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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I’m moving over to the offense today for the third player in this series. I’ve been focusing on upper classmen so far, and here’s another one:
Position: Running back
2013 class: Fourth-year Junior
High School: Delray Beach (Fla.) Atlantic
Recruiting flashback: Part of Tim Brewster’s final Gophers recruiting class, Kirkwood was listed as a three-star recruit by Rivals.com, with offers from Kansas State, Pittsburgh and Rutgers. He was a first-team all-conference pick as a junior at Atlantic High School, with 1,013 yards, but slipped to second-team all-conference with 491 yards as a senior.
Early college: In 2010, he played in four games and rushed 27 times for 107 yards but injured his leg and was granted a medical redshirt. In 2011, he rushed 63 yards for 229 yards and three touchdowns.
2012 rewind: Kirkwood missed most of spring practice with a hamstring injury but emerged as the team’s go-to tailback early in the fall. He finished the season with 218 carries for 926 yards and six touchdowns, including a 28/152/2 TD performance in the victory over Illinois.
2013 outlook: The Gophers haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher since Amir Pinnix in 2006. After coming 74 yards short of that benchmark last year, Kirkwood could eclipse it this year, especially as the offensive line continues to grow and mature. As a true freshman, Rodrick Williams saw an increasing role in the offense late in the season and had a 12/60/1 TD performance in the bowl game. With those two established, it’ll be interesting to see if the Gophers redshirt incoming recruit Berkley Edwards.
I'm picking the order for this series randomly, following my own curiosity. After starting with Ra'Shede Hageman, let's stay on the defensive side of the ball today and look at another key fifth-year senior.
2013 class: Fifth-year Senior
High School: St. Charles (Mo.) Lutheran
Recruiting flashback: Hill walked on for the Gophers after a standout career at Lutheran High School, where he was a two-time team MVP in football, two-time team MVP in basketball and a two-time All-State selection in track. In football, he was All-State as a senior and named his conference's player of the year.
Early college: He redshirted in 2009 and started two games in 2010. In 2011, he missed the first three games with injuries but played in the final nine, recording 32 tackles.
2012 rewind: Hill played in all 13 games, starting 11 times, and finished with 74 tackles, tying him with Derrick Wells for third-most on the team behind Troy Stoudermire and Mike Rallis. A kinesiology major, Hill also was an Academic All-Big Ten selection for the second time.
2013 outlook: Hill is the team's lone returning starting linebacker, as Minnesota looks to replace departing seniors Rallis and Keanon Cooper. Hill is a candidate for the MLB spot, but it sounds more likely that he'll stay on the outside, with junior college transfer Damien Wilson among those who will get a look in the middle.
Hill had nine or more tackles four times last year. He showed his playmaking ability with his interception against Michigan State and the touchdown-saving tackle he made in the third quarter against Texas Tech. This fall, the Gophers will be counting on him to make big plays like that all season.
I'm hoping to keep the Gophers football content coming this winter, and I also need to familiarize myself with the roster. So today, I'm trying to marry those two goals by launching an occasional series, taking a capsule look at the players.
And what better way to start than with defensive cornerstone, Ra'Shede Hageman?
Position: Defensive tackle
2013 class: Fifth-year Senior
High School: Minneapolis Washburn
Recruiting flashback: Hageman was a two-time All-State tight end and a standout basketball player for Washburn. Tom Lemming ranked him as the nation's No. 1 tight end recruit in the 2009 class. Rivals.com listed him as a three-star recruit, noting that he had offers from Florida, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Nebraska, among others. Gophers coach Tim Brewster convinced Hageman to stay home.
Early college: Hageman redshirted in 2009 and grew to 300 pounds. He moved to defensive end in 2010 and became a defensive tackle in 2011, under Jerry Kill. Hageman turned a corner that year as a sophomore, notching two sacks and a forced fumble in the season-ending victory over Illinois.
2012 rewind: Having never started a collegiate game before the season, Hageman took a big leap forward, starting all 13 games and finishing with 35 tackles (20 solo), 7.5 tackles for a loss and six sacks. He was an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selection.
2013 outlook: Hageman is the Gophers’ top returning defensive player. In December, he said he knows the NFL can wait, adding that he needs improvement, especially on stopping the running game and going full-speed on every play. “Getting another year means I’ve got another spring ball to work hard, get a little bit stronger, so I can be a dominant player in the Big Ten,” he said.
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