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.
Gophers tight end Maxx Williams made it official Friday, announcing his widely expected decision to leave early and enter the NFL Draft.
Williams, a third-year sophomore, is the first Gophers football player to leave school early for the NFL Draft since Laurence Maroney, who was a first-round pick (No. 21 overall) by the Patriots in 2006.
The news on Williams comes one day after he put together another signature performance in the Citrus Bowl. Missouri defeated the Gophers 33-17, but Williams had seven catches for 98 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown that came after he hurdled over two defenders.
After the game, Williams said he planned to discuss his decision with his family before making the announcement. His father, Brian, was a center for the Gophers and a first-round pick by the Giants who went on to play 11 years in the NFL.
Maxx Williams was named the Big Ten’s Tight End of the Year, and was a second-team All-American selection by the Associated Press. He led the Gophers with 36 receptions for 569 yards and eight touchdowns. The eight touchdowns were a school record for a Gophers tight end.
Williams could be the first tight end picked in this year’s draft, possibly in the first round.
What now for the Gophers?
Replacing Williams won’t be easy for the Gophers, but they should be fairly deep next year at the H-slot, which is designed for speedy, pass-catching tight ends.
Duke Anyanwu, who tore an ACL on the second day of preseason camp, will be back, and he was expected to be the No. 2 at that position behind Williams this year. Brandon Lingen gained experience as a true freshman, and the Gophers really like Jerry Gibson, a tight end/wide receiver who redshirted this year.
“We appreciate all that Maxx and his family have done for the program,” coach Jerry Kill said in a statement. “They are great people and we wish nothing but the best for Maxx as he begins his professional career. Maxx has been an integral part in laying the foundation for our program and has helped move our team forward.”
Gophers tight end Maxx Williams is planning to announce his decision on whether to enter the NFL Draft today at 1 p.m., according to his family.
Williams, a third-year sophomore, is expected to become the first Gophers football player to leave school early for the NFL Draft since Laurence Maroney, who was a first-round pick (No. 21 overall) by the Patriots in 2006.
ORLANDO, FLA. -- The Gophers held their first Florida practice today in preparation for the Citrus Bowl, and Star Tribune photographer Liz Flores and I made it just in time to see it. The team allowed photo and video access for the first 20 minutes, so we'll wrap some of that into tonight's coverage.
Some quick jottings off practice:
* Gophers coach Jerry Kill confirmed that running back Jeff Jones finished the fall semester with a high enough GPA (Jones needed a 2.5 or above) to gain eligibility for spring practice. Sid Hartman had this news in his Sunday column. The Gophers were just waiting for the grades to become official, and now that's a done deal.
* Drew Wolitarsky, who missed the last four games with a sprained ankle, looked very good running drills. Kill said Wolitarsky is good to go for the bowl game.
* Kill said offensive tackle Ben Lauer, who has been out with mono, would have a limited role, at the most, in the bowl game. That limits the Gophers depth. They have Josh Campion and Jonah Pirsig starting at tackle, and those two will have their hands full against Missouri's defensive ends.
* It was overcast at Freedom High School but a very comfortable 72 degrees. Temperatures are expected to be in the low 80's the next three days.
The Citrus Bowl Parade will run through downtown Orlando on Dec. 30, two days before the Gophers play Missouri, and Wednesday, the honored guests for the parade were revealed.
According to a Citrus Bowl spokesperson, the grand marshal will be former NBA All-Star Grant Hill. Minnesota’s VIP Guest will be Al-Star closer Glen Perkins, and Missouri’s VIP guest will be its chancellor, Dr. R. Bowen Loftin.
Perkins went 19-5 with a 2.87 ERA in two seasons for the Gophers before the Twins signed him as a first-round draft pick in 2004. The lefthander has posted 70 saves over the past two seasons for the Twins, making the All-Star team both years.
Last year’s Citrus Bowl pitted Wisconsin against South Carolina. The parade grand marshal was PGA veteran Justin Rose, and his “VIP guests” were both Heisman winners – George Rogers from South Carolina and Ron Dayne from Wisconsin.
The parade will feature the Gophers and Missouri marching bands, as well as various high school bands and citrus floats. For more on the parade, visit FloridaCitrusParade.com.
Note: Sun Country Airlines added five flights from Minneapolis to Orlando for the bowl game. Details here.
The Gophers will play in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 in Orlando against Missouri, the Star Tribune has confirmed.
It’s the first time the Gophers have drawn a New Year’s Day bowl game since they defeated UCLA in the 1962 Rose Bowl.
Missouri (10-3) won the SEC East but lost 42-13 to Alabama in Saturday's SEC title game. The Tigers also lost to Indiana in September.
The Gophers (8-4, 5-3 Big Ten) appeared to catch a break Sunday, when Mississippi State jumped ahead of Michigan State in the final College Football Playoff rankings.
The Orange Bowl was under contract to take the highest ranked Big Ten or SEC team that didn’t make the four-team College Football Playoff. That would have been Michigan State based on last week’s rankings, but it wound up being Mississippi State.
If the Big Ten team had landed a team in the Orange Bowl, it wouldn’t have been able to send one to the Citrus Bowl.
Ohio State landed a berth in the four-team College Football Playoff. Michigan State got a bid to play Baylor in the Cotton Bowl. And with the Citrus Bowl back in play, the rest of the Big Ten benefited.
The Citrus Bowl was called the Capital One Bowl from 2003 to 2014. It actually dates to 1947, when it was known as the Tangerine Bowl before changing its name to the Florida Citrus Bowl.
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