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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.

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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.

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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."

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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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Legaux Hopes To Go From Spectator To Spectacular

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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."

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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.

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Bearcats Hungry For Another Big East Title

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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.

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"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."

UC trio at media day.jpg

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.

 "I'm excited 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."

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The Big East Looks To Change Perception

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"By 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 dead yet.

"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 division winner.

"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 champion.

"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 decided. 

"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."

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