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MRI Provides Good News For Wright

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If you watched Oprah Winfrey's big interview with Lance Armstrong on Thursday night, it began with a series of yes/no questions in which Armstrong finally admitted using performance enhancing drugs in all seven of his Tour de France wins.

At the exact same time as the Oprah/Lance interview aired on TV, I was asking Mick Cronin a few yes/no questions on his radio show about Cashmere Wright's knee injury and status for the Marquette game.

Question:  Will Cashmere play on Saturday night?

Coach Cronin:  He's day-to-day.  That's my status by the way.  That's the life of a coach - day-to-day.

Question:  Did Cashmere have an MRI on Wednesday?

Coach Cronin:  Yes.

Question:  Is there any structural damage?

Coach Cronin:  No.

The fact that there is no structural damage is the key piece of information.  Let's face it, when Wright was helped off the court in agony on Tuesday after scoring 20 points and dishing out 7 assists in just 22 minutes of playing time, it was impossible not to fear the worst.

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"He was headed for an easy 30 (points) and 10 assists which is complete domination of a game," said Cronin.  "You don't want to see him - or any player - go down, but especially him after what he's been through.  And then factor in that he's playing the best basketball of his career.  For him, (a serious injury) would be tragic, so it was great news that his MRI was negative."

Ironically, Wright's most recent injury was to his "good knee."  He's had three surgical procedures on his left knee after tearing his ACL as a freshman, but sprained his right knee against DePaul.  Fortunately, it didn't take long for Cashmere to realize that it wasn't as serious as his previous injuries.

"He went out at the 15:20 mark, and at the next time-out, I look up and he's standing in the huddle and he's giving me the eye like he wants to go back in the game," said Cronin.  "I would say that it scared him more than anything."

To make matters worse, Wright was not the only Bearcat to suffer an injury in the game.  In the first half, Justin Jackson was taken to the locker room with an injured wrist.  X-rays were negative and Jackson returned to action with his wrist heavily taped.

Wright and Jackson did not do much at practice on Thursday and Cronin says he'll be cautious in determining if either player will be allowed to take court the court on Saturday.

"It's a long year and we have a lot of games left," said Cronin.  "Hopefully, we'll have a lot of games in March, so I can tell you that I'm not going to take a risk now for no reason.

"(Cashmere) probably wouldn't have practiced much anyway to be honest with you.  From here on out with our major minute guys, we don't need to practice a whole lot.  Full-speed practice is not much more than an hour, the rest of it would be teaching points, scouting report, shooting, and individual work.  That's something that I believe in a lot, and obviously with Cashmere, he's had some injuries.

"It's a little bit different with Justin.  He's got a sprained wrist and he's stiff.  He's another veteran guy that doesn't need a lot of practice.  So we'll see how he feels.  It's his right wrist so that's an issue for free throws, not that he's shooting a lot of jump shots.  But again, you're not going to risk March for January."

Since Jackson was able to return to the court after his wrist injury on Tuesday, it seems logical to expect him to play against Marquette.

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As for Wright, Coach Cronin loves to quote the end of Rambo: First Blood Part II when Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) tries to comfort John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) before Stallone's character walks off into the distance as the credits roll.

Colonel Trautman:  How will you live John?

Rambo:  Day-by-day.

Cronin told reporters that he was "Bill Belichick-ing" them - or not saying much - on all injury-related questions on Thursday, but it appears that Wright's status is truly TBA for the upcoming games against Marquette and Syracuse.

"We'll see how he feels on Friday...and Saturday...and Sunday," said Cronin.  "Seriously, I'm not trying to be funny, he is day-to-day."

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

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Sanders Providing Scoring Boost Off Bench

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At the end of one of my basketball seasons as a kid, I was presented with a trophy that read as follows:  "Most Likely To Think It Was A Good Shot."

In other words, I wasn't shy about letting it fly - despite the fact that I was a mediocre (at best) shooter.

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UC sophomore Jermaine Sanders, on the other hand, has an excellent shooting stroke, but sometimes has to be pushed by his teammates to fire away.

"They always tell me to shoot," Jermaine told me.  "At the beginning of the season I wasn't really shooting that much and they would get on me and tell me that they needed me to shoot in order for us to win."

While the former Rice (NY) High School star hasn't exactly morphed into a gunner, Sanders is starting to provide a nice offensive lift off of the Bearcats bench.  In his last three games, Jermaine is averaging 6.3 points in roughly 16 minutes of playing time.  During that stretch, he's made 7-of-13 shots (54%), including 3-of-8 three-pointers.

"He's more comfortable on offense and you can see his confidence growing," said head coach Mick Cronin.  "He has the courage to take the open shot." 

"I'm becoming more confident in what I can do," said Sanders. 

Part of that confidence stems from a more athletic physique.  Under the direction of new strength and conditioning coach Mike Rehfeldt, Sanders dropped 11 pounds over the summer and increased his no-step vertical leap by 3.5 inches.

"It makes me feel great about my game," said Sanders.  "I can move quicker on defense, jump higher to get rebounds, and run the floor well.  And I can still knock down shots at the end of the game because I'm in great condition."

"He's in better shape and he's more competitive," said Coach Cronin.  "I think his intensity level is getting better each night out and that's allowing him to be more effective."

Before closing its doors due to financial difficulties in 2011, Rice H.S. in Harlem produced a "Who's Who" list of Big East basketball talent including Felipe Lopez (St. John's), Edgar Sosa (Louisville), Kemba Walker (UConn), and former Bearcat Kenny Satterfield.  Sanders was clearly well-coached there by Moe Hicks (now part of the St. John's staff) and displays a high basketball I.Q.  He's also one of the best passers on the Bearcat roster, ranking third on the team in assists-per-minute.     

"I've always been able to pass and see the floor well," said Sanders.  "Since I'm taller (6'5"), I can see over defenders and make a good pass.  That really comes naturally to me.  I'm really not that athletic, but I see the game better than most people." 

Over the last three games, Sanders has the same number of three-pointers as assists.  So, which of the two would he rather have?

"A '3'...but I like assists too," Jermaine said with a laugh.

This former gunner can identify.

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Cronin Deserves Credit For Rebuilding Bearcats

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Last year after the Bearcats' thrilling road win at Villanova, a woman stopped Mick Cronin on his way to the team bus.  It was the mother of one of the 'Nova players and she told Mick how much she appreciated his postgame comments after the Xavier brawl.

A few weeks later, a few of us were having dinner with Coach Cronin during the NCAA tournament when a similar thing happened.  This time it was a man who identified himself as a Musketeers fan and he praised Mick for the same thing.

I bring this up now because the Bearcats have dropped three of their last four games and I haven't received a single e-mail criticizing Coach Cronin.  It's my belief that the way he handled himself after last year's Xavier game caused many people to look at Mick in a different light and reconsider what he's accomplished as Cincinnati's head coach.

"I don't know because I'm not sure how people look at me," Mick said when I asked if he agreed.  "You know me really well, and I'm concerned with being a great father, a great friend, a good brother, and a good son, but most importantly a great father.  (My daughter) Sammy's opinion of me is the one that matters most."

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Of course, the key for any coach to win over fans is to win games.  Cincinnati has increased or equaled its win total in each of the last five seasons, made it to the Big East Tournament championship game for the first time last year, and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2001.

Simply put, Mick Cronin has successfully rebuilt Bearcat basketball.

"We had to rebuild a winning culture," said Cronin.  "Now the expectation of winning is there and the players are willing to listen, practice appropriately, and give the required effort - I don't like to say extra effort - the required effort that it takes to win games." 

After starting this season 12-0 and climbing into the Top 10 for the first time since the 2003-04 season, the Bearcats have stumbled over the last two weeks in home losses to New Mexico, St. John's, and Notre Dame.  Scoring was a problem in all three defeats as Cincinnati averaged 55.3 points. 

"Offensively, we're just leaving too much on the table," said Cronin.  "We had seven second half turnovers (against Notre Dame) and they were all unforced.  We shot over 50% in the second half, but we didn't get enough shots off.  We have to get 'tighter' on offense and the guy with the ball has to slow down so he can make a play.  Whether it's a simple ball reversal, making an assist, or putting the ball in the basket - when we slow down we're fine."

It would obviously help if Cincinnati had a reliable low post scorer.

"Would it be nice to have some guy down low that's a monster that we could throw it to?  Sure, but that's an easy excuse," Mick told me.  "We just have to do a better job of moving the basketball.  The key to making shots is taking easy ones.  I need to do a better job of coaching our guys so that our passing improves.  As our passing improves, we'll make plenty of shots."

Additionally, the Bearcats need to get more offense out of their defense.  Last year in a 71-55 win over Notre Dame, the 'Cats had 11 steals.  In Monday's 66-60 loss, UC only managed two steals and 21 deflections (UC's goal is 40).

"We're constructed to play in the passing lanes, run up and down, and stay on the attack," said Cronin.  "We need to be on the attack.  The key for us is to get into transition."

At one point last year, the Bearcats lost three straight Big East games to fall to 5-4 in league play.  After that, they did not lose back-to-back games for the rest of the season. 

There are at least 16 games remaining this season, and Cronin and the 'Cats will look to get back on the winning track on Saturday at Rutgers.    

"When you're coaching basketball, it's never as bad as it seems when your team is struggling and it's never as good as it seems when your team is winning - that's why you have to watch the film and evaluate," Mick told me.

"They don't give away wins in this league.  We have to take it as a learning experience and do what we have to do to get better."

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"We Will Survive And Thrive"

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While it's obviously not ideal to lose a football coach every three years, it is just as clear that it's not the end of the world for Bearcat football.

I am genuinely happy for Butch Jones.  I know that he and his family loved it here, and that it was difficult for him to leave administrators, boosters, fans, and friends that treated him well.  Most of all, it was hard for him to leave his players.  But having just played a road game at Tennessee last season, I can certainly understand why he took the job.  The football facilities are palatial and he'll have anything and everything he needs to try to win SEC championships (with the notable exception of imminent retirement plans for Nick Saban or Les Miles).

I hope that Butch is the third straight former UC coach to make us proud at his next stop.  Mark Dantonio is 50-28 at Michigan State and going to a bowl game for the sixth straight year.  Brian Kelly is about to play for a national championship at Notre Dame.  Cincinnati's oldest football rival claims the title of "The Cradle of Coaches," but in the last decade, UC deserves that nickname.

The last three coaches have all left the program better than they found it.  Mark Dantonio came in and laid infrastructure, methodically building a BCS-level program.  Brian Kelly energized the fan base like never before and taught us that anything - including competing for national titles - is possible at UC.  Butch Jones proved that the Kelly era wasn't a fluke, and devoted every ounce of his energy toward making the school as appealing as possible to recruits.

They deserve kudos for Cincinnati's success over the last nine years, but you know what?  UC deserves a ton of credit for their success too.  It's a program located in a high school football hotbed that can go to major bowl games by winning conference titles.  It also comes with a salary of more than a million dollars a year in a great place to live.  I know of several impressive candidates that have already expressed interest in the job (and no, I am not at liberty to share names).      

"Anytime that you make a hire of this magnitude it's pretty darn important, but we're not intimidated by it," said athletic director Whit Babcock.  "We have a heck of a job, a heck of a track record, and a state that's tremendous to recruit in.  We have proven success in winning titles, we have a plan for facilities, and my goodness, if you look at the last three coaches - there's a little pressure to produce on that level - but we'll get a good coach.  We've already received a lot of interest and we've been prepared for it.

"I wouldn't be doing my job as an AD if we weren't prepared.  Since August, a small number of us have been working on potential coach replacements.  We've added people to the list, we've taken some off, and we've followed their progression throughout the season. We are prepared, and we will get a great coach."

I thought that Whit's performance at Friday's news conference was the best I've ever seen under similar circumstances and I hope that Bearcat fans share my confidence that he and President Santa Ono are doing what is necessary to put the Cincinnati athletic department in the best possible position to thrive in the future.

"I'm disappointed today because Butch Jones was a good friend and we lost a good coach," said prominent UC supporter Larry Sheakley.  "But if I can make a statement as a booster, I'm confident that this University and the athletic director did everything in their power to keep him.  Everything.  And they're doing everything that they can to get us where we need to be."

One of those things was briefly mentioned in the news conference - a plan of action for improving Nippert Stadium that will be announced in the near future.

"You'll have to wait," said Babcock.  "I would rather that (announcement) be a celebration than what today is about.  I think it's an exciting vision."

Whit ended his news conference with a call to action for Bearcat fans.  If you want to see this program continue to grow, you can make a difference by supporting the 11th-ranked basketball team and by traveling to the Belk Bowl on December 27th in Charlotte.

"Quite frankly, if every fan that had e-mailed me, texted me, called me, and Tweeted at me about Butch or the next head coach had bought a ticket, we would have sold our allotment out two times over," said Babcock.

If you can't make the trip, you can show your support for as little as $50 by purchasing and donating Belk Bowl tickets here.

"We have a promotion called 'One Team, One Ticket ' and that's for people that cannot go to a bowl game but want to buy a ticket - at least one - and donate them back to us," said Babcock.  "We'll put them to good use.  If you want to step up to the plate today and make a statement to the nation that we're about more than a coach, that is a great action step to take."

The search for a new coach has started, but the momentum generated by the last three isn't about to stop.

"Hiring good coaches is absolutely critical to our success, but we're bigger than any one individual," said Babcock.  "We'll survive and we'll thrive."

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

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My Take On The Big East And Butch Jones

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Last Wednesday, there was a headline in the Cincinnati Enquirer that read "UC Still Stuck In Big East."

As a friend of mine pointed out, "Can you imagine how ridiculous that would have sounded a few years ago?"

For the past week, I've listened to talk show hosts and fans moan and groan about the state of UC athletics.  Whether it's conference realignment or the possibility of losing Butch Jones, there seems to be an overwhelming sense of doom and gloom.

I don't share that pessimism.

Let's start with the conference situation.  I haven't heard a single so-called expert express the opinion that this high-stakes game of musical chairs is finished.

"Conference realignment is not over," said Mick Cronin.  "It's far from over."

If and when the next shift occurs, UConn and Cincinnati appear to be on the top of the list to move to the ACC if any current members follow Maryland's lead and bolt for more money elsewhere.  Until then, UC will continue to polish its "resume" in athletics and academics.       

"We're very fortunate to have two individuals in President Ono and Whit Babcock leading our university and our athletic department," said Coach Jones.  "They've been extremely proactive.  They have set us up to be very successful whether it's now or in the future and they continue to work on it.  I know that they are working to make the University of Cincinnati the best place possible and I can tell you this - we are in great hands with their leadership."

In the meantime, is the Big East really that bad in the short term?

Assuming that Louisville and Rutgers remain in the league for another year, the Big East next season will lose Syracuse and Pitt but add Boise State, Central Florida (and others) in football.  The winner of the league will get a BCS Bowl bid in the final year of the current system and Cincinnati should be among the favorites to win it.

If Cincinnati is in the Big East in 2014, it will still have the opportunity to claim a spot in one of the six major bowls since the new system guarantees a bid to at least one team outside of the so-called "Power Five" conferences.  You could make the argument that the Bearcats will have a better chance to go to one of those bowls than the schools that have left the Big East because of the competition that UC will face.  Do you see Rutgers winning the Big Ten anytime soon?

Yes, Big East football will have a strong Conference USA flavor at that point, but with a major difference from when UC was in C-USA.  Back then, the grand prize for a conference championship was a trip to the Liberty Bowl.  The Big East champ will not face the same limitation. 

In basketball, the Big East would still have Cincinnati, UConn, Georgetown, Marquette, Memphis, Temple, Villanova (and others).  It would no longer be the deepest conference in the country, but it would still be one of the best. 

"Cincinnati basketball is big time - it always has been and always will be," said Coach Cronin.  "We're going to end up in a great league whether it is the Big East with the remaining teams that are tradition-rich basketball schools or somewhere else.  It's not something that I really worry about too much.  I'm more worried about things that we can control here at Cincinnati with our own University such as our support, budget, and facilities."

As for Butch Jones, I think he is a great coach and a better person and I hope that he stays at Cincinnati.  I think he has devoted every ounce of energy that he has toward building a great future for Bearcat football.  If he leaves he'll be sorely missed, but the program will be much stronger than the one he inherited.

If Whit Babcock has to hire a new coach, there will be no shortage of qualified candidates.  When Cincinnati hired Brian Kelly, the other people that interviewed for the job included John Harbaugh, Hue Jackson, and Bo Pelini.  I hope that it isn't necessary, but I have no doubt that Cincinnati can find another outstanding coach.

Our basketball team is currently ranked 11th in the country.  Our football team just won a share of its fourth conference title in five years and is headed to a great bowl game (that I hope you will attend).

The glass is half full.

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

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Bearcats Add Talented Trio In Early Signing Period

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After back-to-back 26 win seasons, an appearance in the Big East Tournament final, and a trip to the Sweet 16, is recruiting getting easier for UC head coach Mick Cronin?

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"It never gets easier to recruit," said Cronin.  "You do become more popular the more you win and you get on TV more.  So I have better name recognition because that's the guy they see on TV and our program is winning.  It definitely has an effect, but at the same time, it's still hard.  Recruiting is the toughest thing we do.  It's the hardest part of the job for any coach - there's no question about it."

Today the hard work paid off for Coach Cronin and his staff as three high school standouts faxed in letters of intent to the University of Cincinnati on the first day of the early signing period.

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Troy Caupain, a 6'3" guard from Cosby High School in Midlothian, VA verbally committed to UC in June after averaging 26 points, 12.9 rebounds, and 8 assists as a junior last year.

"Troy is a huge recruit for us," said Cronin.  "He's a 6'3" point guard and he's 16-year-old on signing day.  He's going to turn 17 in a couple of weeks.  He's got something that you can't teach - the gift of vision.  He finds the open man and has great leadership skill.  He's a true quarterback and it's natural for him to talk on the floor - I won't have to coach that with him.  And he can beat his man.  More importantly, when he beats his man off of the dribble, he finds the open man and he's a willing passer.  He's a big-time recruit for us."

This year's class also includes a local recruit in Summit Country Day's Kevin Johnson.

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"I usually don't mention that he's local because I don't want people to think that we recruited Kevin Johnson only because he is from Cincinnati," said Cronin.  "That would be patently false.  We've passed on some guys that are from Cincinnati because maybe they weren't the right fit for us and Kevin is the right fit.  He grew up within miles of our campus, he is a great kid, and we are fortunate to have him."

Johnson is a 6'1" guard who averaged 14.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 2.8 assists last year in helping the Silver Knights capture the Division III state title.   

"He's a guard that can do everything," said Cronin.  "He can score, he can handle the ball, and he can pass.  He's also a winner which goes a long way with me as he led his team to the state championship.  And he's very unselfish - he could shoot a lot more for Summit Country Day than he did last year, but he played within their system and their team was extremely well-coached.  And he's got great upside.  Kevin is a 17-year-old senior and won't turn 18 until next summer.  He's a long guard and can do a lot of things."

Cincinnati added a post player in Jamaree Strickland who hails from Oakland, California.

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"Even though he's from California, he grew up a Bearcat fan," said Cronin.  "That worked in our favor.  We didn't know that until we contacted him and his father couldn't have been more excited.  You would have thought we were the hometown school."

Strickland was one of the top-rated big men in California when he suffered a knee injury in 10th grade that required surgery and wiped out his junior year.  A second surgical procedure caused him to miss all but two games of his senior year.

But Jamaree is no longer wearing a knee brace and is spending this season playing for Queen City Prep in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

"Jamaree didn't start playing without his knee brace until the fall, and everybody that saw him offered him a scholarship," said Cronin.  "He's left-handed; he's 6'9 ½" or 6'10" and has great hands and a soft touch.  He can score.  Most big guys can do one of two things - they are either a shot blocker or they can score.  Jamaree can score and is a very comfortable offensive player.  He has range on his jump shot, and has a nice jump hook and a soft touch.  We're going to have to get his body together because he's been out, but he's lost weight and that's why he's come on so much after he got his knee brace off.  Once we get him in shape, he has a chance to be a great player for us."

Cincinnati still has one scholarship available.

"That's by design," Mick told me.  "When you get your program on solid footing you're not desperate so you don't have to just take guys and hope for the best because you need bodies.  When you're in a good position you can confidently say, 'We have 11 or 12 players and that's enough.'  Then you have a scholarship available when things happen.  For instance, we have one available now.  So second semester, if a very good player wanted to transfer here over the Christmas break, we could take him.  If that doesn't happen, then Alex Eppensteiner will get to use it in the second semester.  I would definitely rather have a scholarship than take a chance on a guy that you're not really sure about."

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Kay Savors Win After Long Wait

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Before Saturday's 34-10 win at Temple, the last time that quarterback Brendon Kay started a game was November 24, 2007 when he led Marine City (MI) High School to a state title at Ford Field in Detroit.

That's a Rip Van Winkle-like 1,813 days between starts.

So was the fifth-year senior able to sleep the night before his first start as a Bearcat?

"Not really," Brendon told me with a laugh.  "I'll be honest with you - I didn't."

Imagine what he'll do with a good night's rest.

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After coming off the bench last week to help rally the Bearcats to a win over Syracuse, Kay left no doubt who the starting quarterback will be next week against Rutgers, completing 13-of-21 passes for 244 yards and 2 touchdowns, while running for an additional 71 yards on 7 carries.  He even caught one of his own passes for a five yard gain when it ricocheted off of a Temple defender.

"It was awesome to be out there," said Kay.  "You prepare all week like you're the starter, but when you hear that you are, your mentality changes a little bit.  When you get the opportunity you have to take advantage of it." 

"I'm proud of him," said wide receiver Anthony McClung.  "This is what everybody dreams of.  He's been the backup all season and now that he got his opportunity, he came through for us.  I told him, 'It's not like you've never done this before.'"

Kay was especially impressive throwing the deep ball as he tossed a 75-yard TD pass to Kenbrell Thompkins and a 65-yard TD to Chris Moore.

"That pass to me was right on the money," said Moore.  "All I had to was put my hands out and it was right there."

Kay's college career has been slowed by a series of knee injuries that have required him to undergo three surgeries.  That were times where it appeared that his Bearcat career was over.

"That's what makes this even better," Brendon told me.  "All of the people who say 'You can't do it.'  All of the doctors who say, 'I don't think you can come back from this'  When you come out and do it, it's that much more rewarding.

"I'm alright now.  I've put in the time and I feel good."

Due to his multiple knee injuries, Kay hopes to be granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA.

"Right now, all indications are that it's very favorable," said head coach Butch Jones.  "That's something that we'll work on once the season is concluded."

"It's not in my hands so I can't really worry about it," said Kay.  "I'm going to approach these last few games like they're my last."

While there wasn't much of a crowd at Lincoln Financial Field, the spectators did include several members of Kay's family.

"My mom, my grandma, my girlfriend, my dad, and my stepmom were all here," Brendon told me.  "It was awesome to see them out there.  It was pretty emotional.  I saw my dad after the game and he came down and gave me a hug."

After going nearly five years between starts, was it worth the wait?

"Honestly, looking back on it, it goes by quickly," said Kay/  "But it was a long process, so it was definitely rewarding.  I'm going to celebrate for the rest of the day.  Tomorrow I'm going to get to work and start watching film."

After all, he only has seven days to get ready for start number two.

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

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ESPN's Pollack Can Feel Stewart's Pain

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It's impossible for most of us to imagine the anguish that Walter Stewart must have felt when he was informed that a congenital defect in his spine would likely end his football career.

But David Pollack can identify.

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Six years ago in the second game of his second season with the Cincinnati Bengals, Pollack broke his sixth cervical vertebrae while making a tackle.  It ended his NFL career after playing in 16 games.

Pollack met Stewart earlier this season while he was in Cincinnati to broadcast the UC-Pitt game on ESPN, and called the Bearcat senior this week to offer his encouragement.

"I've been through having football being a huge part of your life and then all of the sudden it's gone," Pollack told me.  "That can be extremely tough, so I just wanted to reach out to him and tell him a little bit about my experience.  I wanted to share any words of wisdom - which doesn't come from my mouth very often - or anything that I thought was a big help for me during a time when I needed it."

"They've really bonded and formed a close relationship," said head coach Butch Jones.

"He's a kid that I have a lot of respect for," said Pollack.  "When you see people and the way that they play, I think that tells you a lot about them and he's one of those guys that plays really hard and loves the game." 

By all accounts, Stewart has handled the news of his injury remarkably well.

"I talked to Cincinnati trainer Bob Mangine and he told that he cried when he told Walter the news, but Walter didn't cry," said Pollack.  "He's handled it as well as you can when you get that kind of news."

"He's dealing with it in Walter Stewart fashion - very poised, very calm, very realistic, and just a model of resiliency," said Coach Jones. 

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Stewart had five sacks in five games this season before suffering his injury and was likely to be a high NFL draft pick in April.  But Pollack says it's important not to dwell on what might have been.

"It's always easy to look at a situation like that and see the bad," said Pollack.  "But I think it's extremely important to look at the positive too.  He's in a situation where he can walk, he can move - he's not in a situation as severe as Eric LeGrand or Kevin Everett several years ago - so I think right away you count your blessings.  One thing that kind of gave me hope and clicked in my brain when I was going through my situation is that at some point, there comes a time when you're going to have to hang your cleats up.  That day will come.  Whether it's now or 10, 12, 15 years down the road, it will come.  It's about how you handle it and how you move on."

Over the past several weeks, Stewart has remained an integral part of the Cincinnati football program as he has tried to lead his teammates in the locker room and on the sideline.

"I'm trying to convince him to give coaching a try because I think he can impact lives on a day to day basis," said Coach Jones.  "I think that's his passion, I think he needs to be around the game, and I think he can be an asset to our profession.  When he speaks the kids listen and he has credibility behind him.  I fully anticipate him doing that - if playing football is out - I think you will see him on the sideline with us."

"The most important thing to remember is that life is never going to be perfect," said Pollack.  "It's never going to go exactly how you planned it, and it's always important to know that God never closes one door without opening another one.  Walter is a great kid with great perspective and I think he'll be absolutely fine with whatever comes his way."

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Early Switch Worked Out Well For Cheatham

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Cam Cheatham was a running back and slot receiver at Kalamazoo (MI) Central High School and anticipated having a similar role at the University of Cincinnati.

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On his first day of training camp in 2008 he found out he was being moved to cornerback.

"I was given a black jersey and I was like, 'Man, that's for the defensive players.'" Cheatham told me.  "I thought they might have made a mistake.  I went to the equipment guy and he was like, 'No, that's what you play.  You're with (defensive backs coach) Kerry Coombs.'  I was mad and there were times where I didn't want to play that position, but God always has a plan and it worked out.  I've been a three-year starter and I've played a lot of football." 

Cheatham did get to show off his running back skills recently, when he intercepted a pass against Miami's Zac Dysert and sprinted 68 yards for a touchdown.

"I had flashbacks," said Cheatham.  "It's been a long time since I ran into an open end zone like that."

Cam's "Pick Six" swung the momentum when it appeared that the RedHawks might jump out to an early two touchdown lead.

"It was a great call by (defensive coordinator) John Jancek and I just made a play," said Cheatham.  "Everybody else was doing their job and I was able to reap the benefits and make the big play.  That's all it was."

"I'm really proud of him," said head coach Butch Jones.  "He's really improved his leadership skills and he's really taken ownership in the back end of our defense.  He's been extremely consistent, extremely competitive, and it's a great comfort knowing that you have a corner who can win in man coverage."

Ironically, Coach Jones unsuccessfully tried to recruit Cheatham when he was the head coach at Central Michigan but wound up getting to coach him for three years at Cincinnati.

"It all worked out and I feel very fortunate," said Jones.  "I'm very proud of how far he's come and the improvement that he's made.  Each year you could see him making dramatic improvement and he's well-respected on our football team.  Cam's very polite and quiet and unassuming and then all of a sudden, you put him in some competitive situations and you see another side to him."

In addition to being handed a defensive practice jersey at his first training camp, Cheatham was originally given the #2.  But he was able to change to #21 in honor of his hero Deion Sanders.

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"If you look at it, Deion Sanders is to the cornerback position what Michael Jordan is to basketball," said Cheatham.  "All great cornerbacks come up wanting to wear #21.  He was Prime Time, he had the shoes, he was bouncing around out there, and he was a lock-down corner.  It's on my bucket list to meet him.  He's the best to ever do it."

Deion returned nine interceptions for touchdowns in the NFL and Cheatham has done that twice at UC.  The decision to move him from running back to cornerback proved to be a wise one.

"It worked out perfectly and I'm happy where I'm at," Cam told me.  "I don't know if I would have made it at running back.  We've had some great running backs and I don't know if I could have taken all of those hits."

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Marty First...President Ono Next?

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Santo Ono wants to be like Marty Brennaman.

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No, the University of Cincinnati's Interim President isn't looking to work baseball play-by-play into his busy schedule, but like the Reds' Hall of Fame broadcaster, Dr. Ono is willing to have his head shaved if the Bearcats win 10 consecutive games.

"That is for both football and basketball," Ono told me at halftime of the UC/Virginia Tech game.  "I hope that I lose my hair.  You look pretty good, and if they win 10 games, I'll do it at midfield or in front of the student section.  I'll do whatever I can to encourage the team and the coaches to play at their utmost abilities.  It's not a big deal for me to lose my hair - I think the students love it, and I love the students.  Whatever gets them excited I'm happy to do."

(You can see Dr. Ono pledge to shave his head in the locker room after the dramatic victory over Virginia Tech)


If you're among the thousands of people that follow Dr. Ono on Twitter (@PrezOno), you are well aware of his passion for Bearcat athletics.  In our halftime interview last Saturday, I asked UC's Interim President for his view on the role that athletics play in the mission of the university.

"I think it's incredibly important," said Ono.  "I went to college at the University of Chicago and most recently I was at a D-III school - Emory University - and they're fantastic universities just as the University of Cincinnati is.  But there's nothing like D-I sports to bring a whole community together.  We have 14 outstanding colleges at UC and they have a lot of different identities, but what galvanizes the community and links us to the 250,000 alumni around the globe is Bearcat sports.  I'm slightly enthusiastic about it.  I'm a big fan and I think I've tweeted about 11,000 times and have about 19,000 followers on Twitter and Facebook and I think that's really, really important.  It's one of my primary jobs:  To connect to the community and show how enthusiastic I am about what's going on at the University.  Not only sports, but the tremendous research that's going on and the art, architecture, and music that are all part of Representing the C."


Earlier this year, Dr. Ono took part in a practice of sorts with the football team and caught some passes from Munchie Legaux.  Last Saturday, I asked him to share some thoughts on his relationship with head coach Butch Jones and the job that he is doing.

"Butch Jones, I think, is one of the best football coaches in America," said Ono.  "We really are privileged in athletics right now at UC to have a great athletic director, a great team of coaches, and great head coaches across all of the different sports, but Butch Jones and Mick Cronin, I think, are anchors to our program.  They are people with integrity and they are people that are really committed to Cincinnati.  I love them and I view them as brothers and partners in Bearcat Nation.  We have something really special here.  (Coach Jones) is really important to the University and he and I really cheerlead and back each other.  I was in the locker room before the Bearcats came out and he said to the team, 'Do you have my back?'  I think that everybody knows that I have his back."

He has his coach's back, but if the Bearcats win their next seven games (the three wins to end last season don't count), Dr. Ono won't have his hair.

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

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