Last year's win over Louisville is best remembered
for a spectacular performance by Isaiah Pead who ran for 151 yards including a
50-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that helped rally UC to a 25-16
Offensive tackle Eric Lefeld remembers it for a
Lefeld made his first college start that afternoon
at Paul Brown Stadium as a redshirt freshman in place of an injured Sean
Hooey.Just one year earlier, Lefeld
arrived at Cincinnati weighing nearly 50 fewer pounds as a defensive end.
"It was unbelievable," said Lefeld."I had senior Alex Hoffman to help me and he
was constantly giving me tips on technique.I was nervous as heck getting to play in the Bengals stadium in my first
"He was a little nervous at first," said junior
Austin Bujnoch."I can't say what
happened during the pregame, but he was pretty nervous."
Does that mean there was some pregame spewing?
"There was some spewing, but he did a great job for
us," said Bujnoch with a laugh."That
was for the Keg of Nails and we always talk about Louisville as being one of
our bigger rivals.He knew going into
the game that he needed to step up and I think he did because the offense
didn't skip a beat.He did really well."
The 6'6", 291 pound sophomore started seven of the
Bearcats' last eight games at right tackle last season, and now that Hooey has
recovered from an ankle injury, Lefeld moves to left tackle to replace Hoffman
who earned Second Team All-Big East Honors last season.
"The left tackle protects the blind side of the
quarterback and that's probably the most critical spot on the offensive line,"
said head coach Butch Jones."Eric
Lefeld is one of the great success stories from last year that wasn't told.I believe that he started seven games for us
at the tackle position and a year before he was a defensive lineman who was
about 240 pounds.He came in and really
held the rope, and now you can see with that experience that he is a rock of
Lefeld is from Coldwater, OH, a town of about 4,500
people that is roughly 70 miles northwest of Dayton.According to the school's website, the
Coldwater Cavaliers have won more games (145) than any program in Ohio since
2000 and have been to the playoffs 15 straight times.Playing for a small school powerhouse helped
Eric make a rapid conversion from defense to offense.
"I think my class graduated with about 120-130
students," said Lefeld."When you
transfer that over to the football field, we had guys playing on both sides of
the ball.I had the opportunity to be a
little more versatile and understand a little bit more about the game.I had great coaches in John Reed and Chip
Otten and it gave me a great background."
"He's committed and he comes from a great high
school program, so he had a great foundation coming in here," said Coach Jones.
Still, Lefeld admits to being a bit shocked when he
was asked to change positions.
"I think it was the first couple of days into my
first camp and it was a big change to be honest," said Lefeld."Coach Jones grabbed me and said, 'Come
on.I want to see what you can do over
here.'He threw me into the fire and I
haven't turned back."
And Lefeld has quickly developed into one of
Cincinnati's best offensive lineman.
"He cares about the game and is a student of the
game," said Bujnoch."He always wants to
get better.He's physical and I wouldn't
want to have anyone else playing next to me."
"This football program and his teammates mean
everything to him," said Coach Jones."That's his nature.He's
competitive, and it's like he has a fire burning inside of him every day."
"When we talk about 'Representing the C,' what
really comes to my mind is that it's on the field and off the field," said
Lefeld."I come from a great family
where we stress grades and competing to the best of your ability every time
you're on the field, and I believe in having a good balance."
It sounds like the Bearcats won't have to feel
nervous about the left tackle position for the next three years.
You never know what makes the difference in
recruiting elite high school football players.Even
free throw shooting ability can be a factor.
An explanation is in order.
One of the most highly-touted players in UC's freshman
class is wide receiver Nate Cole from Memphis, TN who
chose Cincinnati over Alabama, Ole Miss, Stanford, Tennessee, West Virginia
"I felt the family vibe when I came here," Cole told
me."I saw a game at Nippert Stadium and
it felt like home."
After playing for his father Nathan, Sr. at Mitchell
High School, it was important for Cole to sense a close connection to his
college head coach.
That's where free throw shooting comes in.
"His pride is probably going to be wounded here,"
said UC head coach Butch Jones with a grin."We were in the gym (on a recruiting visit) and he was having a great
senior year in basketball.He was
feeling really good about himself, so we made a friendly wager over who could
win a free throw shooting contest.We
squared off in front of his gym class and Coach Jones came out victorious."
"He beat me fair and square in front of the whole
gym," said Cole, "My dad, all of the basketball coaches, and some students.He challenged me to a best-of-ten and beat me
In case you're wondering, the stakes of the friendly
wager were not a commitment to Cincinnati.The free throw contest was strictly for laughs, but it did reinforce
Cole's belief that Butch Jones was the right college coach for him.
"It showed me that he relates to us and we can
relate to him," said Cole."I knew that
if I needed to come to him about anything, he would be there.If you can't relate to the head coach and if
he can't relate to you, you're not in the right place.It's not going to feel like home, you're not
going to like it, and you're not going to play up to your potential.You have to have that kind of relationship
with your coaches to play up to your highest potential."
"It was a great environment, it was all in fun, and
I can't say enough about his character," said Coach Jones."He's a coaches' son and has a tremendous
family.We're very fortunate to have him
in our program and he's doing exceptionally well right now."
At Tuesday morning's practice at Camp Higher Ground,
Cole was working with the second unit on offense and Nate appears to be a solid
bet to play as a true freshman.
"I think his chances are very good," said
Jones."Right now it's still relatively
early, but I see a lot of Alex Chisum qualities in him in terms of maturity and
learning the playbook.He's kind of a
quiet-natured young man, but he's extremely competitive inside.He's very driven and I could see him playing
"I have to get into the playbook and learn the
plays," said Cole."It's really
complicated.There are different routes,
different concepts, and different names for routes.
"My goal is to pick things up fast, and if they do
throw me into the game to do my job.My
job is not to win games; it's to help to win games."
And part of Butch Jones' job is to convince talented
high school football players with numerous scholarship offers to choose
"With where our program is now, we're able to go
compete against the traditionally-rich football programs around the country,"
said Coach Jones."I think that speaks
volumes for what we have to sell in our football program, our city, and the job
that our coaches are doing."
When Cincinnati faced Florida in the 2010 Sugar
Bowl, New Orleans resident Munchie Legaux was in the Louisiana Superdome
watching his future school.
But he was rooting for UC's opponent.
"I didn't have the Bearcats on my mind at the time,"
said Legaux."I was just there enjoying
the game because I was a big Florida fan at the time.Shortly after that - I'd say about a week
later - Coach Jones gave me a phone call.I was like, 'Wow, that's the team that just played in the Sugar
Bowl.'I was interested and took a visit
and here I am today."
As he enters his junior year at Cincinnati, Legaux
is battling senior Brendon Kay in training camp to be named the Bearcats
starting quarterback.Munchie is the
likely front-runner after starting the final three games of the regular season
last year for the injured Zach Collaros.After losing in his first start at Rutgers, Legaux led UC to wins over
Syracuse and UConn that gave the 'Cats a share of the Big East title.
"He grew a lot," said offensive coordinator Mike
Bajakian."He became more comfortable,
saw things better, and played within the offense.Just understanding that the key to this
offense is completions and keeping the ball moving.I think early on, he tried to do too
much.As time has progressed, I think he
understands that we have to let our playmakers make the plays and it's our
responsibility to get the ball in their hands."
"(My teammates) have some trust in me now because I
stepped up for a guy like Zach Collaros who was a leader," said Legaux."I feel like those guys trust me because of
last year, but I can't dwell on the past.That was last year and this is a new year."
Head coach Butch Jones has made it clear that he
would like to name his starting quarterback early in training camp and says he's
looking for one thing in particular in making the choice.
"Consistency," said Jones."Just getting better each and every day and
managing our offense.Knowing when to
throw the ball away, knowing where your playmakers are, understanding down and
distance situations, and everything that goes into playing quarterback."
"They're looking for a guy who can come out here and
be consistent on a daily basis in everything that he does," said Legaux.
The coaches are also looking for Legaux to display
the leadership qualities that are essential at the quarterback position.
"I see him getting more and more comfortable in that
role and getting more assertive," said Jones.
"It's a process," said Bajakian."Sure there is an inclination on the part of
some people to have that presence, but we talk a lot about leadership being a
skill.Just like the skill of a
three-step drop, just like the skill of throwing the deep ball, it's something
that you have to work on and improve upon.No matter how good or bad that you are, you can always improve upon it."
After getting his introduction to Bearcat football
as a Sugar Bowl spectator, Legaux is looking to be front and center in 2012.
The UC football team has won or shared the Big East
title in three of the last four seasons, but when it comes to gorging
themselves on lobster, the Bearcats have some work to do.
On Monday night at annual lobster-fest that kicks
off Big East media days, the Cincinnati trio of Maalik Bomar, Austen Bujnoch,
and Walter Stewart combined to eat five lobsters while a pair of Syracuse players
ate seven and a half apiece.
"I had two lobsters and Bujnoch had three," said
Bomar."They ran out on us so we didn't
really get to attack it the way that we wanted to."
"I wish I could have had more," said Bujnoch with a
grin."They cut us off - I was probably
going to eat six or seven, but I only got to eat three."
"I'm actually allergic to shellfish but I still had
a good time," said Stewart."They had
excellent barbeque and it was still a great experience just seeing all that
seafood.I never knew that I would see
something like that so I definitely appreciated it."
Of course, what the Bearcats are really hungry for
is another Big East championship.
In the league's annual preseason media poll released
on Tuesday, the 'Cats were picked to finish fourth behind Louisvlle, USF, and
Rutgers.It's worth noting that UC has
finished higher than its preseason rank in six of seven seasons since joining
the league and was picked for 5th, 3rd, and 5th
in its championship seasons.
"We want to use that as fuel," said Bomar."That's the bottom line."
"At UC, we've built a legacy so we always expect the
best," said Bujnoch."If we don't finish
first, it's a disappointment each year.We expect to be up there."
The three players chosen to "Represent the C" at the
event in Newport, RI were picked by head coach Butch Jones for their leadership
roles on this year's team - particularly Stewart who is listed among the
leading preseason candidates for Big East Defensive Player of the Year.
"Make no mistake about it - he is the face of our
program right now," said Coach Jones."He
owns the football team.His leadership
skills are dynamic, he's held everyone accountable including himself, and I
think he's really worked himself into have a great senior year."
"With this being my senior year, I just wanted to
step up," said Stewart."A lot of guys
in leadership roles are gone and I take a lot of pride in being a Bearcat and
trying to help lead my team to victory."
Preseason camp opens next week at Camp Higher Ground
in West Harrison, Indiana.
to get out there and bond with the team," said Bujnoch."We have a lot of work to do and camp is
where teams are born."
"We've been training hard all summer with the weight
room and conditioning," said Bomar."It's
time to attack the field and prepare for this season."
"I can't wait," said Stewart."Especially after all of the workouts.Eventually you get to a point where your body
starts telling you, 'Alright, it's time to get going.'I'm really excited to get going in camp and
we have big expectations this year."
any objective criteria that you choose, the Big East has been, is today, and
will continue to be one of the top conferences in the nation."
Big East senior associate commissioner Nick
Carparelli made that remark while addressing reporters at the start of the
league's annual media day on Tuesday in Newport, RI.I've
known Nick for nearly 20 years and told him afterward that I thought he did a
good job of making the case to the league's critics that the Big East isn't
"I hope the tone was a little more positive than
that," said Carparelli with a smile."Hopefully,
that statement is obvious.I think the
intent was to cause everybody to take a deep breath on some issues because
there's a lot more work to be done, but on other issues, maybe the perception is
not the reality.It's our job to change
that and today was the start."
"The perception has been false out there," said UC
head coach Butch Jones."All you have to
do is look at the facts.Since the
modern day BCS era, we are the all-time winningest conference in terms of bowl
records.We're 7-7 in BCS bowl
games.If you look at the product on the
field and our body of work, I think it speaks for itself."
In the last year, Syracuse, Pitt, and West Virginia
have decided to leave the Big East, and TCU reversed plans to join.That forced the Big East to reinvent itself
as a coast-to-coast league with the addition of Temple this year, Boise State,
Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, San Diego State, and SMU in 2013, and Navy
(and perhaps another school) in 2015.That will allow the Big East to split into divisions and begin holding a
league championship game next year at the home venue of the highest-ranked
"We've always been different and we've made it work
to this point," said Carparelli."Realignment
is not new to the Big East and I think you could argue that with every
realignment that we've gone through, in some way or another we've been better."
The Big East's future stability will largely be
determined by its next television contract.On September 1st, the
league will enter an exclusive 60-day window to negotiate with current
media partner ESPN.If ESPN and the Big
East cannot reach a deal, Comcast/NBC and Fox figure to have interest.
"It's all about inventory and quality of inventory,"
said Carparelli."The fact that we can
play games in four time zones at any time of day gives our television partners
a lot more options to capitalize on their investment in us."
The total dollar amount of a new TV deal will
obviously be important to the league's future, but the Big East is also looking
for a partner that will showcase its product.
"Everybody knows the financial challenges that
athletic departments have, but at the same time, if this league is going to
grow, we need a television partner who is going to embrace us and give us great
exposure at the right times and brand us in the right way," said Carparelli.
Another critical issue that has to be resolved is
landing a bowl deal for the Big East champion beginning in 2014 when a 4-team
national championship playoff begins.For the next two years the league champ is still guaranteed a spot in a
prestigious BCS bowl, but with no deal in place beyond that, the Big East is
considering a variety of options including starting a new bowl game for its
"We are barely three months into a process that won't
go into effect until two-and-a-half years from now," said Carparelli."It is premature to evaluate our position in
the 2014 postseason today when major details of the new format have not been
"Let's see how these things play out and evaluate it
when it's done and I'm confident that we're going to be in great shape."
Admittedly, it was Nick Carparelli's job on Tuesday
to put a positive spin on the state of the Big East.It's a job that would get much easier if the
wild game of "conference musical chairs" slows down.
"I think change is constant in intercollegiate
athletics, but you go through peaks and valleys and I really get the sense that
nationally with the new postseason system taking shape, with most conferences
having TV contracts that they're pleased with, I really sense that we're at a
point in time where people are going to pause a little bit before they start
shaking things up again," said Carparelli.
"I know that we're not going anywhere.We lost some schools, but we gained three times as many as we lost and
those schools feel pretty good about being here."
Within days after taking his recruiting visit to
Cincinnati in early January, junior college standout Titus Rubles changed his Twitter
handle to @BearcatBound even
though signing day was more than three months away.
"I think I gave away my plans when I did that, but
Cincinnati fans loved it," Rubles told me with a laugh."After I took my visit, I knew where I was
going but I had to work out a few things with my family and look into a couple
of other schools as well.But in my
head, I knew where I was going.Once I
visited, I was in love with Cincinnati."
"I give Coach Savino the credit," said UC head coach
Mick Cronin."We try to really find guys
that fit our style and system and have a certain attitude and we felt he was
the best junior college player in the country by far.Darren did a great job of identifying him
early before other people figured it out.That was the key, because late in the year he was dominating junior
college basketball but by then, we were way ahead of the game."
Titus is the only recruit that Cincinnati signed
this year and will be counted on to contribute right away.Following the departure of senior Yancy
Gates, Rubles figures to join 6'8" Justin Jackson and 6'10" Cheikh Mbodj as the
Bearcat big men who see the most playing time.
"I'm looking to contribute in any way possible,"
said Rubles."Whatever I have to do to
get on the court, that's what I'll do.I'm
here to rebound, block shots...anything that I can do."
"When you have a new guy, all you're hoping for is
that he helps your team win," said Coach Cronin."Titus has great talent and great athleticism
- he has a lot to learn on the defensive end, but he's a veteran guy coming out
of junior college.He was on a winning
team and had a really good coach in Tra Arnold, so I think he has some
advantages because he does have some basketball acumen.
"The key is going to be to get him in shape so that
he can play at the speed that games are played at in the Big East. And then make sure that he's letting the game
come to him and get him sound on the defensive end."
Rubles, who goes by the nickname T-Rub, is the
youngest of five children and was born and raised in Dallas, TX where he
idolized one of Cincinnati's all-time best players.
"I'm a big Kenyon Martin fan," said Rubles."He used to be my favorite player and still
is one of my favorites, but LeBron James is on top.I've been #4 since I was a little kid, but
(Kenyon's) number is retired here and you've got to respect that.I'm going to be #2 instead.That's a family number - one of my older brothers
wore that and he really liked it."
But seeing Kenyon's retired jersey on the wall of
Fifth Third Arena was not what impressed Rubles on his recruiting visit.It was the atmosphere in the building as he
watched the Bearcats beat Notre Dame 71-55.
"What stood out was the crowd," said Rubles."When I saw how into the game they were and
how many people were there, it was really like a done deal."
"I tell people all the time, when recruits come to a
home game and it's a packed house and the crowd is a factor in the game, that's
impressive to kids," said Coach Cronin."People
say, 'Coach we need to recruit this guy or that guy.'Well, if we sellout Fifth Third Arena every
game, recruiting becomes a lot easier."
Titus Rubles - and his Twitter handle - are proof of
When linebacker Jeff Luc was still in high school,
the parade of coaches that came to visit him in Port St. Lucie, Florida was a "Who's
Who" of head coaches and assistants from several of the top college programs in
"Pete Carroll and Ken Norton (USC)," recalled
Luc."Jimbo Fisher and James Coley
(Florida State).Bobby Williams from
Alabama.Lane Kiffin from Tennessee.Coaches from the University of Miami.My parents had to change our home phone
number because schools used to call like crazy.
"I still have the mail in my old room.If I had to estimate, I would probably say
well over 1,000 pieces of mail and that's no lie.I guess it will be something to show my kids
someday.It was a lot of pressure, but
there are pros and cons to everything.I
enjoyed the experience and I think it was a blessing from God that I got to
have that opportunity."
Luc, a First Team USA Today All-American who was rated as the top middle linebacker
recruit in the country by Rivals, eventually signed with Florida State.But after battling injuries and seeing
limited playing time in two years with the Seminoles, Luc decided to transfer.
"When I first got my release, I didn't really want
to talk to any reporters because no matter what I said about the situation,
somebody would have taken it the wrong way," Luc told me."I guess I didn't fit their scheme or wasn't
what they were looking for, but it wasn't anything personal.I can still call the coach and see how they're
doing.I was a good kid and that's why
they didn't take it personally.It was
Fortunately for Cincinnati, another coach that had visited
Jeff at Treasure Coast H.S. was John Jancek when he was the linebackers coach
at Georgia.John is now the co-defensive
coordinator under Butch Jones at UC, giving the Bearcats a foot in the door when Luc elected to transfer.
"Coach Jancek has been recruiting me since high
school and he's a good guy," said Luc."I'd
love to play for him.That was a huge
part of it."
The Jancek connection helped, and Luc says that the program's "family atmosphere" convinced him to make Cincinnati his new home.
"I saw what kind of guys Coach Jones and Coach
Jancek were," said Luc."When they were
recruiting me, they talked about how it's a family - everybody talks about that
but Cincinnati really showed it.It
feels like home.Everybody has taken
care of me and they're helping me out with everything that I need.Basically, they've welcomed me into the
"When he decided to transfer, the recruiting process
started all over again and we were competing against high-profile institutions,"
said head coach Butch Jones."At the end
of the day, what it proves is that we're recruiting on a national stage and
people want to come here.They want to
be a part of our football family.They
can feel the excitement, they can see the vision, and I really believe that we
have a tremendous product to sell."
Luc is 6'1", 245 pounds and says he's been timed at
4.6 in the 40 yard dash.Jeff has
already enrolled at Cincinnati and is taking part in summer workouts.He'll redshirt this season and then have two years
of eligibility remaining.
"To tell you the truth, I wanted to redshirt," said
Luc."I think it's going to make me a
lot better by helping me pick up the scheme.I think it's going to make me a better person as well by being patient
and knowing that everything happens for a reason."
"He'll have a full year without any pressure to come
in and play right away and that will allow him to fully develop," said Coach
Jones."We lose some linebackers after
this year, so to have an individual who has experience, who has been in a
big-time program, and who understands everything that goes into playing at a
high-profile institution - I'm encouraged that we're going to have him the
Luc will become one of the most highly-touted
recruits to ever play for Cincinnati, but does he expect to be the starting
middle linebacker in 2013?
"I'm not going to say that I see myself as the
starting middle linebacker - that's really up to the coaches," said Luc."I see myself as someone who is going to help
this program and give them what they're looking for in me."
"We're really excited about this young man," said
Coach Jones."I think he has a hunger to
prove himself and is very, very driven.Even though he can't play this year, he'll be on the scout teams and
will work on his craft each and every day."
"I want to help motivate the team and be some type
of leader," Luc told me."I came out of
high school with that 'big time' label, but I just want to win to tell you the
truth.I want to help out as much as I
In 1995 as one of the broadcasters for the Toronto
Blue Jays Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse, NY, I got to know a young man who had
chosen to play pro baseball even though he had been one of the most highly-recruited
high school quarterbacks in the country.After batting .248 in six minor league seasons, the kid decided to give
football a try and enrolled in college at the age of 25.
It turned out to be a wise decision as Chris Weinke
won a Heisman Trophy at Florida State, led the Seminoles to a National
Championship, and spent seven years in the NFL.
Which leads us to UC newcomer Braxton Lane.
After spending three years as a minor league
outfielder, the speedy wide receiver has made the switch to football and recently
enrolled at Cincinnati.
"He's got a confidence about himself and an aura,"
said head coach Butch Jones."He's very
intense, focused, and goal-oriented.He
knows what he wants and I see that hunger and drive.I'm excited because when you have an
individual that has those characteristics, he is going to have great success."
After catching 55 passes for 1,072 yards and 11
touchdowns as a high school junior, Scout.com ranked Lane as the #20 wide
receiver recruit in the country.After
taking visits to Florida, Georgia, and Auburn, Braxton signed a letter of
intent to play college football at Oregon.
But after being selected in the 7th round
of the 2009 MLB draft by the Texas Rangers, Lane received a six-figure signing
bonus and elected to pursue a baseball career.
"Getting selected in the baseball draft was great
for me and getting a chance to play professionally was definitely a dream of
mine," Lane told me."But I don't know
if I would say that baseball was my first love.I always thought that I was a better football player.Baseball was a sport that I enjoyed playing,
but one that I really had to work on to get better.Football was more of a natural sport for me."
Lane excelled in both sports at Sandy Creek High
School in Tyrone, GA - the same school that fellow Bearcat receiver Alex Chisum
attended.That connection proved to be
significant when Braxton decided to drop baseball for football.
"I talked to Alex when I came out here about the
environment and the family atmosphere," said Lane."He loves every bit of it and shared all of
his experiences with me.He was just as
big of a recruiter with me as Coach Jones and (wide receivers) Coach T.J. Weist.He was definitely a big part of me coming
"We have a great relationship with Chip Walker, the
head football coach at Sandy Creek, and Alex Chisum is having a great
experience here -- not only in football but socially and academically as well,"
said Coach Jones."They are big
supporters of our program so when Braxton started thinking about making the
switch from baseball to football, we were contacted by them.We had known of him from back in the day when
he had originally signed with Oregon."
Coming out of high school, Lane was considered one
of the fastest receivers in the country after reportedly being timed at 4.31 in
the 40-yard dash.Braxton says that he
hasn't lost any speed.
"The main thing about football is using your hips
more," Lane told me."Baseball is really
a straight line sport, so now I'm really working on loosening up my hips and
getting my side-to-side motion back.But
I definitely still have my speed."
After spending last summer playing for the Class A
Hickory Crawdads and Spokane Indians, Lane is excited to be a Cincinnati
"Playing in the minor leagues for three years with
the Texas Rangers was definitely a great time, but coming here there's a sense
of family - Coach Jones and the whole staff really made me feel at home on my
visit," said Lane."Once I got on campus
I knew that this was the place for me."
"I know this - he is of the utmost character and I
love his maturity," said Coach Jones."He
may be the oldest freshman in America.I
think when you look at his previous experiences and the maturity level that he
brings, it's a great fit and we're really excited about him."
"I'm 21, so if I hadn't played pro baseball I'd be going
into my senior season right now," said Lane."I think it definitely helps with the maturity aspect.Me being on my own and learning to manage my
finances, finding a place to live, meshing with people of different backgrounds...I
think that helps me coming to a big school like UC where I'll have to juggle
classes and different football activities."
How quickly could he have an impact on the field?
"We'll know more when we go to training camp, but
from a maturity standpoint, we would anticipate him competing for playing time
this year," said Coach Jones."Just
based off of his character, his competitive drive, and his makeup, we
anticipate him playing this year."
"My goal is to come in and work hard every day and
do anything that I can to help the team this fall," said Lane."Whether that's special teams or offense -
whatever I can do to help is my goal.
"He seems like he's going to work really hard," said
freshman receiver Chris Moore."He's an
athlete and had offers from everywhere.I can't wait to see him on the field in pads."
Looking for a sleeper to emerge as a budding
standout on the UC football team this year?
My pick is wide receiver Chris Moore.
OK, maybe "sleeper" is the wrong word.After all, Moore was a Parade
All-American two years ago at Jefferson High School in Tampa, FL.But after redshirting as a UC freshman due to
a shoulder injury, the 19-year-old receiver figures that he is not well-known
by Bearcat fans - at least not yet.
"I want this to be a breakout year for me and show
the fans that I can make exciting plays for them for the next four years,"
Moore told me.
Moore's high school stats look like a misprint.As a senior in 2010, Chris had 49 receptions
for 1,572 yards - an incredible average of 32.1 yards per catch.After receiving scholarship offers from
numerous BCS programs, Moore did his homework before electing to attend
"My mom told me that I needed to make a spreadsheet,"
said Moore."She said she wasn't going
to help me because she didn't want to persuade me to go to certain places - she
wanted the decision to be mine.So she
told me to make a spreadsheet and figure out the best school.
"I did a lot of research:Passing yards, the quarterbacks, the
receivers, what the coaches did at other schools, whether they had indoor
facilities.I had a spreadsheet of stuff
about every school that recruited me and everything seemed to fit at UC."
Now Chris is looking to prove that he's a good fit
in Cincinnati's offense.In the spring
practices that I attended this year, Moore made several long touchdown catches
from Munchie Legaux and Brendon Kay.
"You can see the ability," said head coach Butch
Jones."He can play the ball
exceptionally well in the air.It's a
great knack that he has and he runs extremely well.Now it's just refining the little nuances
that go into playing receiver on every down."
"I'm trying to get better at my route running and
I'm trying to get bigger and stronger so that I can take hits without getting
hurt again," said Moore."Right now I'm
192 pounds which is a big improvement.When I came in I was 170, so they've put the weight on me, now I just
have to keep it on."
Moore broke his collarbone in the state championship
game as a high school senior and then had to redshirt last year after suffering
the same injury in preseason camp.
"I'm kind of happy that I didn't play because I got
to learn from everybody else and I still have four more years," said
Moore."Now I feel like I have a good
chance of getting on the field and making plays for this team."
"Don't forget; he was a true freshman this year so
there is a lot of room for growth - physically, mentally, and from a technique
standpoint," said offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian."What is obvious is his ability to catch the
ball and his athleticism.For him, it's
the little things and the mental part of the game - the mental toughness of
overcoming adversity and the challenges that you face on a play-to-play basis."
Chris admits that he had some growing up to do after
arriving at UC.
"At first, it was a little bumpy but I'm getting
there," Moore told me."Just being on
your own is a different experience.I'm
used to my mom waking me up and stuff like that, and you have to learn to do
things yourself.I'm getting better at
it every day."
And that's an exciting prospect for the Bearcat
"The natural ability is there," said Bajakian."He could be as good as he wants to be.It's truly one of those situations where if
he puts his mind to it, he can be an outstanding weapon."
This year, members of the UC football family will
wear wristbands that feature the words "Sign Your Name."
"That's a thing that we've adopted going into 2012,"
said head coach Butch Jones."What does
your name stand for?Every time that we
have a workout, they sign their name to it.It's about all of our names coming together as one.The kids have really adopted that and bought
into signing their name to excellence on a day-to-day basis."
Coach Jones is always looking for unique ways to
motivate his players.The "Sign Your
Name" theme is a simple reminder that every member of the team is accountable
for his actions on-and-off the field.
"Every team is different and forms a new identity,"
Coach Jones told me."We have a lot of
players that are going to be in roles that they've never had before and
everyone is accountable for their day-to-day progress.All you have is your name, and what does your
name stand for?At the end of the day,
you are judged by that in your productivity and your life."
Last year's theme was "Be A Champion" as Coach Jones
constantly reminded the players that in order to win a championship, they had
to had to be champions on the practice field, in the classroom, and in the
community.The season ended with a share
of the Big East title and a victory in the Liberty Bowl.As a result, the phrase "Be A Champion" is
inscribed on one side of their championship rings.
"Before we could dream about being a championship
football team, our team had to be comprised of individual champions," said
Jones."The way we conducted ourselves,
the way we won in the classroom, our practice habits, our personal habits -
everything.Our players really bought
into that and I think it speaks volumes that that team was a championship
With the school year ending and graduation
ceremonies set for this weekend, the Bearcats will get a short break from
training before returning to campus for summer workouts.The coaching staff, on the other hand, started
The Butch Jones Football Camps this week which
are a critical part of the recruiting process.
"We'll probably bring about 5,000 prospective
student-athletes to Cincinnati and to our campus over the next couple of weeks,"
said Coach Jones."It can go anywhere
from three to five thousand.From
unofficial visits to one-day campers to three-day campers to quarterback camp
to specialist camp...it will be non-stop.
"Out of all of (last year's) signees, all of them
had visited our campus prior to their official visit.The next couple of weeks through the month of
June will be critical for evaluating prospective student-athletes and getting
them here on campus and selling them on the many things we have to offer."
The coaches will finally get a brief break in July
before gearing up for the start of training camp at Camp Higher Ground in West
Harrison, Indiana on August 7th.The season begins with a Big East home game against Pittsburgh on
Thursday, September 6th.
"We have to be able to start fast," said Jones."That's why the sense of urgency was at an all-time
high in spring football.When we go to
Camp Higher Ground, we have to have a great foundation and a great base of what
we were able to do in the summer.Our
players understand what's at stake.As a
coach, I'm already worried about the little nuances of playing your first
game.When you look at starting the
season off with a talented Big East opponent in Pittsburgh and then Virginia
Tech (in week three), we have to have a great level of consistency day-in and
day-out, starting in the summer."