Q&A: Minnesota Gophers LB Jonathan Celestin

Q&A: Minnesota Gophers LB Jonathan Celestin

Jonathan Celestin wants more. The Minnesota linebacker wants to lead his school to the Big Ten West title. And, it just might happen.

The Golden Gophers are 6-2 overall and 3-2 in the Big Ten, sitting in a four-way tie in the West with Wisconsin, Iowa and Northwestern behind division-leading Nebraska. Minnesota has games remaining vs. Purdue, at Nebraska, vs. Northwestern and at Wisconsin, some big tilts that will go a long way to shaping who wins the West Division. And if Minnesota is going to stay in the hunt, the defense will need to play well.

The Gopher defense has been one of the Big Ten’s most underrated units in recent years. This season, Minnesota ranks No. 6 in the Big Ten in scoring defense (22.1 ppg) and No. 5 in total defense (342.8 ypg). The 6-1, 220-pound Celestin paces Minnesota in tackles with 59, including 41 solo stops. He also has 6.5 tackles for loss with two sacks and has broken up three passes.

I caught up with the junior from Jonesboro, Ga., as he was prepping to take on Purdue this Saturday.

Q: Have you been happy with how the defense has played thus far in 2016?
A: Yes I am. We have come a long way as a unit. We started a little slow but have reached a point where we want to be as we begin November.

Q: How do you feel about your play?
A: I feel like I still have a ways to go. I want to make as many plays as I can and get as many tackles as I can to make our team more successful.

Q: How are the other linebackers looking?
A: Nick Rallis is smart. He’s the brains. He always knows so much about the other team. He can often spit out the play before it even happens. Jack (Lynn) has a lot of experience and is a big asset to the younger guys. He’s able to calm them down. Cody (Poock) is a very downhill player who likes to hit. Plus, he’s quick. He’s fast off the edge. We have Carter (Coughlin) and Kamal (Martin), who also have contributed off the edge as freshmen. I am a ball hawk who can get into pass windows.

Q: Do you think Minnesota is being overlooked?
A: I am happy with where we are right now. I am happy with where we are in the standings. But as you know, you have to take it one game at a time. We can’t look too far ahead. We are focused on Purdue now. We need to get by them to keep pushing up the Big Ten West standings.

Q: Who is the toughest guy to defend and tackle on your own team?
A: It is a tie between (running backs) Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith. Sometimes, they give me trouble. Sometimes, I give them trouble.

Q: You and Rodney Smith went to high school together in Jonesboro, Ga., at Mundy’s Mill High. Were you two a package deal?
A: We grew up together. We were a package deal coming out of high school. They were always looking at us at the same time. I’m glad Minnesota took us. Rodney committed first. We always talked about going to the same school. He committed a week or two before I did. Then I took my visit and committed.

Q: Did you and Rodney have any offers from SEC school?
A: We had no offers from SEC schools. We also had none from ACC schools. We were recruited by Georgia Tech but were never offered.

Q: You play Purdue this week in Minneapolis. What have you seen of the Boilermaker offense?
A: Purdue likes to pass the ball. The quarterback will stand in the pocket. And the receivers go up and get the ball. They can run a bit, but they are based on the passing game and getting to the edge and try to spread everyone out.

Q: What would it mean to win the Big Ten West?
A: It would be great to make that type of breakthrough. That’s one of our main goals, to win the Big Ten. Get to Indianapolis, play the game and win it. That would be the best thing ever.

Q: Minnesota has lost 12 in a row to Wisconsin. What would it mean to win back Paul Bunyan’s Axe later this season?
A: Getting the Axe would be big. Wisconsin has had it for a while. The rivalry means so much to the people of Minnesota. We feel like it’s time to bring it home. Hopefully we can do that this year.

Q: Do you have a favorite place to eat on campus?
A: I like to go to Tony’s Diner. He serves breakfast all the time, so I like to get pancakes with bacon and eggs and hash browns with cheese and an orange juice.

Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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