
Ohio State signed 10 players from Ohio, including five that are ranked as four-star recruits. Minnesota's talent crop was way down this year, so the Gophers signed one in-state kid and got the rest from 11 other states, including Florida (four), Georgia (three), Texas (two) and California (one).
Kill's staff combed the country, just as Meyer's did. The assistant coaches were everywhere, and Kill made home visits to all but one of the players Minnesota signed.
"This is the hardest as a head coach that I've gone in 32 years," Kill said Wednesday. "I mean, I have competed, hard. Because I know I have to."
So Meyer might have some ideas about game times and other logistics. But to suggest that he's going to give Kill and these other coaches a little kick in the butt Monday? Please.
On National Signing Day, with every recruit seemingly loaded with promise, Gophers coach Jerry Kill probably summed it up best.
"They're all paper tigers until they come through academics and go play," he said.
Sometimes, the recruits do OK academically, but they get injured, or for some other reason, all the talent that recruiters saw in high school just doesn't translate to college.
Willie Mobley was a four-star D-line recruit for Eden Prairie in 2008. Then-Gophers coach Tim Brewster recruited him hard, but Mobley picked Ohio State. After redshirting for the Buckeyes, Mobley transferred to Orange Coast (Calif.) College and then to Arizona.
He tore an ACL in 2011, but in three years at Arizona, he played in 23 games and made just 27 tackles, as colleague Patrick Reusse notes on Twitter.
On Wednesday, Mobley turned up on the signing list at New Mexico State, as the Tucson (Ariz.) Citizen reports. Mobley got his undergraduate degree at Arizona, and now he's transferring as a grad student. He'll need to get a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA by showing an injury contributed to his 2008 redshirt year at Ohio State.
If it works, Mobley will face the Gophers when they visit New Mexico State in the season's second game, on Sept. 7.
GOPHERS WALK-ON CLASS
On that note, every school has several walk-ons eager to prove the talent evaluators wrong. Other kids might be more heavily recruited, but these players can't wait to get to fall practice and show what they can do.
On Wednesday, the Gophers announced five walk-ons who have signed admission acceptances at the University. A closer look:
Jeffrey Borchardt, WR, Wayzata, 6-0, 185: Second-team All-State selection. Scored six TDs (four rushing, two receiving) in 49-14 playoff victory over Champlin Park. All-State in track as a junior.
Michael Conway, QB, La Crosse Aquinas (Wis.), 6-5, 205: Named La Crosse Tribune Football Player of the Year after throwing for 1,950 yards and 20 TDs and rushing for 800 yards and 11 TDs.
Chad Fahning, OL, De La Salle, 6-6, 270: First-team All-State selection. Turned down a scholarship from Western Michigan. Can play either guard or tackle. Started 34 games in high school.
Matt Leidner, OL, Lakeville South, 6-2, 280: Second-team All-State selection recorded 105 pancake blocks as a senior. His older brother, Mitch, redshirted at QB for the Gophers last season.
Conor Rhoda, QB, Cretin-Derham Hall, 6-3, 195: Threw for 1,400 yards and 19 TDs, and rushed for 600 yards and three TDs. Along with Notre Dame recruit James Onwualu, helped lead the Raiders to a 6-3 finish.
One of the Gophers main goals with this year’s recruiting class was addressing their linebacker corps. They had two outgoing senior starters at linebacker last year, in Keanon Cooper and Mike Rallis, along with backup linebackers Ryan Grant and Spencer Reeves.
Five of the 19 players in this recruiting are linebackers. Two are junior college transfers who have a decent shot at starting this fall:
De’Vondre Campbell -- Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College
Damien Wilson -- Jones County Junior College (Miss.)
Three are high school seniors who might need to redshirt and add some size.
Rayfield Dixon -- Loxahatchee Seminole Ridge (Fla.)
De’Niro Laster -- Cleveland Heights (Ohio)
Chris Wipson -- Wayzata
“Our linebacking corps, I really feel good about addressing that need,” Coach Jerry Kill said.
Kill compared it to last year, when the Gophers were replacing seven defensive backs and “hit the jackpot,” as he said, with their selections.
“On our board, we had eight or nine linebackers; we’re very fortunate that we were able to get five of those young men,” Kill said. “De’Vondre Campbell’s a young man I didn’t know if he would commit today or not."
Campbell has three years of eligibility remaining. He committed to Tennessee last May then switched to Texas and Kansas State before ultimately picking the Gophers. More on Campbell and the rest of this class in tonight's first editions.
The Gophers pulled a signing day surprise today, announcing that they've reeled in junior college linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, who also had offers from Texas, Kansas State and Tennessee, according to Rivals.com.
According to Minnesota's official web site,GopherSports.com, here's a list of players who are signed, sealed and delivered, with height and weight, as reported by the University:
Hendrick Ekpe, DE, Lewisville (Texas), 6-5, 230: His brother, Scott, started at defensive tackle for the Gophers last season as a freshman. Hendrick already enrolled at the U.
Chris Streveler, QB, Marian Central Catholic (Ill.), 6-2, 205: Passed for 2,397 yards and rushed for 1,124 yards as a senior. Streveler already is enrolled at the U.
Damien Wilson, LB, Jones County Junior College (Miss.), 6-2, 245: Good Juco tackler has a chance to start at middle linebacker -- this fall. Wilson already is enrolled at the U.
Eric Carter, WR, Lakeland Lake Gibson (Fla.), 5-11, 185: Three-star recruit picked the Gophers after de-committing from Cincinnati.
Rayfield Dixon, LB, Loxahatchee Seminole Ridge (Fla.), 6-3, 205: Picked Minnesota over West Virginia; needs to add bulk.
Berkley Edwards, RB, Chelsea (Mich.), 5-9, 190: Breakaway speed, good bloodlines; father (Stan) and brother (Braylon) reached NFL.
Alex Mayes, OL, Van Alstyne (Texas), 6-5, 285: Good-sized lineman had offers from Colorado and Kansas State.
Nate Wozniak, TE, Greenwood Center Grove (Ind.) 6-9, 258: Had offers from Miami (Fla.) and Purdue. Size might force him to O-line.
Owen Salzwedel, DE, Beaver Dam (Wis.), 6-6, 240: Has the size and athleticism to become the sleeper of this class.
Donovahn Jones, QB, Hampton Dutchtown (Ga.), 6-3, 190: Flipped his commitment from Missouri to Minnesota this week and also had offers from Arkansas, Kentucky and North Carolina State.
Jalen Myrick, DB, Savannah Christian School (Ga.), 5-10, 200: A speedy two-way player that the Gophers plan to use at cornerback.
Daletavius McGhee, DB, Ellenwood Cedar Grove (Ga.), 6-1, 195: Two-star recruit needs to add bulk but could develop into a safety.
De’Niro Laster, LB, Cleveland Heights (Ohio), 6-4, 230: Converted wide receiver; had offers from Kansas and Illinois.
De'Vondre Campbell, LB, Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College, 6-5, 225: Had offers from Texas, Tennessee and Kansas State.
Ryan Santoso, K, Pace (Fla.), 6-5, 260: A converted soccer goalie, he played in Under Armour All-America Game.
Chris Wipson, LB, Wayzata, 6-2, 210: Strong tackler from high school linebacker factory; tore ACL in his left knee in November.
Demaris Peppers, DT, Memphis Fairley (Tenn.), 6-3, 270: Hard worker needs to add bulk to make an impact on D-line.
Drew Wolitarsky, WR, Canyon Country Canyon (Calif.), 6-3, 208: Though not a speedster, he’s California’s all-time leading receiver.
Note: The Gophers listed Jordan Hinojosa with last year's class. Academic issues sent him to Coffeyville (Kansas) Community College, but the defensive tackle is now enrolled at the U and will be ready for spring practice.
Jones also had offers from Arkansas and North Carolina State, among others. Missouri had recruited Jones as a wide receiver.
"The biggest thing is he's going to get a chance to play quarterback [at Minnesota]," Dutchtown defensive coordinator and associate head coach Terry Herrod told the Daily Herald.
Jones would become the 18th commitment in Minnesota's class, and the second quarterback, joining Chris Streveler, of Woodstock, Ill.
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