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THE LIGHTS ARE ON

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uc sugar bowl.jpg

    While I thought I'd get a "Spring Football Round 2" (they practiced twice then had Spring Break off) preview on Monday, I came away without an interview.

      No big deal, I was "unannounced" and Butch Jones and staff were scouring tape and entertaining recruits. Plus, Butch had one of his umpteen luncheon/speaking engagements and was leaving the premises in short order.

      I understand. Really.

      I've been around this a long time and sometimes you get a "scoop" or decent interview by being in the right place at the right time. Other times, it just doesn't matter, you get turned down.

      As someone who's been interviewing people since about 1986, I've probably been turned down a lot. (And, that doesn't even take into account my dating life prior to getting hitched...er...nearly 27 years ago.)

      But, as most experiences are, it wasn't a lost cause.

      I got to meet Butch Jones' new assistant Sherry Murray who now is stationed at the front door in the football office. She formerly was in the UCATS office and I've heard good things about her. First off, she didn't throw me out on my ear--so that's a good start.

      So, being the observant and quizzical type, I decided to take a brief self-tour around the familiar areas of the Lindner Center. (Didn't walk in any "forbidden areas", just places that I typically meander through anyway on a visit to campus covering the squad.)

      While I was in the office, I could tell the front room had been rearranged and improved. For a recruit coming into the office, a more impressive display awaits you. Sherry's there front and center to greet you and it looks like the HG Network invaded and re-did the area.

      The desks and doors look new and now on the wall you see a pictorial display of UC's BCS visits to the Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl in back-to-back years. Below that, is a diplay case of souvenir watches from every Bearcat bowl game.

      I told Sherry that I probably had a few of those and sure enough, I have three. As part of the radio crew I was given a Motor City Bowl watch and an International Bowl watch (or maybe I bought them, I honestly don't remember). I do know that I bought my wife and I watches from the Humanitarian Bowl in 1997 because that was such a giant step (at the time) in the program.

      Despite my personal jewelry collection, I would think that would also be noteworthy to a young man to come in and see more of the hardware the Bearcats have earned in recent years (and how it's importance has increased).

      I did get to give Coach Jones a brief, "Howdy Boss!" as he stuck his head out. I'll see him Tuesday and for most of the practices so there's plenty of time to chat.

      In the meantime, I was heading out and so was he.

      Now, I have this weird habit of going to familiar places in different ways. If I went one direction to my morning destination, I usually tend to take a different way home. In this instance, since I entered the building from the Sheakley Lawn/Big O statue area, I decided to take the elevator down lower to go through the locker room hall and out the door to get a peak at the field as I walked back to the garage outdoors.

      In other words, I get the view a player would get as he were coming out for a game (or more often...practice). Yep, I'm strange, but I find it invigorating.

      However, before I went out those doors that I've exited hundreds of times for games and practices, I got sidetracked. The visible, physical improvements to the football areas are also on that level.

      Next to the display of Bearcats who have gone onto the NFL (complete with helmet logos,etc.) is a coaching history display with pictures. From Rick Minter to Mark Dantonio to Brian Kelly, I have worked with these gentlemen and I probably was nearby when those photos were shot. Likewise, Butch Jones is now on the display with his photo from his initial press conference at the Kingsgate Marriott.

      Pretty classy display.

      Then, before heading out, I noticed the hallway by the locker room was brighter. Upon closer inspection, it looked like new "track lights" have been put above the various pictorials exhibited there for UC's modern-era bowl games. Having been "on the air" or working in some capacity in all of these, I still like to look at the pictures and reflect.

      For the record, my hand and microphone are part of the '97 Humanitarian Bowl picture and celebration (I've offered to sign and personalize the photo but have thus far not been contacted). For most of the other photos, I was within close vicinity, so they all bring me great memories.

      Across from the bowl pictures is the better lit display of this year's schedule. While the specific pictures might be private, they show celebrations of the past that are meaningful to every Bearcat.

      Next to the big schedule display is something new. On the wall, it says, "Sample Seat". I'm sure there will be more information on this, but it's in honor of Glenn Sample who passed away in 2008.

      Glenn was an all-sport star at UC and served in a variety of capacities in coaching (most notably for me as baseball coach). He was one of UC's best ambassadors, a star of the legendary "Captain's Breakfast" before spring football games and the Reds official scorer for years and years. He always had a story and a smile and I'm sure this "seat" will be used for great motivation.

      While there, I took a gander at the upcoming schedule. For a team that went 12-0 and then met Florida New Year's night in the Sugar Bowl, getting back isn't necessarily a "given". While Butch Jones certainly has tremendous talent returning, any postseason trip will have been well-earned.

      Like last year (Rutgers) starting off with a road game against a bowl team is not an easy opener. The Bearcats will no doubt have their hands full going against Pat Hill and Fresno State on 9/4 before returning home to play Indiana State the following weekend. Then five days later, they have to play another out of conference road game at North Carolina State!

      That's all followed by the Oklahoma Sooners at Paul Brown Stadium on 9/25. After a bye week, an improved Miami Redhawks team will be here looking for the Victory Bell and then it's the grueling string of Big East games: at Louisville with new coach Charlie Strong 10/15; vs. South Florida and new coach Skip Holtz 10/22; an improved Syracuse team 10/30; at West Virginia on 11/13; Rutgers here 11/20; at Connecticut 11/27 and then another possible showdown with Dave Wannstedt and Pitt at "The Nipp" 12/4.

      Perhaps the Nippert seats will come with seatbelts this season?

      That will all come soon enough. For now, there's 12 more spring practices at Nippert for Butch Jones to evaluate his men and then "Bearcat Bowl IV" April 24th at 7 p.m.

      The stage is bigger and just like the inside football facilities at the Lindner Center, the lights are "brighter".

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