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Tommy Tuberville Talks about The Masters

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As the nation's sports focus turns to Augusta, Georgia and The Masters for a week, many people don't realize that Tommy Tuberville played college golf in addition to football. 

With numerous Bearcat football lettermen in town April 11 for the annual Letterman's Golf Outing, Tuberville can talk about some of the legendary holes he's played before.  Among those, is the famous (or infamous) Amen Corner at Augusta National.

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Gunner Comes Out Firing In Bearcats Spring Game

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The Bearcats annual spring game began with an 8-yard pass from Gunner Kiel to Mekale McKay.  Followed by a 7-yard strike to Max Morrison.  Then a 47-yard bomb to Chris Moore.  And then another 15-yard bullet to Moore.

Four plays, four passes, and four completions for 77 yards.  Not a bad way for Gunner Kiel to make his unofficial Bearcats debut in front of roughly 5,400 fans at Paul Brown Stadium.

"A lot of people kind of bash me and hadn't really seen me play," said Kiel.  "I haven't played in three years.  So to come out here and silence the critics is definitely one thing that I wanted to do."

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The bashing resulted from Kiel's struggle to choose a college as one of the nation's most heavily-recruited high school quarterbacks.  Gunner changed his mind after verbal commitments to Indiana and LSU and eventually enrolled at Notre Dame.  After a redshirt season with the Fighting Irish, he transferred to Cincinnati last spring.

"I know what I did some people say was dumb - and I agree with them 100% -- but that doesn't change the person that I am," said Kiel.  "I'm a good person and I'm going to do what's right.  I'm going to be a good teammate and I'm going to come out here and work my hardest."

His hard work appears to be paying off.

Kiel played only the first half of Saturday's scrimmage and directed the first team offense to three touchdowns and one field goal on six drives against the first team defense.  He finished 17-for-22 for 300 yards, with one touchdown run and one interception.    

"That's amazing and this probably wasn't even his best practice," said wide receiver Shaq Washington. 

"Gunner's got a quick release, he understands football, and he's usually going to throw it to the right guy," said head coach Tommy Tuberville.  "The problem that he's had this spring is that he's had 'happy feet' because we have had three starting offensive lineman out."

That was a factor last Sunday in a scrimmage that was dominated by the defense.  Kiel was 9-for-20 for 44 yards and Tuberville did not pull any punches afterward.

"Offensively, we looked as bad as I've ever seen." he told reporters.

"To hear your head coach make comments like that sets a fire under your butt," said Kiel.

So the sophomore quarterback was determined to end spring practice on a positive note.

"I treated it just like a game," said Kiel.  "Last night I watched tape, I went over our plays, I went over the protections and coverages, and I treated it just like a regular game.  I woke up early and had breakfast, and came out with a chip on my shoulder to get better and play hard."

"There were a lot of questions marks at quarterback after last week," said Tuberville.  "The big thing about college is being consistent.  We haven't been very consistent this spring.  The defense won most of the time during the spring, but today the defense didn't win.  The offense came out with a different frame of mind and played a lot better.

"I can sleep a little bit better now.  Last week we were just awful on offense, but today we threw it and caught it well." 

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Tuberville will not name a starting quarterback until fall camp, saying that Jarred Evans will compete for the job and possibly Munchie Legaux as he continues to rehab from the gruesome knee injury he suffered last year vs. Illinois.

But Kiel appears to be the man to beat.

"Obviously Gunner looked really, really good today," said Tuberville.   

"I got the 'ones' reps, but I am not the number one quarterback right now," said Kiel.  "That doesn't mean anything.  You still have to come out each day and work hard and compete and do your best.  At the end of the day, the coaches are going to make their decision and I understand that, but I'm going to do whatever I can to get the team's respect, and learn as much as I possibly can because I know that I have to learn more and accomplish more.  The sky is the limit and we'll see what happens."

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Cincinnati's associate head coach and co-defensive coordinator Robert Prunty has been named the Recruiter of the Year in his conference in each of the last four seasons by Scout.com.

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"Robert Prunty is one of the best recruiters in the country," said head coach Tommy Tuberville.  "If you look at our (signing day) list this year, he probably had something to do with half of them.  He has that gift. 

"He's outgoing - he's never met a stranger.  That's what it's all about.  You have to be able to turn it on in any environment and he does a great job in the home and with parents.  He understands the need for recruiting 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  There's not a day that goes by where he doesn't do something in recruiting." 

But the key to Prunty's recruiting pitch isn't his mouth, it's his ears.

"Listening," Robert answered when I asked what makes him a good recruiter.  "I was reading an article about a month ago about psychiatrists and how much money they were making, and one of them said, 'Basically I just sit there and listen to people's problems.'  I think when you're dealing with teenagers and young men; they just want somebody to listen to them.  They're so used to people telling them everything that I form a bond by simply listening to them.

"My mother had 10 kids and my father died when I was 10 years old.  I'll never forget when I was about 15, my mother said, 'You know what?  I'm just going to listen to what you have to say.'  So that came from my mother."

Prunty's ability to bond with young people was honed during his eight years as head coach at Hargrave Military Academy where many of his players originally signed with Division 1 schools before needing a year of prep school to improve their grades.

The job required Robert to be more than a football coach.

"Educator...father...preacher...mentor...psychiatrist," said Prunty.  "Remember, everybody that came there had a problem because they didn't qualify.  So they were all sad and depressed and we had to try to build them back up."

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At Hargrave, Prunty coached 27 players that made it to the NFL including Pro Bowlers Ahmad Brooks, Brandon Flowers, and Jay Ratliff.

"At one point, they did an article where the players who had played at Hargrave were making close to $400 million dollars," said Prunty. 

Tuberville got to know Robert while recruiting players at Hargrave and offered him an opportunity at the college level when he became the head coach at Texas Tech in 2010.

"There were a lot of big-shot coaches that had a chance to hire him, but he was from a prep school and they didn't give him a chance," said Tuberville.

"For Coach Tuberville to give me a job when I was at Hargrave - I'm just thankful to God," said Prunty.  "My brother and sister go to factories 12 hours a day and I get to coach football.  I grew up in an industrial area where people worked hard, so I'm driven by the fact that I get to coach football and I love it."

Prunty's loyalty to Tuberville is a key reason why he has turned down some lucrative opportunities.

"I just had an offer last week from an NFL team as a defensive assistant and I had about five offers before that, but Coach Tuberville gave me a shot when nobody else would and I like Cincinnati," Robert told me.  "I like the people here, my wife likes it here, my kids go to a great school, and that has a lot to do with it.  I'm just thankful."

"He's been offered all over the country but he's been loyal and he wants to stay," said Tuberville.

In addition to his recruiting ability, Prunty is the Bearcats co-defensive coordinator and coaches the defensive line.

"Coach Prunty is a helluva guy," said junior Silverberry Mouhon.  "He demands so much of us because he brings energy every day at practice.  You never see a day where he's down or moping."  

"He's tough on them," said Tuberville.  "He's hard-nosed, he's disciplined - he's one of those guys that understands how to get it out of guys that maybe did not know how to give 100% effort. 

"He was a good coach when we got him, but he's a much better coach now because works at it like he does in recruiting.  He wants to learn, he wants to get better, he doesn't stay the same, he studies, he goes to other colleges, he goes to high schools, he spends a lot of time with the Bengals, and he's as good of a coach as he is a recruiter.  I'm just excited about him being on our staff and being a good friend."

"Everybody has respect for him - from the defensive line to the offense," said Mouhon.  "He works hard for us and that makes you want to work that much harder for him because he gives us his all."

"Growing up with no father and my momma raising 10 kids, all I know is hard work," said Prunty.  "That's all I know.  There's no substitute."

That work ethic helps explain his four year streak of being named Recruiter of the Year in the Big 12 (twice), Big East, and AAC. 

What does that recognition mean to Prunty? 

"It means that I have to try to win it again this year," he said. 

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Catching up with Deyshawn Bond

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The University of Cincinnati offensive line has the luxury of an experienced center who is only a sophomore.  Deyshawn Bond out of Warren Central High School in Indianapolis could potentially be a four-year starter; a rarity on a Division I offensive line.

When senior Dan Sprague went down prior to the start of the season, Bond stepped in and played the majority of the season until tweaking an ankle late in the year.  The 6-foot-2, 287 pounder was originally a high school guard, but was a quick study at center once arriving at UC.


Catching up with Offensive Coordinator Eddie Gran

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Back for a second year, University of Cincinnati Eddie Gran is revving up the Bearcat offense even more. When Munchie Legaux was injured last year and Brendon Kay stepped in, the offense eventually reverted to what Kay was familiar with, the hurry-up.

Based on that success, the hurry-up is trying to hurry even more for 2014 with the likes of Gunner Kiel, Jarred Evans, Michael Colosimo, Hayden Moore and possibly Leagaux again (he's thrown some in practice).

Coupled with outstanding receivers and running backs in better condition, the Bearcats could be full throttle by September's opener.

Gran himself works quick, I had to chase him down outside of the Sheakley Athletics Center by the Bearcat statue on this day.

Edwards Looks To Build On Excellent Start

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Did you know that the UC football team had a freshman All-American last year?

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Safety Zach Edwards, who started the last 11 games at safety, received honorable mention recognition among the nation's top freshman from CollegeFootballNews.com.

"He's got a knack for finding the ball," said cornerbacks coach Steve Clinkscale.  "He made some freshman mistakes, but he was able to come up with some big plays when we needed it.  For a true freshman to do that at safety and be in charge of the defense and make all of the alignments and the checks - I think that's pretty impressive."

"He played well - he didn't play great because it was his first year and he was trying to figure out what to do," said head coach Tommy Tuberville.  "Each week it's tough on an inexperienced kid because we change the game plan, we change techniques, and his head was swimming most of the year.  He got better as the season went on, but this year he'll be much better." 

Edwards was an all-conference wide receiver/defensive back at Middletown High School and came to Cincinnati as a "grayshirt," meaning that he sat out the 2012 season before enrolling at UC in January of 2013.

"When you play football so much and then you have to sit out, it's pretty depressing, but I kept faith in God and kept going knowing that everything would work out for the best," Zach told me.  "Eventually it did."

Enrolling for the second semester allowed Zach to take part in spring football last year, but an injury limited his participation.

"I pulled my hamstring in about the third practice and had to sit out a lot," said Edwards.

But that didn't stop him from making a favorable impression.

"He had one practice at safety and I told the coaches, 'Hey, this is our safety next year,'" said Clinkscale.  "The one thing that he had at practice that was a little bit different from our other guys is that burst to the ball.  His athleticism was the biggest difference that made him stand out."    

By the third game of the season, Edwards was in the starting lineup.  He finished the season third on the team in tackles, tied for second with two interceptions, and earned American Defensive Player of the Week honors in early November after having 11 tackles and recovering a fumble in a win over Memphis.

"Being a safety, you have to be physical and that was my whole mindset," Zach told me.  "Be physical and try to beat whoever you're going against.  I knew if I could do that, I could prove myself to these coaches and to the players."

After losing senior starters Deven Drane and Arryn Chenault, Edwards will be one of the Bearcats most experienced players in the secondary this year despite only being a sophomore.

"The big thing now is to keep it competitive for him," said Clinkscale.  "I tell these guys all that time that there are no starters anymore.  You have to win that job again.  We are going to recruit guys that might be better than you and we have guys here that are going to do a better job.  He understands that he has to give us more every day, and we expect more of him now than we did as a freshman."

"The guys around me are pushing me every day, and I'm pushing them to better than we were last year," said Edwards.  "My maturity level has to step up and I have to become a leader."

There's definitely room for improvement, but after earning freshman All-America recognition, Zach's Cincinnati career is obviously off to a strong start.

"You can tell that he's a lot more comfortable this spring," said Tuberville.  "This is his second spring.  He started school in January of last year, so he's been with us for a year and gotten better and got some accolades, but he can play a lot better than he did last year."

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With a father, uncle, and two older brothers who played quarterback in college, it's easy to imagine young Gunner Kiel spending countless hours tossing a football through a tire hanging from a tree in the backyard of his home in Columbus, Indiana.

"We did not have a tire, but we did actually have a full goal post," said Kiel with a laugh.

In other words, football is a pretty big deal in the Kiel family.

"I was kind of born into a bunch of quarterbacks," Gunner told me.  "I always looked up to my older brothers, so whenever I saw them playing quarterback I wanted to do what they did.  We have a big yard so we always threw the ball to each other.  Between us, we had a quarterback and two wide receivers and then we would switch positions."

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Gunner became the starting quarterback at Columbus (IN) East High School as a 10th grader and threw 36 TD passes and only 6 INT in his first season.  That summer he attended a football camp at the University of Tennessee where UC quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw was on the staff at the time.

"He was one of the best I've seen in terms of raw tools to work with," said Hinshaw.  "His arm strength and his release - things that I look for - I was very excited to recruit this kid.  He did very well in high school and earned the accolades and the high recruiting ranking because he continued to blossom all the way through his senior year.  I saw a lot of good things at a young age and so did everybody else.  It wasn't hard to see."

After throwing for 7,362 yards and 89 touchdowns in three high school seasons, Kiel was ranked as the top high school quarterback prospect in the country by several recruiting services and elected to attend Notre Dame where he redshirted for a team that played in the BCS Championship game two years ago.  But faced with the prospect of serving as a backup to Everett Golson for three more seasons, Kiel elected to transfer and contacted Coach Hinshaw about the possibility of playing at Cincinnati. 

"It was the relationship that we had built and knowing that I could trust him with anything," said Kiel.  "What was great about Coach Hinshaw is that we wouldn't just talk about football.  We would talk about class, or golfing, or other hobbies.  Coach Hinshaw did a great job of just being a friend and a good role model to look up to." 

"We did everything that we could do to recruit him at Tennessee," said Hinshaw.  "When he made his decision to go elsewhere I told him, 'Look.  If you change your mind, you've always got a home.'  We had a really good relationship with Gunner and his family."

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Kiel transferred to Cincinnati last April and practiced with the Bearcats last season.  The 6'4, 210 pound sophomore has three years of eligibility remaining and is the early frontrunner to take over at quarterback this fall.

"He's one of these driven kids," said head coach Tommy Tuberville.  "He wants to play, he wants to do well, and he's going to do everything possible on and off the field - even when the lights are not on and the coach is not out here - to make himself better.

"He's around a guy that he knew in Coach Hinshaw and I think the offense fits him real well.  It's working out pretty good for him, but he's going to be pushed by the guys behind him.  There's going to be a lot of competition there."

"I'm having fun and trying to learn as much as possible," Gunner told me.  "I'm working my butt off to get the guys' respect and having fun in the process.  So far things are going great.  I know that I have a lot of work on, but at the same time, it's a fun game."

Bearcats fans can see Kiel in action for the first time on April 5th at noon in a scrimmage that is free and open to the public at Paul Brown Stadium.

"He's got a lot of talent mentally and physically, but he's got to work on both," said Tuberville.  "The good thing about it is that the good Lord gave him height, strength, and the ability to have a lot of football sense.  Time will tell - probably in the next year - how far his football talents go.  It only goes as far as what you have between your ears."

Perhaps Kiel was destined to wind up in Cincinnati all along considering that his parents chose his first name after hearing that former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason named his son Gunnar. 

Gunner says that he's happy with his decision to transfer to UC.

"It's a family environment here and we're all super-close," said Kiel.  "There are no cliques and we all hang out and get along.  We have great team chemistry.  We have a lot to work on and get better at, but we're all dedicated and we all want the same thing.  To be around these guys and to be around people who want you to succeed in life is second to none.  I've got that at Cincinnati and I'm glad to call it home."

"Obviously because of his size and his arm strength, he was a high recruit, but I've seen a lot of those guys come in and they don't have the football knowledge or the football sense to play quarterback," said Coach Tuberville.  "He's got that.  So I think the sky's the limit for him."

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Inability To Finish Ends Bearcats Season

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At every NCAA Tournament game there's a person who rapidly types out a description of the play-by-play.  It's similar to how a court stenographer produces an official transcript of the proceedings.

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In Cincinnati's season-ending loss to Harvard, that person typed the words "missed layup" 16 times for the Bearcats.

Call it the Sour Sixteen.

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Harvard didn't need Ivy League smarts to design its game plan:  Do whatever necessary to prevent Sean Kilpatrick from dominating and take your chances with everybody else.

"Every time we tried to free (Sean) they doubled him," explained head coach Mick Cronin.  "Any time he came off a pick on the ball they doubled him.  Any time he came off of a pick off the ball, they left the guy setting the screen and doubled him even off the ball.

"When we struggled to score inside the way we did today, when a team decides - any team decides - hey, we're going to play them this way, we have got to score inside.  Because the only other option would be SK running around taking bad shot after bad shot because they're just not going to leave him open."

When Kilpatrick had the ball and drew a second defender, he frequently fed it inside to Justin Jackson.  But instead of powering toward the rim to try to score or get fouled, Justin flipped up off-balance shots with a high degree of difficulty.  He finished 5-for-15 including nine missed shots from within a few feet of the hoop.

"I missed a lot of opportunities around the rim," said Jackson.  "I usually don't do that - going one-handed flipping the ball."

"We worked really hard on trying to make sure we finished with strength," said Cronin.  "But, like Justin alluded to it, we had way too many one hand shots.  Way too many one hand shots.  We just were sloppy and didn't get the ball in the basket."

That problem is being addressed.  Next year's roster additions include Jamaree Strickland (6'10, 270 lbs), Coreontae DeBerry (6'10, 270 lbs), Quadri Moore (6'8", 230 lbs) and Gary Clark (6'7, 215 lbs).  They are not freakishly athletic shot blockers who are projects on the offensive end.  Strickland, DeBerry, and Moore are broad-shouldered post players who are comfortable in the paint, and Clark is a versatile big man who is capable of scoring inside.  It's hard to imagine seeing 16 missed layups on a play-by-play sheet. 

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What will be harder to replace is the leadership provided by the senior trio of Kilpatrick, Jackson, and Titus Rubles.

"When you see our seniors and you look at Titus Rubles - he couldn't play any harder than he does," Coach Cronin told me.  "He's maximizing his potential at this level.  The same thing with Justin Jackson.  He could not have had a better senior year.  Sean Kilpatrick is a first-team All-American, he's scored over 2000 points, and you couldn't ask any more from him.  That's the biggest thing I learned from my father in coaching.  You try to demand a kid's best effort and when he gives that to you, you appreciate it.  Don't ask for more."

Of course, we all wanted more in the NCAA Tournament:  More games, more bragging rights, more memories.  But when you honestly evaluate the season, 27 wins, a share of the AAC regular season title, and a 4th straight trip to March Madness was pretty remarkable.

"I think this team has given everything that they possibly could have given us as their coach and as their fan base," said Cronin.  "Whenever that happens it's very rewarding because that's what you're shooting for as a coach."

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Catching up with running back Tion Green

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With the move of Ralph David Abernathy IV to receiver (although he'll still run some) UC looks like their moving toward bigger backs.

Though last year's rushing leader was Hosey Williams, who does put 200 pounds on a 5-foot-7 frame, the bigger back is No. 7, Tion Green.

Green's 409 yards were third behind Williams and Abernathy, but he did score more rushing touchdowns with seven.  A first look at Green in spring practice had many thinking he had put on pounds.

In actuality, Green has dropped weight, but apparently but on muscle. At around the 215 mark, Green looks primed to have an impact in the new, fast-paced offense. Of all of the runners, he does appear to have a nose for the endzone and a knack for running "downhill".

Here's the personable Mr. Green:

Kilpatrick Aims For Bigger Prize

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In 1941, Ted Williams batted .406 with 37 HR, 120 RBI, and the 7th best OPS in MLB history (1.2875).  It's been 73 years and no major league player has batted .400 since.

That year he was not the American League MVP.  Some guy named DiMaggio had a pretty good season too, including a 56-game hitting streak.  Furthermore, the Yankees finished 17 games ahead of the Red Sox in the American League standings.

When I attended the AAC awards event on Wednesday in Memphis, I never really considered the possibility that Sean Kilpatrick would not be named Player of the Year.

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Mick Cronin won Coach of the Year and Justin Jackson was named Defensive Player of the Year, but the mood at our table was subdued because Shabazz Napier of UConn received the league's top individual honor instead of Kilpatrick.

"Shabazz is a great player and had a great year," said Cronin.  "I just thought with us winning the conference it should have been a no-brainer.

"I'd trade Coach of the Year for him to win Player of the Year in a heartbeat."   

"Shabazz Napier is my guy so I'm not really mad, but I feel like SK should have won the award," said Jackson.  "Before the season, we were picked to be the number four team in the league and now we're the number one seed.  SK is the biggest reason."

In fairness to Napier, his all-around stats are worthy of MVP.  While Kilpatrick averaged 20.9 points to Napier's 17.8, Shabazz topped SK in rebounds and assists and had a slight edge in shooting percentage.

"The Player of the Year award is in great hands with him," said Kilpatrick.  "He's a great player."

But like Coach Cronin, I thought that Cincinnati's share of the American Conference title would be the difference in Kilpatrick's favor when voting for MVP.

Kilpatrick did not hide his disappointment or his desire to use it for added fuel.

"It's going to be 20 times harder for other teams now," he told reporters.

"We're very similar - we use any motivation we can get to drive ourselves," said Cronin.  "I think the greatest competitor of all-time Michael Jordan did that.  So in a way, I hope he uses it to push himself even further here in March."

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Ironically, one of Napier's former teammates did that three years ago.  BYU's Jimmer Fredette won the national Player of the Year awards, but UConn's Kemba Walker earned a greater prize by carrying the Huskies to an NCAA title.

"My message to SK is:  With all due respect to these awards, I'd like to be standing on a podium in Dallas in April next to him," said Cronin.  "And if he's MVP of something, he wants it to be the NCAA Tournament.

"You become a legend by what you do in March.  That's been my message to the guys all year.  We have a lot of former players that come around and I said, 'Do you ever notice which guys come around the most?'  I make them name names and after they do and I say, 'You do notice that most of those guys played in the Final Four.'  If you want to be remembered for a lifetime, you play on a Final Four team.  A National Championship team would be even better.  That's what it's all about."

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