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.

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Posts about Gophers awards and honors

Gophers safety Thompson wins Wilma Rudolph national achievement award

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: June 9, 2014 - 11:44 AM

In 20-plus years in newspapers, I've come across few stories that compare with Gophers safety Cedric Thompson's. Last year, photographer Jerry Holt and I got the chance to visit Thompson's home in Bombay Beach, Calif., and travel the bus route that used to take him two hours -- one way -- to Calipatria High School.

Thompson, who went to this area along the Salton Sea to escape the gang violence in South Central Los Angeles, opened up about his story, as he had for director Alma Har'el, in her award-winning documentary "Bombay Beach."

Thompson continued to thrive on the field last year for the Gophers and has established himself as a senior leader heading into this fall. On Saturday, Thompson received the Wilma Rudolph Student Athlete Achievement Award in Orlando, Fla., at the annual National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics convention.

According to the Gophers' press release, the award "honors student athletes who have overcome great personal, academic, and/or emotional odds to achieve academic success while participating in intercollegiate athletics."

Eslinger ranks 34th on Athlon's list of top players from the BCS era

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: May 29, 2014 - 9:30 AM

Former Gophers center Greg Eslinger made Athlon's recently released list of Top 50 college football players of the BCS era. He has some impressive company on a list that spanned from 1998 to 2013.

Greg Eslinger (Star Tribune file photo)

Greg Eslinger (Star Tribune file photo)

The rankings start with Vince Young, Tim Tebow, Ndamukong Suh, Adrian Peterson and Larry Fitzgerald.

Eslinger, from Bismarck, North Dakota, was a four-year starter for the Gophers and won the Outland Trophy as the nation's best interior lineman. He was a three-time first-team All-American.

He ranks 34th on this list, behind LaDanian Tomlinson (30th), Robert Griffin III (31st), Reggie Bush (32nd) and Drew Brees (33rd).

Athlon writes:

34. Greg Eslinger, C, Minnesota (2002-05)
Not many centers have an Outland Trophy on their mantle at home but Eslinger does. He was a freshman All-American in 2002, a third-team All-American as a sophomore, a first-teamer in '04 and earned consensus All-American honors as a senior. He won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center and earned Big Ten Lineman of the Year honors in ’05. Minnesota never had a losing record during his four-year career.

A look back at the Gophers' recent NFL draft history, with Hageman and Vereen up next

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: May 8, 2014 - 10:28 AM

Ra’Shede Hageman will be in New York City tonight, hoping his name gets called during the first round of the NFL Draft. His former Gophers teammate Brock Vereen could get the call Friday, when the second- and third-round picks are announced.

The Strib’s Master Tesfatsion has more on Hageman and Vereen's draft prospects here. The Gophers haven't had a player chosen in the NFL draft since 2010, when the Broncos got a third-round steal in Eric Decker.

Here's a look back at where other Gophers have been selected over the past 10 drafts:

2010

WR Eric Decker (3rd round, Broncos)

LB Nate Triplett (5th round, Vikings)

2008

S Dominique Barber (6th round, Texans)

2007

TE Matt Spaeth (3rd round, Steelers)

2006

RB Laurence Maroney (1st round, 21st overall, Patriots)

NT Anthony Montgomery (5th round, Redskins)

C Greg Eslinger (6th round, Broncos)

G Mark Setterstrom (7th round, Rams)

2005

RB Marion Barber III (4th round, Cowboys)

2004

FB Thomas Tapeh (5th round, Eagles)

Vereen getting set for East-West Shrine Game on Saturday

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: January 17, 2014 - 4:52 PM

Outgoing Gophers senior Brock Vereen will get another chance to perform before NFL scouts on Saturday, when he plays in the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The game will be televised on NFL Network, with the kickoff at 3 p.m. Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch and Purdue defensive tackle Bruce Gaston are among the other standouts who'll be there.

Vereen, a first-team All-Big Ten defensive back, is a potential late-round pick. His brother, Shane, is a running back for the New England Patriots.

"Coming into college, I think it’s safe to say most players have aspirations to play at the NFL level," Brock Vereen said last month. "I’ve been fortunate enough to see Shane go through his whole process, and I think the biggest thing I’ve taken from that is whether you’re the first pick or a free agent, all you need is an opportunity.

"So I’m not worried about when I’m taken, if I’m taken. As long as I can get a chance I know I’ll make the most of it."

Note: Gophers defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman, a potential first-round pick, is gearing up to play in the Senior Bowl, on Jan. 25 in Mobile, Ala.

Hageman completes his degree in youth studies

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: December 20, 2013 - 5:55 PM

Gophers coach Jerry Kill has helped turn around the football program academically, and one of the best examples is defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman. To put it simply, school did not seem like a priority for Hageman when Kill first arrived on campus three years ago.

One time Hageman thought about skipping class, heard a knock on his door and saw his new head coach ready to personally escort him to school.

On Wednesday, Hageman finished his last college final, turning in a paper for an astronomy class. By that night, he learned he’d received a C-minus for the class, good enough to complete his degree in youth studies.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of people that were on my side, but at the end of the day, I’m the man with the pencil and the paper,” Hageman said. “I had a lot of supporters, like Coach Kill and the academic staff. They kept on grinding, kept on pushing me to do things, but at the end of the day I had to do the work.”

The 6-6, 310-pound Hageman is a projected first- or second-round NFL draft pick.

“He’s got a great future ahead of him, but he’s also got a college degree that will help him do other things in his lifetime, and you need both in this day and age,” Kill said. “The way it is, you never know when your last play is, so having a college education, at the end of the day it’s the most important thing.

“I promise you, there’s nobody more proud of that kid – besides his family – than this coaching staff and Coach Kill.”

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