A Wednesday notes column with the focus on football:
Don’t expect the Golden Gophers to add any scholarship football players to their recruiting class of 2018 when the second of two National Signing Dates occurs February 7. Coach P.J. Fleck has no remaining scholarships but next week expect Minnesota to announce the names of “seven to nine” preferred walk-ons, according to Ryan Burns, the college football recruiting authority and publisher of GopherIllustrated.com.
Burns told Sports Headliners the “crown jewels” of that group will be Zack Annexstad and Max Janes. Annexstad, a Mankato, Minnesota native, was outstanding last fall as a pro-style quarterback at IMG Academy in Florida. Burns said Janes, a tight end and linebacker from Mounds View, turned down four Division I offers to become a Gopher. While preferred walk-ons don’t receive scholarships, they put themselves in position to earn assistance by future performances.
It was thought the state’s Mr. Football as chosen by the Minnesota Football Coaches Association in December might agree to a walk-on offer from Fleck but Burns believes Eden Prairie linebacker Antonio Montero is accepting a scholarship to either Rice or San Diego State. Montero recently visited both schools.
Eden Prairie quarterback Cole Kramer, who will be a senior next fall and helped lead the Eagles to the 2017 6A state title, has verbally committed to Minnesota as a scholarship player for the class of 2019. Fleck has stressed the importance of having legacy players in his program, and Kramer is the grandson of former Gopher football MVP Tom Moe who also became athletic director at Minnesota.
Owatonna running back Jason Williamson has also verbally committed to Minnesota’s class of 2019. Burns said Iowa had interest in Williamson and Michigan State was following Kramer.
Fleck and his staff will headline the annual MFCA Clinic April 5-7 at the DoubleTree Park Place in St. Louis Park. South Dakota coach Bob Nielsen will be among the speakers.
Former Gopher football captain Jim Carter said his friend Mike Sherels, the ex-University of Minnesota assistant coach under Jerry Kill and Tracy Claeys, has received an offer to join the Wake Forest staff as linebackers coach, and that Wisconsin also has interest in Sherels. Jay Sawvel, who worked with Sherels at Minnesota, is the defensive coordinator at Wake Forest. Popular with players and others associated with the Gophers, Sherels was a successful coach and recruiter who worked the states of Minnesota and Florida during his time at Minnesota.
Word is each player on the two Super Bowl teams can acquire about 15 tickets for Sunday’s game at U.S. Bank Stadium but only two are free. The other tickets must be purchased at face value, with a guesstimate the cost is over $2,000 per ticket.
Winning players in the game receive $112,000 each, losers $56,000.
A downtown parking spot near U.S. Bank Stadium that cost $40 during the Vikings season will go for $120 on Sunday.
Dave Mona believes the Super Bowl will likely return to Minneapolis after this year’s game but it will be at least 20 years. Northern sites for the big game are rare and that works against a U.S. Bank Stadium encore.
Mona, who helped establish a top public relations agency and for decades has talked sports on WCCO Radio, was involved with efforts for the 1992 Super Bowl at the Metrodome. Next Sunday he will be the press box announcer for the game between the Eagles and Patriots. Mona has the same assignment for Vikings games.
Vikings public address announcer Alan Roach, who has also worked previous Super Bowls, will be the P.A. man for the game Sunday. Roach grew up as Kelly Burnham and lived in Slayton and Brainerd Minnesota.
The 1992 Super Bowl was the first time the NFL offered the now popular fan experience headlined this year as “Get Inside the Game.” The interactive attraction is at the Minneapolis Convention Center through Saturday as part of Super Bowl activities, charging $35 for adults and $25 for children 12 and under. Fans can experience NFL games via virtual reality technology, run a 40-yard dash against NFL players on a giant LED screen, obtain autographs from NFL players and learn football skills at clinics.
Taste of the NFL, another high profile annual Super Bowl event, also originated here in 1992. Often referred to as the “party with a purpose,” the event has raised millions of dollars to fight hunger in the United States. Minneapolis restaurateur and philanthropist Wayne Kostroski founded the event and still leads it.
Eric Curry, the well-known college basketball referee from Minneapolis, has left his executive position at Sun Country Airlines. He officiated last night’s Wisconsin-Nebraska game in Madison.
The Gophers’ Hugh McCutcheon, a former Big Ten and American Volleyball Coaches Association Coach of the Year, speaks to the CORES lunch group March 8 at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Bloomington, 1114 American Blvd. More information is available by contacting Jim Dotseth, email@example.com. CORES is an acronym for coaches, officials, reporters, educators and sports fans.
Condolences to the family and friends of Twin Cities native Les Layton who died earlier this month. His career included newspaper, public relations and insurance work. Newspaper employers included the Pioneer Press and Sun publications.
Pat Shurmur’s departure as offensive coordinator for the Vikings creates a concern for next season. Perhaps jumbo size.
Shurmur’s job performance with Minnesota prompted his hiring last week as the New York Giants head coach. After succeeding Norv Turner as offensive coordinator during the 2016 season, Shurmur showed why head coach Mike Zimmer promoted him.
Turner was Minnesota’s offensive coordinator for two-plus seasons. His offenses seldom dazzled, and reportedly he and Zimmer had different views. Shurmur, though, helped turn the offense from a worry to an asset in 2017 despite the early season loss of quarterback Sam Bradford to knee issues.
Shurmur’s offense struggled to produce points in last Sunday’s playoff loss to the Eagles, scoring a lone touchdown. But during the regular season the offense finished 11th in the NFL in yards per game with 358.9 and the unit tied for seventh with 68 plays for 20 or more yards, demonstrating big play ability.
Shurmur was adept at utilizing personnel within schemes players were capable of accomplishing. His game plans were impressive including what looked to be scripted early first quarter plays designed to not only gain yards but make the personnel comfortable and establish confidence.
The 52-year-old Shurmur has 19 seasons of coaching experience in the NFL, including as head coach of the Browns. With the Vikings he has shown a calm and even pleasant demeanor during games. He appears to be the kind of coach who makes players comfortable.
Zimmer hired Shurmur in 2016 as his tights ends coach before promoting him to offensive coordinator. While it’s questionable whether Zimmer and Turner worked well together, it’s obvious Shurmur and Zimmer did.
Since day one of Zimmer’s arrival as head coach of the Vikings in January of 2014, his signature has been all over the defense which has become one of the top units in the NFL. Shurmur provided major direction to the offense and offered a counter balance to the 24-7 intensity and temper of the head coach.
Style of play, strategizing, handling players and getting along with Zimmer look like ways Shurmur’s successor will be compared. A year from now we’ll know whether the Vikings have “Shurmur 2” or something less.
“Welcome to the Bold North and Super Bowl 52.” Those are the recorded words of former Viking Chad Greenway on the sound system at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport as the area begins welcoming visitors to the big game February 4. Greenway, the ex-linebacker who retired after the 2016 season, agreed about a year ago to help local organizers with the Super Bowl effort.
Reports are legal authorities and the NCAA will be investigating alleged sexual assaults involving Michigan State athletes including football players and how the school handled incidents. Such news won’t surprise writers Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian. In their 2013 book, The System, The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football, they wrote about the prevalence of criminal, or alleged criminal conduct, involving college football players. They referenced a nine-year study of criminal complaints of felony assault attributed to pro and college athletes. The study concluded athletes are less likely to be convicted of crimes.
The authors devote a chapter to the 2004 Brigham Young incident where four football players were put on trial for rape charges but were not convicted. The prosecutor, Donna Kelly, was later told by jurors that the players had suffered enough with the loss of their football scholarships. Kelly found the logic bizarre and was quoted in the book as saying, “That’s the power of college football.”
The NHL first-year Vegas expansion team has 68 points at the All-Star break, the most in the Western Conference. The Golden Knights are in first place in the Pacific Division, nine points better than the second place Sharks. In their 1967-1968 NHL debut the expansion Minnesota North Stars scored 69 points for the season. The Minnesota Wild, in its expansion season of 2000-2001, produced 68 points.
So far this season the Wild has 57 points, nine fewer than the Central Division leading Jets. Qualifying for the playoffs is in doubt.
The vast number of first period empty seats at Mariucci Arena, including the best locations, was startling to see when No. 1 ranked Notre Dame played the Gophers Friday night in Minneapolis. Lack of fan interest fuels speculation about the future of 19-year head coach Don Lucia whose team split two games over the weekend against the Fighting Irish.
A program long billed as Minnesota’s “pride on ice” has struggled this season with an overall record of 16-13-1, and 7-10-1-1 in the Big Ten. There’s public frustration too about no national titles since 2003, and fans continue to complain about the move in 2013 from the popular WCHA to the hockey start-up Big Ten.
The presence of the Wild is a problem too. Interest in Gopher hockey benefitted from 1993 to 2000 when there was no pro hockey competition in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
From the lighter side: A teenage grocery store employee said yesterday she didn’t know the Gophers have been playing football longer than the Vikings.
Nervous Vikings fans might be making a list of worries about their favorite team, as kickoff nears for Sunday’s game against the Saints at U.S. Bank Stadium. Minnesota hasn’t won a playoff game since 2010 and near the top of some worrywart lists could be the effectiveness of placekicker Kai Forbath.
Memories (nightmares) of Blair Walsh’s late-game field goal miss two years ago linger with both normal and neurotic fans. Walsh’s 27-yard miss cost the Vikings a win in their first round NFC playoff game in 2016. The miscue placed him in the Purple Hall of Infamy after the Seahawks defeated Minnesota 10-9.
Forbath isn’t seeking such club membership on Sunday in another opening NFC playoff game for Minnesota. Forbath realizes he and new long snapper Jeff Overbaugh need to execute when called upon against New Orleans.
“These are very important games and very well could come down to a field goal, or one point,” Forbath said. “Always go out there and try to score points whenever I get the opportunity.”
Overbaugh is a rookie free agent signee who made his debut in the last game of the season, replacing Kevin McDermott who was placed on the injured reserve list. “He’s done good, we haven’t had any issues at all,” Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said of Overbaugh.
Forbath, 30, caused some nail-biting earlier this season on extra points. In the first two games of the season he missed two of four extra point attempts. Then he went through a stretch of two games in late October where he converted one of three. In the last eight games of the season, though, he made 22 of 23 attempts.
Forbath said he didn’t change his technique to improve his extra point kicking. “We don’t even call them extra points,” Forbath said. “We call them field goals—33 yard field goal. We just focus like a field goal. Can’t take anything for granted. Just a little bit of extra focus, I think that’s helped.”
Starting with the 2015 season the NFL moved the line of scrimmage for extra points from the two-yard line to the 15. “The old extra point you could take for granted,” Forbath said. “You didn’t really have to hit a perfect ball and focus as much, so I just treat it like a field goal and it’s worked.”
The majority of NFL kickers converted 90 percent of their extra points, with a few of them perfect at 100 percent. Forbath compares better against his peers in field goals. Only five NFL kickers totaled more than his 32. He had six misses in 38 attempts after making all 15 of his attempts for the Vikings in 2016. In his last three games this season he converted on five of six attempts, including makes of 53 and 49 yards.
The Vikings signed Forbath as a free agent in November of 2016. The last team that employed him was the Saints who released him in September of 2016 as part of final roster cuts. “It was kind of shocking but it’s not the first time something shocking has happened to me in this league,” said Forbath who has also kicked for the Redskins. “It’s a business and everything happens for a reason.”
If given the opportunity, worrisome Vikings fans hope Forbath will be part of the reason their team advances against New Orleans to the NFC championship game.
Saints fans have incentive to see their heroes win on Sunday. Not only did their team lose to the Vikings in the regular season opener, but a few years ago Minnesota’s bid to host the 2018 Super Bowl beat out New Orleans.
There will be familiar voices at U.S. Bank Stadium for the February 4 Super Bowl. Dave Mona, who for 42 years has been the press box announcer for Vikings games, will have the same assignment February 4. Vikings public address announcer Alan Roach, who has also worked many previous Super Bowls, will be the P.A. man for the big game in Minneapolis.
Running back Latavius Murray made his Vikings debut against the Saints after being signed in the offseason as a free agent. Murray was sidelined and his progress slowed in training camp because of an ankle injury. He said he hadn’t received enough practice repetitions going into the September 11 game against New Orleans. He rushed for six yards on two carries and fumbled on his first run. “I just don’t think it was me,” Murray told Sports Headliners this week.
Murray’s power and Jerick McKinnon’s speed have given the Vikings an effective combination at running back. The two have rushed for 1,412 yards.
The Vikings will face future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees on Sunday. Although he turns 39 next Monday, he is still playing at a high level and had a gaudy 115.2 passer rating in last weekend’s win over the Panthers. The Vikings will counter with Case Keenum who has never started a playoff game in his six-year pro career.
“I just think we can’t get caught up in it, veteran quarterback and our quarterback, and comparing the two,” Murray said. “I think we have to focus on the things that have got us to this point (and) the things that we have been doing well. …This chance to play at home versus a really good team.”
Vikings reserve wide receiver Michael Floyd has been on rosters of playoff teams in Arizona and New England. What are his concerns about Brees? “You just gotta make sure you don’t turn over the ball offensively and play sound football, because you can’t give a great quarterback like Drew Brees the ball more times than what he should—because at one point he’s going to do something great like he always does.”
Murray was with the Raiders for four seasons and that franchise is relocating to Las Vegas in a couple of years. Does he think the move will be a downer for the players?
“I know they get to save money, so they can’t be too sad about that,” Murray said about playing in Nevada where there is no state income tax.
Floyd will vacation in Australia starting in late February and will be travelling to other countries, too. “That’s all I am going to be doing, travelling and golfing,” said Floyd with a handicap “about 10” and who plays at Oak Ridge in Hopkins.
Adrian Peterson, who played for the Vikings from 2007-2016, was with the Saints when they played the Vikings on September 11 but the legendary running back was traded to New Orleans in early October. Now the Vikings or Saints could earn their way to the Super Bowl, an ultimate prize Peterson has targeted.
“I know Adrian, and he is probably not the happiest guy in the world, you know, but God has a plan for everybody, so you just always have to remember that,” Vikings wide receiver Jarius Wright told Sports Headliners.
The Capital Club will have former Viking center Matt Birk, who won a Super Bowl with the Ravens in 2013, as its speaker next Tuesday at Town & Country Club in St. Paul. More information about the Capital Club is available from Patrick Klinger, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alabama won its fifth national championship in nine years with its victory over Georgia on Monday night. The Gophers program hasn’t won a Big Ten title in over 50 years.
The Super60 Showcase during January starts Saturday with boys and girls high school basketball games at Maple Grove and Osseo. The showcase involves 54 prep teams and 27 games at five Twin Cities sites playing on four dates through January 27.
Four varsity boys games are scheduled at Maple Grove High School Saturday, with the first starting at 2:55 p.m.—Fridley and St. Paul Johnson. Four varsity girls games, and one varsity boys game, will be played at Osseo High School Saturday. The Anoka and St. Paul Como girls lead off the schedule starting at 11:35 a.m. All games in January will be streamed via www.PrepSpotlight.TV.
The Hamline women’s hockey team has a top 10 ranking for the first time in program history. The Pipers are No. 10 in the latest D3hockey.com poll and have a 10-2-1 record. Hamline is coached by former Gopher player and Olympic medalist Natalie Darwitz.
It will be 50 years next Monday that former North Star Bill Masterton tragically died. He passed away the day after hitting his head on the ice in a game at Met Center.
The Herb Brooks Foundation and John Gunderson Memorial will benefit Friday night by appearances from hockey legends Henry Boucha, Bill Butters and Jack Carlson who will sign autographs at the Portside restaurant in Stillwater.