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U Hit Bulls-Eye with “Greek Rifle”

March 30, 2020 - 1 Comment

 

Ryan Burns has 10 years of experience as a journalist covering University of Minnesota football recruiting. In that time he has never been more impressed with a high school quarterback verbally committed to the Gophers than Athan Kaliakmanis.

Kaliakmanis, an Illinois native who has one more season of eligibility for Antioch Community High School, is referred to by Minnesota coaches as the “Greek Rifle.”

Burns, the publisher of the popular GopherIllustrated.com, can see why. “I know from watching Athan live last summer (at camp) what he was able to do at 15 years old,” Burns said. “He’s a legitimate 6-3, 6-4. He runs well and he’s got an absolute cannon for an arm. All the physical attributes in what you would look for in a Big Ten quarterback are there.”

Kaliakmanis is so far the only four-star recruit in Minnesota’s five-player class for 2021. Burns said Shakopee defensive end Devin Eastern, now rated a three-star recruit, is on the edge of moving up.

“He is the epitome of what a Big Ten defensive end should look like,” Burns said. “He is a legitimate 6-5. He is legitimately 265 pounds and he has been on a tear in the weight room over the last four months. He has been working out with former Viking long snapper Mike Morris, who is his trainer.”

Also part of the 2021 class is Dino Kaliakmanis, the brother who is 14 months older than Athan. Dino is expected to play wide receiver or linebacker for the Gophers, per Burns. Other 2021 verbal commits are Annandale offensive tackle Logan Purcell and New Lenox, Illinois (Providence Catholic) tight end Jameson Geers. The three players are three-star recruits.

The 2021 class is rated No. 19 nationally by 247Sports. Burns expects the class to eventually have about 20 players, and he mentioned a few who the Gophers are pursuing including a coveted four-star running back in Mar’Keise Irving from Hillcrest High School in Country Club Hills, Illinois. He told Burns Minnesota “is in a very good position” in his recruitment.

Ryan Burns

Burns said the Gophers are in a “pretty heated battle” with Iowa for Totino-Grace offensive tackle Joe Alt. The three-star recruit’s dad is former Columbia Heights star John Alt who played for Iowa when Hawkeyes current head coach Kirk Ferentz was the offensive line coach.

Other players the Gophers are chasing include a pair of four-stars in Chicago Simeon offensive lineman Cameron James and cornerback Steven Ortiz from Desert Edge High School in Goodyear, Arizona.

Worth Noting

An anonymous Gopher basketball season ticket holder—weary of the present era—emailed the following about the departure of All-Big Ten center Daniel Oturu for the NBA Draft: “Not a big surprise. Fortunately our roster is loaded with talent.”

Nbadraftnet.net projects Oturu being the No. 8 first round selection of the Charlotte Hornets. The last Gopher to be selected in the first round was Kris Humphries in 2002, drafted No. 14 by the Utah Jazz.

The same website had Duke point guard Tre Jones going in the first round earlier in the season but now has the former Apple Valley star being selected No. 54 in the second round by the Sacramento Kings.

Rumors have 2019 Minnesota Mr. Basketball Matthew Hurt transferring from Duke where he started 22 of 31 games, with five teammates playing more minutes. The Rochester John Marshall alum and prep All-American was fourth on the team in scoring at 9.7 points per game. Hurt is back home with his family in Rochester.

With no Minnesota natives among his top assistants, fans may wonder if head coach Richard Pitino will hire someone with state ties now that assistant Rob Jeter has accepted the head coaching job at Western Illinois.

In these uncertain times, it’s a good guess the Wilf ownership group will not extend the one-year contracts of general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer.

Among inductees at the Mancini’s St. Paul Sports Hall of Fame Banquet on May 11 will be Cretin-Derham Hall’s Chris Weinke and Central’s Dave Winfield, according to Dick Jonckowski who emcees the annual gathering with Charley Walters.

Jonckowski (October 22) and NBA Hall of Famer Rick Barry (March 28) call each other on their birthdays. Jonckowski said the coronavirus pandemic has led to a long list of cancelled appearances for him as an emcee, speaker and public address announcer.

Hopkins girls basketball coach Brian Cosgriff, who has won seven state titles, remains undecided about retiring and not returning to lead the Royals’ program. His daughter Brooke, a reserve on this year’s team, will attend UW-Eau Claire, but won’t play basketball. “She is genetically cursed,” Cosgriff said with humor. “Her mom is a 4-foot-10 Asian, and I am a slow 6-foot white guy.”

Former Gopher running back Barry Mayer emailing after he read Wednesday’s column detailing my back spasms: “The last one I had was so bad at first I was afraid I was literally going to die…and then I was afraid I wouldn’t!”

Minneapolis sportscaster and entrepreneur Lea B. Olsen will be the 2021 “head coach” of the Twin Cities Dunkers organization that dates back to 1948. In that volunteer role, Olsen will arrange program speakers.

 

Words of Wisdom at B-Day Time

March 25, 2020 - 3 Comments

 

I had a birthday this week. If there is a piece of wisdom I can share from the last 12 months, it is this: Who in the name of our Founding Fathers knows what’s next?

I was chilling last Saturday (at home of course) when I walked out the front door to retrieve the mail. I was in a comfortable mood, having cleaned out a messy bedroom closet that a slovenly teenager would envy. As I opened the mailbox, at the top of the stack, was an envelope marked “Important Tax Document.”

My blood pressure rose. Colorful language was uttered as I walked back to the house. I opened the envelope and on the form were two dreaded words I didn’t expect to see this tax season: “Corrected 1099.”

Some of you may be tax procrastinators. I am not. I begin tax preparations in early January and we target filing state and federal income tax returns in the first days of March. I hate the tax process and system. Abolish the Internal Revenue Service and show me where to sign up for a national sales tax!

When we signed our electronic approval form early last week and mailed it to our tax preparer, my wife and I thought another tax year had mercifully been put behind us. The “Corrected 1099” had other ideas, and to expedite the new process I drove to my tax preparer’s office last Saturday afternoon to deliver the surprise paperwork so she could refigure the federal and state income tax returns.

A brother-in-law emailed this message on my birthday: “Hey, this doesn’t seem to be a good time for birthdays, but I guess you can’t decide that.”

Spot on, Mark. Who could have predicted the scourge of the coronavirus threatening the health of Americans and causing millions to retreat to inside their homes. I have spent hours on mundane chores like cleaning a closet or bookcase, and purging old files. I haven’t been inside a store since last Thursday.

Sports fans have been reduced to watching baseball, basketball and football games from the past. Presumably the most hard core fans have learned there is more to home life than guzzling beer on the couch while watching the latest big game. Some may have discovered there are children in the house, although oblivion doesn’t include the ever faithful dog that retrieves beer from the cooler.

It’s just a strange year so far. Maybe my first clue should have been when my wife and I were in Palm Springs. She was waiting in a long car rental line when her cell phone kept ringing from an unknown number. Finally, she answered the call and it was a stranger who had mistakenly taken a piece of her luggage at the airport. My wife and stranger not only had identical bags, but both had the same style of luggage tags.

My wife loves to travel and her departure for Europe last July coincided with my developing severe back spasms the night before I was to drive her to the airport. Welcome to Uber, honey.

Excruciating pain doesn’t do justice to the experience of having back spasms. During my wife’s three week absence I struggled to avoid contractions but many times without success. Reaching into the refrigerator or into the oven was a sure invitation for attack. One Saturday while she was gone I called one of my sons to drive me to an urgent care facility.

Last summer and into the fall the spasms persisted. I had multiple cortisone shots, and lined my drawer with Celebrex, Prednisone and Tizanidine. I also discovered Tylenol 8 hour Arthritis Pain tablets were useful. My schedule and activities were reduced for months. It was almost like my back was preparing me for stay-at-home times when the virus hit this winter.

I had experienced previous bouts with back spasms, but nothing like the duration of 2019. The spasms stopped November 1 and haven’t returned since then. I credit exercises learned in physical therapy for most of my recovery. A couple glasses of wine helps, too.

I couldn’t have prognosticated the back saga anymore than I could have foreseen a couple of startling developments on the local sports scene. In spring training a year ago the baseball gods were proclaiming the Minnesota Twins might win 85 games and finish second to the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central Division.

Ha!

Instead they set a MLB record with 307 home runs as the Bomba Squad led the charge in winning 101 games and the division championship.

The Gophers football season was at least as impressive. Coach P.J. Fleck’s team was a popular choice to finish next to last in the Big Ten’s West Division. Instead, Minnesota was 7-2 in Big Ten games and tied Wisconsin for the best record in the division. The Gophers finished up as a national top 10 team after their startling bowl win over SEC power Auburn.

Remember what also happened in January?

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins won a playoff game!

My birthday celebration was to include a party with my sons and their families. We called it off about a week in advance. Instead of decisions about how to decorate the party room, we pondered whether to gather via FaceTime or Zoom!

I had a nice birthday, though. Lots to be grateful for even in these strange and stressful times. Birthday morning I inexplicably slept until 9 a.m. No idea when I last slept that late—perhaps decades ago. Maybe I am becoming another Benjamin Button.

I never contemplated becoming like the movie character who grows younger as time passes. Guess you never know what’s next.

 

Vikings Could Draft St. John’s Tackle

March 20, 2020 - (0) comments

 

Enjoy a Friday notes column referencing the Minnesota Vikings upcoming draft, regular season and playoff predictions for the Minnesota Twins, and more.

The Vikings’ offseason campaign to upgrade the offensive line could include a draft eligible player from inside the state’s borders. St. John’s left tackle Ben Bartch has earned praise in the months leading up to the April NFL Draft despite playing Division III football.

Pete Najarian, the former Gopher linebacker who has been an ESPN college football analyst, has a son who attends St. John’s. Najarian has watched Bartch’s career as the Oregon native has transitioned from a tight end to tackle while dramatically increasing his weight to about 310 pounds. Despite an impressive NFL Scouting Combine performance this winter, Najarian told Sports Headliners a lot of observers “don’t really understand how good he is.”

Najarian believes the 6-foot-6 Bartch, who could play tackle or guard in the NFL, might be drafted in the fourth round. “He’s athletic as heck,” Najarian said.

Najarian is also a fan of Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts who he thinks the Vikings should pursue, perhaps in the second round. The Vikings don’t have an athletic quarterback with the skill-set of Hurts who also was a star at Alabama. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Hurts ran a 4:59 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine.

“…I think he could be a quarterback not too dissimilar to a Dak Prescott, or some of the other quarterbacks that are considered dual-threats including Lamar Jackson,” Najarian said. “I think he is somewhere in that category, and his combine numbers say a lot about how fast and big he really is.”

Najarian, best known as a financial whiz on television, played for the NFL’s Tampa Bucs, who have acquired 42-year-old quarterback Tom Brady. The team is known for its offensive talent, but not at quarterback. Last season the Bucs had a 7-9 record. Najarian believes the arrival of Brady, considered by many to be the NFL’s greatest quarterback of all time, transforms the Bucs into Super Bowl contenders.

“I think he’s that good,” Najarian said. “I think he still has the ability to play at a high enough level—probably not the highest level he ever played at—but a higher level than most quarterbacks in the NFL still. So it gives Tampa what they have been missing, which is somebody secure at the quarterback position.”

Sports Illustrated’s spring baseball issue predicts the Twins, who won 101 games last season and became American League Central Division champs, will again finish ahead of the Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals. The Twins will have a 93-69 regular season record but will lose their AL Division series to the Houston Astros (will they cheat?), according to S.I.

S.I. points out the Twins hit an MLB record 307 home runs but at least as impressive was that the pitching staff struck out a franchise record 1,463 batters. “The dingers got the attention last year, but the biggest change was the embrace of modern approaches under new pitching coach (Wes) Johnson,” the magazine said.

The publication forecasts the New York Yankees will defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.

Yesterday the website BetOnline.com gave Minnesota the third best odds to win the American League playoffs, and sixth best chance of any MLB club to win the World Series.

Former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, now the Tigers’ skipper, saw his team lose 114 games last season and could be on track for a similar total in 2020. While the Twins had nine players slug more than 20 home runs, no Tiger hit more than 15 last season.

Former Twins infielders C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop, now with the Tigers, hit 25 and 23 respectively last season.

It will be interesting to see if former Timberwolves player and coach Sam Mitchell, who resigned from his assistant’s position with the Memphis Tigers about a year ago, gets back into coaching. Mitchell, 56, now has both NBA and college coaching experience.

Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle speaks to the CORES lunch group Thursday, May 14 at the Bloomington Event Center, 1114 American Blvd. More information is available by contacting Jim Dotseth, dotsethj@comcast.net.

Ron Stolski

The retirement celebration for prep football coaching legend Ron Stolski has been moved from April 4 to June 13 at Cragun’s Legacy Clubhouse in Brainerd. He coached football in Minnesota for 58 years, including the last 45 at Brainerd.

 

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