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.
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.
Who is the biggest sleeper in this year’s incoming recruiting class for the Gophers? The best guess here is Owen Salzwedel, a 6-6, 235-pound defensive end from Beaver Dam, Wis.
We’ll get a better picture during National Signing Day on Wednesday, but analysts sound intrigued about this three-star recruit.
“He was kind of an under-the-radar type guy,” said Josh Helmholdt, Midwest recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. “I watched him on film, and he’s a big kid. We’ve got him listed at 6-6, 235, and he’ll certainly play heavier than that in college. He moves pretty well at that size. He could develop into a big-time player.”
Last week, I was doing some reporting on Keelon Brookins, the defensive back from Tartan who de-committed from Minnesota and went to Wisconsin, while overcoming ACL injuries to both knees.
Tom Lemming, a recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network, mentioned that while the Gophers lost Brookins, they went into Wisconsin and lured a pretty good one in Salzwedel.
“He’s got real good potential,” Lemming said. “He’s tall and athletic, with quick footing. He’s going to get bigger and stronger, but he’s a very good athlete. So in the long run, he may be better than Brookins.”
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