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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.

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A Dream Finish For Legaux And Bearcats

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The clock read 1:43, the end zone was 85 yards away, and the Bearcats trailed Virginia Tech 24-20.  Not an ideal set of circumstances unless you're a quarterback with something to prove.

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"You can't ask for a better situation than that," Munchie Legaux told me after the game.  "Down by four, no timeouts - that's what you dream of as a little boy playing in the backyard.  Five, four, three..."

"That's what quarterbacks dream of," said Walter Stewart.  "Being down on the road with two minutes left and you've got to make a play."

The first play of the drive was a 15-yard completion to tight end Travis Kelce taking roughly 10 seconds off the clock.

"Munchie was very calm and very relaxed," said Damon Julien.  "Coach puts us in adverse situations in practice, so we were ready to come out and execute."

After back to back incompletions, a 13-yard scramble by Legaux gave the Bearcats a first down at their 43 yard line with 1:14 to go and the clock running.

"I though he was exceptionally poised all game," said head coach Butch Jones.  "He just had that look in his eye. He had that moxie - that alpha male that we talk about that we want out of our quarterback."

A 4-yard run by Legaux was followed by a 14-yard strike to Anthony McClung, putting the ball at the Virginia Tech 39 yard line with :38 left.

"This is what we do," said Ralph David Abernathy IV.  "Every day Coach Jones and the staff prepare us for this.  We learn how to deal with adversity every day at practice and today I think we showed people that we can do anything when we put our minds to it."

An incomplete pass for Kenbrell Thompkins left :26 to go.  An overthrow for Anthony McClung reduced the time to :20 remaining.

It was third-and-10 at the Hokies 39 yard line. 

"I was talking to Munchie before the game and I said, 'This is your time man.  This is your stage.'" said Stewart.  "He stepped up when he needed to."

After taking a shotgun snap, Legaux dropped back to the 47 yard line and released the ball a split second before being drilled by Hokies defensive end James Gayle.  The pass was intended for Damon Julien who had dropped a possible touchdown pass earlier in the fourth quarter.

"I was a little upset," said Julien.  "The defensive back tipped it and then I tipped it and dropped it.  I hoped that Munchie would come to me again and that's what he did."

"He trusts his wide receivers." said Thompkins.  "Even when we make a bad play, he'll come up to us on the sideline and say, 'I'm coming back to you.'"

In this case, Julien took advantage of his second chance by making a lunging, fingertip catch while sliding across the goal line for the game-winning touchdown with :13 remaining (you can hear the radio call here). 

"I had a couple of big plays in junior college, but this is by far the biggest for me and on the biggest stage," said Julien.  "I'm very grateful for this opportunity."

"Damon Julien man," said Thompkins.  "Great guy, great athlete, and tremendously strong hands."

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Consider it a belated birthday present for Munchie Legaux who turned 21 on Thursday.

"My teammates came up to me and told me that they would have my back no matter what," said Legaux.  "Mistakes, great balls, bad balls - they have my back.  They trust me and I trust those guys."

"Our kids have great belief in our program and each other and I think that showed," said Coach Jones.

"Munchie keeps showing people what kind of player that he is," said Abernathy.  "Every Saturday he steps up and makes plays.  That's our quarterback.  I'm proud of him."

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Legaux Savors Meeting With Brees

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When the New Orleans Saints practiced in Cincinnati for two days last week to avoid problems caused by Hurricane Isaac, the visit had an unexpected benefit for UC quarterback Munchie Legaux.

"I was watching film in meetings and Coach Jones came in all fired up and said, 'What are you doing today?'" Legaux recalled with a grin.  "I told him what I was doing after practice and he said, 'No you're not.  After practice you're going to meet Drew Brees.'  I wasn't going to turn that down."

"He was smiling and saying, 'I met Drew Brees...I met Drew Brees.'" said wide receiver Anthony McClung.  "He said he was a cool, laid-back guy so I guess they're similar to each other because Munchie is the same way."

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Head Coach Butch Jones arranged the meeting through a contact on the Saints coaching staff.

"I'm very thankful to the coaches there that they would allow Munchie to be able to spend some time with him and talk about work ethic and leadership," said Coach Jones.  "But also, just to talk about New Orleans too."

"I introduced myself to him and said that I was from New Orleans and he asked me about my family and if they were OK," said Legaux.

"That was very comforting to him with the hurricane going through New Orleans," said Coach Jones.

Munchie was in eighth grade when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city in 2005.  His family evacuated to Houston for a roughly two months, and they returned there last week when Hurricane Isaac approached.     

"I have an aunt there and my family stayed there for four or five days," said Legaux.  "When they got back to New Orleans the power was back on, and they called me to let me know that everything was OK.  They'll be here on Wednesday for the Pitt game."

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While the Legaux family will be in the stands at Nippert Stadium, Munchie says that Brees will be a spectator too.

"He told me he would be watching the game on Thursday," said Legaux.  "He said that he and his offensive lineman were going to check me out."

Brees also gave Munchie some friendly advice as the Bearcat quarterback gets ready for the first game of his junior season.

"He told me to enjoy the college life," said Legaux.  "Enjoy the fans, the Saturday games, the college atmosphere, the stadiums, the cheerleaders - everything.  He told me to go out and enjoy myself.  I appreciated that he took the time to sit down and talk to me.  For him to spend maybe 10 minutes with me and just to see how I'm doing - I knocked one thing off of my bucket list.

"I'm a huge Saints fan and he's done so much for New Orleans.  He brought us our first championship.  Drew Brees has the key to the city."

And a grateful admirer in Clifton.

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Orr Soars As Bearcats Approach Opener

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There are 65 first- or second-year players on Cincinnati's roster this year.  At times, they are bound to be a little overwhelmed.

"It's like sipping water through a fire hose - everything is flying at you," said head coach Butch Jones.

But several of the least experienced Bearcats will have to play significant roles this year, including cornerback and punt returner Trenier Orr (#2).

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"We expect a lot of our redshirt freshman to play, but if you asked me to pick out one who has stood out above and beyond everyone else, it's Trenier Orr," said Coach Jones.  "He's having a spectacular camp and is pushing Cam Cheatham, Devin Drane, and Dominique Battle each and every day.  It's been great to see."

Ironically, one of the reasons why Orr chose Cincinnati over Illinois and Colorado State is that he didn't think he would have to wait until this year to see action.

"I felt like there was an opportunity to come in and play right away, but Coach Jones thought it was best for me to redshirt and now I understand," Orr told me.  "Last year was rough.  No freshman wants to redshirt but now that I look back on film, I wasn't ready.  I know that I wasn't ready.  I look at my progress now and everything is so much quicker."

Orr needed the redshirt season because he was primarily an offensive player at Ocoee High School near Orlando, Florida. 

"I played quarterback, running back, wide receiver, safety, cornerback, and they gave me a couple of snaps at tight end," said Orr.  "I kind of had the mindset of a receiver because growing up, I usually played receiver.  In my senior year, I barely played defensive back because they had me moving around everywhere."

After practicing at cornerback for a year at Cincinnati, Orr says he is comfortable at the position.

"Everything has gotten better - my footwork and my technique," said Orr.  "I can say that I'm a defensive back now."

"The big thing now is the little nuances and technical details required to play the corner position," said Coach Jones.  "Trenier has the athletic ability and the competitive nature that you want, and we're very excited about him." 

Orr appears to be one of Cincinnati's top three cornerbacks to begin the season, and the coaching staff has targeted him at practice to get him ready to play a key role.

"In our first scrimmage in spring ball, I had four fades thrown on me to test my mental toughness," said Orr.  "Coach Jones said that he was going to come at me in every practice to make me tough.  I got beat sometimes, but I learned to snap-and-clear and do my thing."

"We've told our older wide outs that 'You've got a freshman out there on an island and you need to go after him and take advantage of the situation.'" said Coach Jones.  "I tell you what, he's held his own and more."

"He's a great talent," said defensive coordinator Jon Jancek.  "He hasn't played in a game yet, so we're excited to see what he can do.  He makes freshman mistakes still and has to mature, but with his talent and intangibles, he can be as good as he wants to be."

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In college basketball, athletic seven-footers are hard to come by.

"Usually their last name is Plumlee and they're all on Duke's team," joked UC head coach Mick Cronin.

Mick wasn't able to sign Miles, Mason, or Marshall Plumlee, but for the next two years, 7'1" 230-pound David Nyarsuk will play for the Cincinnati Bearcats.


Nyarsuk spent the last two seasons playing for NAIA powerhouse Mountain State University in Beckley, WV, but the school was stripped of its accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission in mid-July.

"We would have been ranked preseason number one in all of the polls," said former Mountain State head coach Bob Bolen.  "We had 10 players returning from a Final Four team and we signed four players that were ready to come in and play.  David wasn't planning on leaving until all of this happened."

When the word got out that Nyarsuk was available for this season, Division I coaches swooped in.

"I got over 450 calls in 96 hours," Bolen told me in a recent interview on 700 WLW.  "A lot of the calls were about Dave and a 6'9" kid who was a Third Team All-American.  That's who the majority of the calls were about.  They would start at seven in the morning about Dave.  I only made one call for Dave and I called Bob Huggins, who is a really good friend of mine, to see if he needed him or had any scholarships available and he didn't.  From that point, Cincinnati jumped in there quickly and I think it's a good decision for him."

As it turned out, UC assistant coach Larry Davis had a relationship with one of Nyarsuk's high school coaches.  

"Larry Davis was on top of it and did a great job and there was a trust level there," said Coach Cronin.  "I think that what probably separated us from other people was that we told David and his coach that we wanted him.  I think a lot of people were inquiring about David and from the first time that we spoke to him, we told him that we wanted him, we needed him, and we were willing to take him that day.

"We got out in front of it and beat some people to the punch and sometimes you're first in line and sometimes you're not.  On this one, Larry Davis did a great job."

In two years at Mountain State, Nyarsuk averaged 10.2 points, 8 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks, helping the Cougars go 59-15.

"He changes the game on the defensive end," said Bolen.  "He's a great shot blocker, runs the floor well, and is a lot stronger than he looks.  He has skinny legs, but he has a lot of fight in him.  I had calls from schools in the ACC, Big East, Big 10 - I had calls from about everywhere for him.  His offensive game has improved tremendously over the past two years and I think he's a great addition for Cincinnati."

"I think David is definitely going to be able to help us," said Cronin.  "He has played college basketball for two years and he's played at the highest level of NAIA which is better than junior college basketball.  He's got a chance to help us right away - how much I don't know yet because I haven't had a chance to get him out there.  I can tell you that we're excited to have him."

Nyarsuk was ranked as the 19th-best center in the 2010 recruiting class and originally signed with West Virginia.  However, the native of Juba, Sudan was still learning English at the time and failed to reach the required test scores.  David has been cleared to play immediately at Cincinnati by the NCAA.

"(His English) is a lot better than it was two years ago," said Bolen.  "He barely missed on the SAT score and he's a great student and very conscientious.  He's a great kid, he's a Christian, and they can't get a better kid."

Following the departure of 6'9" senior Yancy Gates, Nyarsuk joins 6'10 Cheikh Mbodj and 6'10" Kelvin Gaines to give the Bearcats three centers on this year's roster.

"It definitely adds to our depth if David is able to come in and help us the way that we think he can," said Coach Cronin.  "Cheikh Mbodj is a guy that's going to get some fouls with the way that we want to play - playing pressure defense and being a shot-blocker.  He looks great right now, but he's going to get fouls.  Kelvin Gaines has been a work in progress and this buys him some time to get more ready to play since he's only a sophomore.  Our biggest question mark was if we had enough at the five spot, and David definitely helps us solve that problem."

The jump from NAIA basketball to the Big East is obviously steep, but Nyarsuk's former coach says that he can handle it.

"He's ready," said Coach Bolen.  "We only had one Division I game last year and that was against Morehead State and we beat 'em by 15 and he dominated the game.  He'll surprise a lot of people because he's ready to play at that level."

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Toughness Runs In Family For Bearcat LB Blair

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When Yancy Gates was a freshman at Cincinnati, the coaching staff had him study DVDs of Pitt strongman DeJuan Blair in action.  Mick Cronin wanted Yancy to use his bulk like the Pitt All-American did, as Blair averaged 15.7 points and 12.3 rebounds despite being two inches shorter than Gates.

Fast-forward three years later and one of Yancy's classmates at UC was none other than DeJuan's younger brother - Bearcat linebacker Greg Blair.

"I talked to Yancy about that once when we were in class," Greg told me.  "He said, 'Man, your brother used to a beast in the Big East.'  When Yancy was a freshman, my brother was a sophomore and Yancy said he was too much for him to handle.

"I used to tell my brother that he wasn't going to be as big as his opponent so he had to outwork him.  It's crazy because now, that's what DeJuan says to me.  He says, 'You ain't going to be the fastest, you ain't going to be the strongest.  You just have to outwork your opponent.'" 

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DeJuan Blair is currently a key member of the San Antonio Spurs, and Greg Blair is emerging as an important part of the Bearcat defense.  In recent days he's moved to the top of the depth chart as JK Schaffer's replacement at middle linebacker.

"It was my goal to get with the 'ones,' said Blair.  "That was one of my main goals that I wrote down before camp and I achieved it.  After position meetings they tell us the rotation and one day they said, 'Blair - you're with the ones.'  Now I've got to work to stay there because I know that I could get bumped down just as fast."

"We've really challenged him and he's done a great job," said UC head coach Butch Jones.  "He has a long way to go, but he's really watched his weight and shown great diligence in his physical conditioning.  Now we're working on his mental conditioning and to get him to play through things when he's tired."

Like his 6'7", 270-pound older brother, Greg Blair is 6'2" and solidly built - a bit too solidly last year after transferring from Lackawanna Community College.

"He puts weight on when he's sweating," joked Coach Jones.  "But he's doing a great job.  When we get off the field, he's in the weight room riding the bike.  He's really shown a commitment level this offseason." 

"I don't know what it is with my metabolism," said Blair.  "(Strength coach) Dave Lawson says that he's never seen anyone like me.  I'll come in and gain seven pounds in one day and then lose eight pounds the next day.  I can't control it.  That's why I try to watch what I eat and when I eat.  I'm 243 right now so I'm in good shape - I just have to maintain it." 

The Blair family lived within the shadow of the Pitt campus, so potentially making his first Division I start on September 6th against the Panthers is an exciting prospect for the UC senior.

"That's a huge deal," Greg told me.  "I just thank God for the opportunity.  If I have the opportunity to start against Pitt, that will be a really emotional day for me."

And not only because Pittsburgh is his hometown.

Last Tuesday, a 25-year-old childhood friend of Greg's named Robert Murphy was shot to death in a Pittsburgh suburb.   

"Over the summer when we had a break and I was back home, he was saying that he couldn't wait to see my first game and to be there," said Blair.  "He had purchased my customized jersey and it just came in.  I have a heavy heart right now and I have to go home for the funeral.

"They said it was a drive-by shooting and he died shortly afterward.  It's messed up.  He was probably the closest friend that I had - he was one of those friends you just do everything with.  It's hard to lose him but you just have to move on."

Staying strong runs in the Blair family.

"He's had some trials and tribulations since he's been here and he's just kept fighting through them," said Coach Jones.  "He's shown great perseverance."

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Lefeld Gaining Confidence On Offensive Line

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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 victory.

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Offensive tackle Eric Lefeld remembers it for a different reason.

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 game." 

"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 stability." 

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. 

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Coach Jones Shows Good Touch In Recruiting Cole

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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.

Nate Cole.jpg

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 and others.

"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 by one."

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."

Nate Cole UC.jpg

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 for us." 

"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 Cincinnati.

"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."

Not to mention his free-throw shooting ability.

"Hey whatever it takes right?" said Jones. 

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