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Be Prepared For Anything Under Tuberville

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We are nine days away from the Bearcats season opener at Nippert Stadium.  With fewer than 1000 tickets available to the general public, it appears that the game is going to be sold-out, so here is a quick reminder to those of you who are lucky enough to attend: 

Come Early. 

Be Loud. 

Wear White. 

And Don't Get Up To Use The Restroom If It's Fourth-And-Long.

Thumbnail image for Tuberville at practice (440x373).jpg

That final item is a tongue-in-cheek reference to new head coach Tommy Tuberville and his history of making gutsy calls in hopes of pulling out a win.

"It started back when I was at Ole Miss," Coach Tuberville told me.  "We weren't very good and had to take a lot of chances.  Tim Brando was working for ESPN at the time and we went for it on fourth down a couple of times and made it and did some other crazy stuff and ended up winning the game.  That's when he nicknamed me 'The Riverboat Gambler.'  We really had no choice." 

"When we first got to Ole Miss together, the program was kind of in disarray," said offensive coordinator Eddie Gran.  "We had to 'smoke and mirror' some people, and he told our guys before every game that we weren't going to hold anything back.  We were going to go for it on fourth down, we're going to have fakes, and we're going to do it when they're not expecting it.  That's what he did.  It was a lot of fun and the kids believed in it."

"I like to take chances," said Tuberville.  "I don't like to give games away, but I like to give players a chance to win games."

One of Tuberville's most famous gambles came in the "Deep South's Oldest Rivalry" between Auburn and Georgia in 2001.

"They were probably favored by three touchdowns," said Tuberville.  "We were only down by seven with a few minutes left in the half.  They had a really fast return man and we couldn't cover him on punts, so on fourth down and about a foot at our own 13 yard line I said, 'If we punt it, they're going to return it to about the 15 and score anyway so let's go for it.'  We ended up making it.  A few plays later, it was fourth-and-nine in our own territory (27 yard line...you can look it up) and we faked a punt and picked up the first down.  That was probably one of the crazier things that I've done, but it worked."

Final score:  Auburn 24 Georgia 17

"In another game, we were able to score but we couldn't stop the other team," Tuberville told me.  "So I told the players at halftime before we went back out that there was no reason for our punter to even come out.  We were going to go for it on every fourth down.  We ended up going for it on fourth down three times in the second half.  We made it every time and won the game."

Beginning in his third year at Auburn, Coach Tuberville led the Tigers to at least one victory over an AP Top-10 team in a school-record seven consecutive seasons.  He had a stretch of six straight wins over archrival Alabama in the Iron Bowl.  Two years ago as a four-touchdown underdog, his Texas Tech team ended Oklahoma's 39-game home winning streak.  Tuberville's record in bowl games is 7-3.

Is there a correlation between winning big games, pulling off upsets, and making the occasional risky call?

"I don't think there's any question about it," said Gran.  "Sometimes you see head coaches in big games and if they get stressed out and are hooting and hollering and screaming, then that's the mentality that the kids are going to take.  They feed off of the mentality of the head football coach.  He's always been unbelievable in big games."

Of course, the calculated gambles don't always work, but after 17 years as a college head coach, Tuberville says he's not afraid to be second-guessed.   

"I don't care about that - we're trying to win games," Tommy told me.  "Everybody is going to second-guess you - there are times where people want you to go for it and you punt.  I'm going to do what I think will give our players the best chance to win the game and a lot of times it's by gut feeling.

"You can't be predictable.  And you want the guys in the Red and Black to know that this guy is trying to win the game."

Just remember that before you leave your seat.

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Max Aims To Be Factor In Bearcats Passing Attack

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The most prolific quarterback in high school football history is Maty Mauk - the younger brother of former Bearcats QB Ben Mauk - who passed for 18,932 yards and 219 TD at Kenton High School.

While Maty wound up at Missouri, his favorite target wound up at Cincinnati.

Wide receiver Max Morrison caught 289 passes at Kenton H.S. including a mind-boggling 142 receptions for 2,033 yards and 27 touchdowns as a senior.  His single-season reception total was reportedly the fourth highest in history at the time.

After seeing those astonishing passing stats, I had to ask, "Did Kenton even have running plays in the playbook?"

"No we did not," Morrison told me with a grin.  "It was a five wide (receivers) air raid and we threw the ball.  Our only running play was if the quarterback didn't see a receiver open, he took off and ran."

Max Morrison 2013 (440x325).jpg

Morrison will be a redshirt sophomore for the Bearcats this season and is looking to be a key figure in UC's passing attack.  With leading receiver Anthony McClung nursing a sore hamstring in training camp, Max has generally practiced with the first string offense.

"I'm confident, but it's fall camp and there's a lot of competition," said Morrison.  "I'm running with the 'ones' right now, but that's just a depth chart.  You have to come out every day and compete."

After redshirting as a freshman, Morrison appeared in 11 games last year without making a reception.  But in his first spring practice under Tommy Tuberville, the 6'1", 181 pound receiver caught his new head coach's attention by catching nearly every pass thrown in his direction. 

"Max probably had the best spring of anybody catching the ball," said Tuberville. 

"As soon as the new coaches came in, I looked at it and said, 'I need to show them what I can do,'" said Morrison.  "I think I did open a few eyes.  I didn't get a whole lot of opportunities the last two years here, but that's said and done.  They're giving me my chance now and I'm trying to do what I can with it."

Morrison hasn't stood out quite as much in the first week of training camp - perhaps because he's often been matched up against top cornerback Deven Drane - but Tuberville expects him to play a significant role this season.

"He'll be an on-and-off starter," said Tuberville.  "We'll probably play eight to 10 receivers every game and he'll be in the rotation.  I'm pleased with his progress, but after watching him in the spring I had bigger hopes for him coming back and being stronger in two-a-days, but for some reason he started off a little slow.  But he's getting better." 

"Camp is a grind," said Morrison.  "Everybody out here gets dead legs, but you have to be mentally tough and keep working.  I'm going against a three-year starter in Deven Drane every day and that can't do anything but make me better."

Max is not the first member of his family to play at UC.  His grandfather Joe finished his college career in 1958 as Cincinnati's all-time leading scorer (since broken) and went on to spend 14 years with the New York Giants who eventually retired his uniform number.

"I remember coming here on my official visit and one of the coaches showed me the school's Hall of Fame and lo and behold, there he is:  Joe Morrison, number 21," Max told me.  "I thought it was really cool to see that and follow in his footsteps."

And while it will be difficult to match his crazy high school stats, Morrison aims to be a reliable target for Bearcats quarterbacks in the years to come.

"I have three years left and it all starts this season," said Morrison.  "I got a few plays last year at the end of games, but now it's a new coaching staff, a new fresh start, so I'm going to come out here and work hard every day and hopefully everything falls into place."

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JUCO Duo Provides Contrasting Boost To Backfield

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Is there a statute of limitations on the exclusive use of a nickname?

In the 1940's Army won three national championships thanks to Heisman Trophy winners Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis who were known as "Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside."  Now that 67 years have passed since their last college game, that nickname could be revived for pair of junior college running backs looking to make an immediate impact at Cincinnati.

Hosey (pronounced like Jose) Williams is "Mr. Inside" - a 5'9" 199 pound battering ram who rushed for 1,269 yards and 14 TD on 177 carries (7.2 ypc) for ASA College in New York (see video here).

Hosey Williams (440x204).jpg

"I think Hosey is a Rudi Johnson-type," said Tommy Tuberville who coached Johnson at Auburn.  "He's got big, strong legs and a low center of gravity."

"I feel like I'm an all-around back," said Williams.  "I can run through you and I can run by you."

Rod Moore is "Mr. Outside" - a 5'10, 176 pound jitterbug who was ranked as the number one junior college running back by 247Sports.com after rushing for 902 yards and 11 TD on 147 carries (6.1) for East Mississippi C.C.

"What you see with Rod is his quickness," said offensive coordinator Eddie Gran.  "There was a play today (at practice) where he hit the hole and you saw a burst.  That's what you're looking for is a guy like that with really good speed.  I've been excited about him."

"I try to play fast and show my speed," said Moore.  "Mostly I like to get out on the edge, but I can run between the tackles when they need me to.  It I get to the second level, it's most likely going to be a big gain."

Williams and Moore say they chose Cincinnati largely because of the coaching staff.  When Tuberville and Gran worked together at Auburn, they sent eight running backs to the NFL including Ronnie Brown, Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, Brandon Jacobs, Heath Evans, Kenny Irons, and the previously mentioned Johnson.

"(Coach Tuberville) is a laid-back, straight-forward person," said Williams.  "He lets his coaches coach and does a great job.  And Coach Gran is an excellent coach.  He's big on all of the little details being perfect."

"I was committed to Texas Tech, but I wanted to follow this coaching staff," said Moore.  "They recruited me first and I feel like this is going to be a great fit for me.  All I have to do is listen and they'll take me where I want to go."

Following the departure of leading rusher George Winn, the Cincinnati coaches are counting on the JUCO duo and walk-on Anthony King to provided needed depth to a running back group led by Ralph David Abernathy IV and Tion Green.

"Anthony King has looked really good," said Gran.  "I've been surprised and excited for him because he's worked his tail off.  In all of the cut-ups that we watched in the spring, he keeps showing up.  I'm going to give him some reps with the ones this camp and give him a shot."

Williams and Moore are also sure to get plenty of reps at Camp Higher Ground, but their running ability is not the only factor in determining which of the two gets the most playing time.

"It's whoever can learn the offense the quickest and be durable," said Tuberville.  "Both of them can run the ball, but one thing that they both have to learn in this offense is protecting the quarterback.  If you can't protect the quarterback, I'm not going to have you in there because a lot of times we have to check off and he has to pick up a linebacker or an end.  We can't afford any missed assignments.  We probably run 12 to 15 protections per game and they change every week.  Things change very quickly at the line of scrimmage - who they block, if they block, of if they go out for a pass."

Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside say they're ready for the challenge.

"I feel like everything is going extremely well," said Williams.  "It's basically about how I apply myself.  If I study the playbook like I'm supposed to, I don't think it's going to be a problem."

"It's the most talent that I've seen in a backfield in a long time," said Moore.  "We're going to have a little rotation and it's going to work out great.  I'm just trying to be a part of it and help us win some games."

I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

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For a new conference looking to build credibility, Cincinnati's hiring of two-time SEC coach of the year Tommy Tuberville was well-received news in the league office.

"I was thrilled when I heard about it - absolutely thrilled for a couple of reasons," said American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco.  "Number one, he's a great coach and you can't argue with his record.  But he's also a great guy.  I've known Tommy for a long time - he's understated, he's highly effective, and he's a classy person.

"It signals that Cincinnati is going to continue to move forward.  They've always hired good coaches whether it's Mark Dantonio, Brian Kelly, or Butch Jones - now you get Tommy Tuberville and you may have even taken it to a new level because I don't know that anybody had the record that he has."

Tuberville's record is 130-77 including 7-3 in bowl games.  He led Auburn to at least one victory against an AP Top-10 school in seven consecutive seasons and was named the National Coach of the Year in 2004 when he led the Tigers to a 13-0 season.

With a glittering resume in meat grinder conferences like the SEC and Big 12, Tuberville has heard a recurring question since accepting the head coaching job at UC roughly eight months ago.      

"A lot of people have asked me, 'Why Cincinnati?'" said Tuberville.  "My answer is, 'Why not?'  Heck, this is as winning of a program as anybody in the country.  We have a good established base, but we have a lot of room for improvement."  

Tuberville's track record made him one of the most sought-after interviews at The American media days this week in Newport, RI.  In the league's golf outing on Monday, he was put him in a group with Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel, and with several other national writers in attendance, Tuberville had an opportunity to sell his vision for UC football and its new conference.

Tuberville at media day (315x440).jpg
"We don't have to sell Cincinnati," said Tuberville.  "I'll tell you, over the last six or seven years, Cincinnati has been the up-and-coming team in college football.  When you win 10 games as many times as Cincinnati has done the last few years and gone to bowl games and two BCS games - you don't have to sell that.  What we have to sell is the conference.  We have to get this conference going.  We have new teams coming in, we have to talk well of each other, we've got to play good football, and we've got to put a good product on the field. 

"Cincinnati is going to survive, but we want this conference to be one of the better conferences in the country and everybody is going to have to pitch in."

The American currently includes a Louisville program that won the national championship in men's basketball, was runner-up in women's basketball, and won the Sugar Bowl in football.  In the preseason college football coaches' poll released on Thursday, Louisville was ranked ninth.

But the Cardinals will leave the American for the ACC at the end of the year.  Is the league counting on Cincinnati to be its dominant program moving forward?

"I don't think there's any doubt that one of our flagship programs will be Cincinnati," Aresco told me.  "I think the Bearcats have a really bright future.  They've also had a great record of success in our conference so you have to already put them in the top echelon, and Tommy Tuberville is another in a long line of great coaches at Cincinnati.  He just has an outstanding resume and I know he is going to have great success there.  I think Cincinnati is going to be a very important school for us - I don't think there is any doubt about it.    

"Whit (Babcock) is really one of our most able athletic directors, and Santa Ono is a visionary president who wants to be good in athletics.  He understands athletics but he also understands the mission of the university."

Tuberville's mission is to build on the momentum generated by the coaches that preceded him.

"We've had several coaches at Cincinnati that have really gotten the program on the track - but sort of on a jog," Tommy told me.  "I need to get it going on a run."


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Brendon Kay Savors Experience At Manning Academy

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On Monday morning before leaving for American Football Media Days in Newport, RI, I joked on Twitter that I would not be asking any questions about the topic that dominated the recent SEC Media Days.

That was before I learned that UC quarterback Brendon Kay not only attended the Manning Passing Academy, but he and roommate Jeff Driskel (Florida Gators) were suitemates with Manziel and A.J. McCarron.

"I got along well with all of those guys - they're all great guys," Kay told me.  "Some stuff happened while we were down there that got most of the media (attention) about the camp."

While Brendon was not about to share any TMZ-worthy material about Johnny Football, he was happy to discuss his trip to the Manning Academy.

 "I got invited at some point during spring ball," said Kay.  "Coach Tuberville brought it up to me and that week Archie Manning called.  It was definitely exciting.

"Overall, it was an incredible experience to meet all of those NFL guys, the NFL Network guys, and the draft guys.  There were probably 30 of the top quarterbacks down there from all over the country.  I was a sponge when I was down there and tried to soak up as much knowledge as I could from Peyton, Eli, and all of the NFL guys that were down there.  It helped me this summer seeing how they did their workouts and what they did with their receivers.  I tried to use the same stuff when I got back to Cincinnati."

Kay at Belk Bowl (293x440).jpg

Aside from travel costs, expenses are taken care of for the college quarterbacks and being invited provided a big boost to the 6th-year senior.

"It helps your confidence to go out and throw with those guys and see that I can throw with any of the guys around the country," said Kay.  "It's not that I needed any extra confidence or anything, but it was definitely a confidence booster and showed that my hard work is paying off."

This week, Brendon joined teammates Greg Blair, Austen Bujnoch, and Jordan Stepp in representing the Bearcats at the American Kickoff event in Rhode Island.  Kay's inclusion in the UC contingent provided the latest proof that he's the number one quarterback going into UC's training camp.

But that's not how he's treating it.

"I'm just going to go out and try to get better every day," Brendon told me.  "Competition is a good thing - it pushes me every day.  It never lets me settle and get too comfortable which is good.  It's what I'm used to and allows me to keep pushing myself."

I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

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Camp Tuberville Just Weeks Away

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The Tommy Tuberville era at Cincinnati is about to begin.  The Bearcats check-in for training camp on Sunday, August 4 and hold their first practice the following day.  Fans can meet the players and get autographs at the annual "Meet the Team" event at Kings Island on Sunday, August 18.

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I had the opportunity to interview Coach Tuberville this week about some key topics going into camp:

Rumor has it that you were hanging out with the big stars at the ESPYS last week?

Every year I play in the V Foundation Golf Classic to raise money to fight cancer.  I've been going for many years.  Sometimes I go to the ESPYS along with it, but this year I didn't have time so I just played in the golf tournament to help them raise money and then I flew back.  I played with actor Chris Tucker, and Bruce Jenner played right in front of us.  You get to meet a lot of people at that tournament, but I'm always excited to get back home and get ready for the football season.

You've been coaching for a long time, but when you're in your first year at a program is training camp more challenging?

It's more challenging because we're still finding out about our players and they're finding out about us.  But I'm excited about our off-season.  They've just gone through a very tough summer workout program and I think we're in very good physical shape.  They've gotten stronger and you're always excited to get them back on the field to see where we've come since spring practice in terms of their physical and mental abilities.

Is the quarterback job Brendon Kay's to lose at training camp?

Yes, because he had a very good spring and I thought that Munchie (Legaux) hit the wall in about the 10th or 11th practice.  The guy that really played well and made a lot of headway was Bennie Coney.  Bennie has a lot of talent - he can run, he can throw, and do all of those things.  So we're going to have some options.  I tell you, it's going to be a battle.  I've told Brendon that we're going to start him out with the first group, but anything can happen.  We'll have a couple of scrimmages and a lot of practices and remember, your quarterback not only runs the offense - he's the leader of your entire team.  Brendon is probably a little bit ahead, but that can change very quickly in two-a-days.

I ran into a member of your staff this week who told me that a few of the junior college additions are going to make an immediate impact this year.  Can you tell us about a few of those guys?

We have on campus running backs Rod Moore and Hosea Williams who will battle it out with Tion Green and Ralph Abernathy.  Going into the season, you have got to have two or three running backs that you can count on, so I think there is going to be a lot of competition there.  Jerrell Jordan is a junior college defensive end that came in in January and broke his foot - the fifth metatarsal - and had a screw put in it so he didn't get a lot of practice time.  He's in much better shape, and Terrell Hartsfield is another junior college defensive end that has been on campus for about two months and I think he is really going to help us.  Those guys are going to be great additions to our football team mentally and physically.  Then we have Howard Wilder, a junior college cornerback, that I really think is going to help this team get better.  In those areas we need some help, and I think they're going to provide it for us going into the opening game.

Is cornerback your biggest concern?

We have a lot of concerns.  Every football team has concerns about experience and depth, but I would say right now that it's the cornerback position just because of depth.  I think we have some guys that can play, but you have to have six to eight guys on your team, and we're going to have to count on a couple of high school players to come in and give us some help, along with junior college players like Howard Wilder.  So corner has been a concern since we got here.  I think we've helped ourselves in recruiting, but now we have to get them in shape and get them ready to play mentally.

People have read and heard about your Australian rugby player Lindsay Crook.  Is he likely to redshirt in year one to learn American football?

I think that's a big question mark.  I know he's a good athlete and he can really run.  He had a setback - we had to scope his knee about a month ago because he had some loose cartilage in there that was giving him some pain.  So we decided to go ahead and clean that up.  He was down for about three weeks - he's just now started running again.  But I think he'll be able to help us some.  I'm not sure what position or it might just be on special teams, but you've got to remember that he's not your average high school player.  He'll be 21 years old this year.  He's got a lot to learn about what we do and how we do it, but I think that he can pick it up.  We'll have to see how far he can come in the next few weeks.  I'm not going to play him just to play him, but I think he has the ability to help the team this season.

What's been the most pleasant surprise about the UC program since you arrived?

The enthusiasm of the players and the confidence that they have.  The thing about the UC football program over the last six or seven years - it's probably been one of the biggest surprises nationwide.  For a long time, UC was one of the doormats of college football, but with the emergence of winning like UC has won over the past few years - every team has some ups and downs - but they've had some consistency.  They've been to two BCS Bowl games, and most schools across the country haven't been to one.  I think the confidence that these players have in what they can do and how they can do it gives us an edge.  I'm not here to change a whole lot; I just want to keep the ship going in the right direction. 

You'll begin your tenure here in The American - the new American Athletic Conference.  As a head coach, would you rather be in a league where you potentially could dominate or a league like the Big 12 with traditional powers like Oklahoma and Texas?

I think there's a fine line there.  Everybody wants to win games and I think that's a big question mark for where you want to be.  But for us to have an opportunity to win national championships, something is eventually going to have to happen for us to get into the (power five conferences).  But I like the conference we're in.  I like the teams that we're playing and I think we can compete and be one of the stronger teams in the league year in and year out.  That's how we're going to treat it.  We're going to recruit harder every year, and we're going to try to beat whoever is on our schedule.  We really don't have control over that right now, so we're just going to have to wait and see what happens.

I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

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And I haven't posted a photo of the handsome lad in quite some time.  Here is Sam getting ready for a feast on a recent family vacation to Maine.    

Sam in Maine (248x440).jpg



Freshman Caupain Looks To Make Point

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As a senior at Cosby HS near Richmond, VA last year, Troy Caupain averaged 27 points and 15 rebounds.  But when he joins the Bearcats this fall, Caupain will be looking to pile up assists since he is expected to play point guard at the college level.  

Caupain Richmond paper.jpg

"We were able to see Troy enough to realize that this guy is a point guard," said UC head coach Mick Cronin.  "He's 6'3" and he's still only 17; he won't turn 18 until six or seven games into the season.  But he's a natural point guard.  It's the one position - kind of like quarterback in football - where there are probably some things that you're just born with.  He's comfortable with the ball in his hands and he sees the entire court."

Caupain says that Coach Cronin wasn't the first person to see point guard potential in his future. 

"My uncle realized it was time to be a guard because I wasn't going to be 6'8" or taller," said Caupain.  "So he worked with me to build up my ball handling, my basketball IQ, and my court awareness.  I took it to mean that I was going to be a point guard and ever since then, I dedicated myself toward doing that every time that I went to the gym."

"I remember recruiting Kenny Satterfield and a lot of the services said that he wasn't a point guard because he was 6'2" and he scored a lot of points in high school," said Cronin.  "But when you watch a guy play, you can see what he's comfortable with and it really wasn't a hard thing with Troy.  When the ball is in his hands he's very comfortable and he doesn't really feel pressure.  When some guys get pressured, they put their head down, they get nervous, and they speed up.  When Troy sees pressure it doesn't rattle him.  He just makes a simple pass and is calm with the ball." 

Caupain was named the Player of the Year in Richmond last year and finished his career as his school's all-time leader in scoring average and rebounds.  That led to comparisons to a former DePaul star that spent 17 years in the NBA.

"People tell me that I remind them of Rod Strickland back when he played for the Wizards," said Caupain.  "He was a floor general on the court - he could get a bucket when his team needed it, but he looked to involve his teammates.  I like to smile, be a leader, and get my teammates involved in the game.

"When I was young, (Strickland's) son played on my little cousin's AAU team, so I used to see him all the time and we used to go to his house and play basketball and stuff."

Caupain's ability to find open teammates figures to put him in the mix to replace Cashmere Wright as Cincinnati's starting point guard.

Does Troy expect to win the job?

"That's not my call," Caupain told me.  "But I'm working hard to try to earn that spot - yes."

"I'm excited about him because he's going to make other guys better," said Cronin.  "That's the key.  He's going to get other guys a lot of easy baskets."  

I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

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Nippert Plans Show Commitment To Compete

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Have you ever taken a look at the home basketball schedule in 1999-2000, the year that the Bearcats set a single-season record for average attendance (13,176) by selling out all 14 home games?

Here were UC's opponents:  Youngstown State, Mississippi Valley State, Wisc-Milwaukee, UNLV, Charlotte, Marquette, Ohio, Memphis, USF, DePaul, Temple, Southern Miss, Louisville, and St. Louis.

Of those teams, only No. 15 Temple was in the Top-25.

Every game was sold out because the Bearcats had enjoyed a long run of success and were the number one team in the country for most of that season.  The stands were packed to see the home team - not the opposition.

Fifth Third Arena full (440x293).jpg

I mention that because I constantly read and hear how Cincinnati's membership in the new American Athletic Conference could be damaging to home attendance in football and basketball because fans have grown accustomed to watching high-profile opponents in the Big East.  But I honestly believe that if Cincinnati is one of the dominant programs in The American in football and basketball, that attendance will eventually go up, not down.

Cincinnati sports fans support teams that compete for championships - whether it's the Bearcats, Bengals, Reds, or Musketeers. 

One of the reasons why I am excited about Tuesday's announcement that the Nippert Stadium Renovation and Expansion Project will begin in December (scheduled for completion in 2015) is that it is tangible proof that the UC administration is not deterred by recent developments in conference realignment and is continuing to invest in building an athletic department that competes for championships.

Nippert renovation (440x257).jpg

Project Website: http://www.gobearcats.com/nippert

Announcement Link: http://www.gobearcats.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/062513aab.html

"Revenue generated from this project will benefit student-athletes in each of our 19 sports," said Athletic Director Whit Babcock.  "This facility will also add another piece of signature architecture right in the heart of our beautiful campus."

It's hard not to be impressed by how Babcock - with the support of President Santa Ono and the UC Board of Trustees - made this happen.  After announcing a proposed plan to renovate Nippert Stadium in mid-December, Babcock quietly went about lining up financial support, including 18 commitments for Founders Suites at $1 million dollars each, hundreds of club seats, and millions of dollars in private donations.  While there is still fundraising to do, enough money has been raised to formally launch the project and no University general funds will be used.

In addition to boosting the amenities at Nippert Stadium and creating a much-needed revenue stream, the renovation project is another bold statement that Cincinnati should be at the top of anyone's list.  While I've stopped trying to guess what's going to happen next, I think that UC is doing everything in its power to polish its resume - from winning games, to graduating student-athletes, and investing in facilities.

The UC football team can go to a BCS bowl game this year by winning the first championship in The American.  The UC basketball team added a great recruiting class and is aiming to go to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight year.

The home team is going to be fun to watch.

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Winn Has Prominent Backer As Draft Approaches

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It you want to see former UC standout George Winn flash an ear-to-ear smile, all you have to do is mention a certain helmet-haired NFL draft expert.

"Mel Kiper," said a grinning Winn.  "Every time he mentions me it's something positive.

"I get excited every time he gives me a shout-out.  I really appreciate it."

The ESPN analyst has been singing Winn's praises in recent interviews previewing the upcoming NFL draft. 

"A guy that I think will be a great 5th or 6th round pick -- you're always looking for that next Alfred Morris -- is George Winn at Cincinnati," Kiper told reporters.  "George Winn, for me, is a very underrated player who I thought definitely showed the capability of being a guy who can contribute in the National Football League as a nice late-round pick."

Morris, who is listed at the exact same size as Winn (5'10", 218), was selected in the sixth round by Washington last year and had a sensational rookie season, setting the Redskins' single-season rushing record with 1,613 yards.

"It's a privilege to be compared to someone who had that great of a season." said Winn. 

The Redskins' rookie - who played college ball at Florida Atlantic - saw his draft stock dive when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.67 seconds at the NFL scouting combine.  Of the 44 running backs that ran in 2012, 33 posted faster times.

Winn also posted a disappointing 40-yard dash time at the combine as he ran a 4.75.

"I had a tight hamstring at the combine," Winn told me.  "The couple of weeks I had to prepare before my Pro Day helped me to improve the strength and health of my hamstring which really helped me run a better 40."

In his March 13th Pro Timing Day at Cincinnati, Winn improved his time in the 40-yard dash to 4.53.

"They say it doesn't matter much and you shouldn't put much emphasis on it, but if it wasn't that important they wouldn't have us doing it," said Winn.  "So it's clearly important."

Winn took part in the Bengals workout for local prospects on Tuesday at Paul Brown Stadium, and since he grew up near Detroit, George will participate in a similar workout with the Lions on Wednesday.  What is he hearing from NFL scouts?

"They like my running style, how I pass protect, they like my special teams value, so I'm pretty excited," said Winn.  "I'm excited to get out here and prove what I can do."

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One year ago, nobody would have expected NFL teams to have George Winn on their draft boards.  In his first three years with the Bearcats, George never carried the ball more than 40 times in a season. But following the departure of All-Big East running back Isaiah Pead, Winn had a monster season in 2012, carrying 243 times for 1,334 yards and 13 TD.

"It's surreal," said Winn.  "To come from where I came from and to be where I am now is amazing.  It's a blessing.

"I always go back to my freshman year when I was dead last on the depth chart.  I started at the very bottom and worked my way up to the top."

And if you believe Mel Kiper, Winn isn't finished climbing.

"You think about what George Winn is physically, and moving forward, I think he can hold up in this league," Kiper told reporters.  "He's five-foot-10-and-a-half, almost 220 pounds, and played a lot faster than (his 40-yard dash time).  I think he's got a chance to be a guy that could help your football team."

I pointed out to Winn on Tuesday that Mel Kiper is a great guy to have in your corner at draft time.

"He definitely is," George agreed with a laugh.

Has Winn met the nation's most famous draft analyst?

"I haven't," said Winn.  "I'm looking forward to it.  I'm going to thank him a lot."

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How A Bearcats Mom Prevented A Signing Day Switch

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If sophomore-to-be Ti'on Green becomes an outstanding running back for the University of Cincinnati, Bearcats fans have his mother Leticia to thank.

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Green verbally committed to Cincinnati in October of his senior year at Lake Brantley High School in Altamonte Springs, FL, but by National Signing Day the following February, Ti'on was wavering.

"My signing day announcement was broadcast live on Bright House Sports because I won the (Central Florida) Player of the Year award," said Green.  "I was about to sign on the dotted line with USF and my mother moved the paper away and said, 'No.  I will not let you ruin your life.  Get out and see something new and meet new people.  Get out of Florida and get away from home.'  She'll try to deny that she did that.  You really can't tell on TV because you just see her slide her hand, but she moved the USF paper right out of the way."    

"He was teetering and leaning toward South Florida for a minute, but my heart said Cincinnati," said Leticia Strickland.  "So I put the Cincinnati paper a little bit above South Florida and he went from there."

"I had the Cincinnati paper on the left side and USF was on the right," said Green.  "As I went to sign the paper for USF, my mom slipped it out of the way.  If you watch it on TV, it looked like we practiced it, but she moved it and gave me a little smile." 

"I just felt like Cincinnati is where he needed to be," Leticia told me.  "I didn't have anything against South Florida; I was just more at peace with Cincinnati."

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Although Tommy Tuberville was not UC's head coach when Green signed with the Bearcats in 2012, he's happy that Ti'on - and Leticia - chose Cincinnati.   

"Eddie Gran is one of the better running backs coaches in the country and he likes him," said Tuberville.  "He likes his stamina.  This is a tough sport for a running back and what we're going to ask him to do is be very physical in carrying the ball, blocking, and protecting the quarterbacks."

UC fans got a limited look at Green as a true freshman last year as he carried 16 times for 72 yards (4.4 ypc), including a 2-yard touchdown vs. Miami.  But following the graduation of All-Big East running back George Winn, Ti'on will be in the mix to get significant carries in 2013 along with Ralph David Abernathy IV, and incoming junior college standouts Rodriquez Moore and Hosey Williams.

"I like Ti'on but there's going to be a lot of competition there," said Tuberville.  "I think Ralph probably came out (of spring practice) as the number one running back, but he's not the type of guy that's going to be able to take on linebackers on the blitz on every down.  So he's not going to be an every-down running back."       

"We're going to run the ball under this coaching staff and I don't know of one back who can do it by himself," said Green.  "Whatever my role is, I'm just going to step up and do my best to help the Bearcats be successful."   

"I was so proud of him his first year because he went from being a superstar who carried the ball on pretty much every play to having a limited role," said Ms. Strickland.  "He was so positive and had a good spirit.  I've always taught him to stay humble and when your time comes, to handle business.  He's carried that attitude and I'm a true believer in what's meant to be." 

As a high school senior, Green showed his talent by carrying 194 times for 1824 yards (9.4 ypc) and 21 touchdowns.  Now he looks forward to learning the finer points of his position from Coach Gran who has sent numerous running backs to the NFL including Rudi Johnson, Ronnie Brown, and Brandon Jacobs.

"He's a phenomenal coach," said Green.  "He sits you down and breaks down the offense as simply as possible so that you're able to understand it.  His track record is crazy but he doesn't mention it one time.  He treats everybody equally and gives everyone a fair chance to showcase their talents." 

"The biggest thing for Ti'on is consistency," said Gran.  "Each day you have to pay attention to the details and the little things and that's my job as a coach - to get him to do that.  Once he decides to do that, he's going to make a really big contribution to this football team."

"He's got to mature a little bit and he knows that," said Tuberville.  "He hasn't played that much - especially on this level."

But Green will get his chance.  Ti'on still has three years remaining to make an impact at the school - he claims - that his mother ultimately selected.

"Maybe he took it that way, but he still had the last say," said Strickland.

"I don't regret it at all," Ti'on told me with a grin.  "I love it here."    

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