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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."

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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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Love At First Sight For Bearcat Newcomer Rubles

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Within days after taking his recruiting visit to Cincinnati in early January, junior college standout Titus Rubles changed his Twitter handle to @BearcatBound even though signing day was more than three months away.

"I think I gave away my plans when I did that, but Cincinnati fans loved it," Rubles told me with a laugh.  "After I took my visit, I knew where I was going but I had to work out a few things with my family and look into a couple of other schools as well.  But in my head, I knew where I was going.  Once I visited, I was in love with Cincinnati."

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The Cincinnati coaching staff was understandably fond of him too.  The 6'7", 220 pound forward averaged 14.5 points and 9.8 rebounds at Blinn College in Brenham, TX last year and was ranked as the #2 junior college prospect in the country by JUCO Junction.

"I give Coach Savino the credit," said UC head coach Mick Cronin.  "We try to really find guys that fit our style and system and have a certain attitude and we felt he was the best junior college player in the country by far.  Darren did a great job of identifying him early before other people figured it out.  That was the key, because late in the year he was dominating junior college basketball but by then, we were way ahead of the game."

Titus is the only recruit that Cincinnati signed this year and will be counted on to contribute right away.  Following the departure of senior Yancy Gates, Rubles figures to join 6'8" Justin Jackson and 6'10" Cheikh Mbodj as the Bearcat big men who see the most playing time.

"I'm looking to contribute in any way possible," said Rubles.  "Whatever I have to do to get on the court, that's what I'll do.  I'm here to rebound, block shots...anything that I can do." 

"When you have a new guy, all you're hoping for is that he helps your team win," said Coach Cronin.  "Titus has great talent and great athleticism - he has a lot to learn on the defensive end, but he's a veteran guy coming out of junior college.  He was on a winning team and had a really good coach in Tra Arnold, so I think he has some advantages because he does have some basketball acumen.

"The key is going to be to get him in shape so that he can play at the speed that games are played at in the Big East.   And then make sure that he's letting the game come to him and get him sound on the defensive end."

Rubles, who goes by the nickname T-Rub, is the youngest of five children and was born and raised in Dallas, TX where he idolized one of Cincinnati's all-time best players.

"I'm a big Kenyon Martin fan," said Rubles.  "He used to be my favorite player and still is one of my favorites, but LeBron James is on top.  I've been #4 since I was a little kid, but (Kenyon's) number is retired here and you've got to respect that.  I'm going to be #2 instead.  That's a family number - one of my older brothers wore that and he really liked it."

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But seeing Kenyon's retired jersey on the wall of Fifth Third Arena was not what impressed Rubles on his recruiting visit.  It was the atmosphere in the building as he watched the Bearcats beat Notre Dame 71-55.

"What stood out was the crowd," said Rubles.  "When I saw how into the game they were and how many people were there, it was really like a done deal."

"I tell people all the time, when recruits come to a home game and it's a packed house and the crowd is a factor in the game, that's impressive to kids," said Coach Cronin.  "People say, 'Coach we need to recruit this guy or that guy.'  Well, if we sellout Fifth Third Arena every game, recruiting becomes a lot easier." 

Titus Rubles - and his Twitter handle - are proof of that.

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Highly-Touted Luc Joins Bearcat Family

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When linebacker Jeff Luc was still in high school, the parade of coaches that came to visit him in Port St. Lucie, Florida was a "Who's Who" of head coaches and assistants from several of the top college programs in the country.

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"Pete Carroll and Ken Norton (USC)," recalled Luc.  "Jimbo Fisher and James Coley (Florida State).  Bobby Williams from Alabama.  Lane Kiffin from Tennessee.  Coaches from the University of Miami.  My parents had to change our home phone number because schools used to call like crazy. 

"I still have the mail in my old room.  If I had to estimate, I would probably say well over 1,000 pieces of mail and that's no lie.  I guess it will be something to show my kids someday.  It was a lot of pressure, but there are pros and cons to everything.  I enjoyed the experience and I think it was a blessing from God that I got to have that opportunity."

Luc, a First Team USA Today All-American who was rated as the top middle linebacker recruit in the country by Rivals, eventually signed with Florida State.  But after battling injuries and seeing limited playing time in two years with the Seminoles, Luc decided to transfer.

"When I first got my release, I didn't really want to talk to any reporters because no matter what I said about the situation, somebody would have taken it the wrong way," Luc told me.  "I guess I didn't fit their scheme or wasn't what they were looking for, but it wasn't anything personal.  I can still call the coach and see how they're doing.  I was a good kid and that's why they didn't take it personally.  It was strictly business."

Fortunately for Cincinnati, another coach that had visited Jeff at Treasure Coast H.S. was John Jancek when he was the linebackers coach at Georgia.  John is now the co-defensive coordinator under Butch Jones at UC, giving the Bearcats a foot in the door when Luc elected to transfer.

"Coach Jancek has been recruiting me since high school and he's a good guy," said Luc.  "I'd love to play for him.  That was a huge part of it."

The Jancek connection helped, and Luc says that the program's "family atmosphere" convinced him to make Cincinnati his new home.

"I saw what kind of guys Coach Jones and Coach Jancek were," said Luc.  "When they were recruiting me, they talked about how it's a family - everybody talks about that but Cincinnati really showed it.  It feels like home.  Everybody has taken care of me and they're helping me out with everything that I need.  Basically, they've welcomed me into the family."

"When he decided to transfer, the recruiting process started all over again and we were competing against high-profile institutions," said head coach Butch Jones.  "At the end of the day, what it proves is that we're recruiting on a national stage and people want to come here.  They want to be a part of our football family.  They can feel the excitement, they can see the vision, and I really believe that we have a tremendous product to sell."

Luc is 6'1", 245 pounds and says he's been timed at 4.6 in the 40 yard dash.  Jeff has already enrolled at Cincinnati and is taking part in summer workouts.  He'll redshirt this season and then have two years of eligibility remaining. 

"To tell you the truth, I wanted to redshirt," said Luc.  "I think it's going to make me a lot better by helping me pick up the scheme.  I think it's going to make me a better person as well by being patient and knowing that everything happens for a reason."

"He'll have a full year without any pressure to come in and play right away and that will allow him to fully develop," said Coach Jones.  "We lose some linebackers after this year, so to have an individual who has experience, who has been in a big-time program, and who understands everything that goes into playing at a high-profile institution - I'm encouraged that we're going to have him the following year."

Luc will become one of the most highly-touted recruits to ever play for Cincinnati, but does he expect to be the starting middle linebacker in 2013?

"I'm not going to say that I see myself as the starting middle linebacker - that's really up to the coaches," said Luc.  "I see myself as someone who is going to help this program and give them what they're looking for in me."

"We're really excited about this young man," said Coach Jones.  "I think he has a hunger to prove himself and is very, very driven.  Even though he can't play this year, he'll be on the scout teams and will work on his craft each and every day."

"I want to help motivate the team and be some type of leader," Luc told me.  "I came out of high school with that 'big time' label, but I just want to win to tell you the truth.  I want to help out as much as I can."

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Speedy WR Joins Bearcats After Switching Sports

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In 1995 as one of the broadcasters for the Toronto Blue Jays Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse, NY, I got to know a young man who had chosen to play pro baseball even though he had been one of the most highly-recruited high school quarterbacks in the country.  After batting .248 in six minor league seasons, the kid decided to give football a try and enrolled in college at the age of 25.

It turned out to be a wise decision as Chris Weinke won a Heisman Trophy at Florida State, led the Seminoles to a National Championship, and spent seven years in the NFL.

Which leads us to UC newcomer Braxton Lane.

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After spending three years as a minor league outfielder, the speedy wide receiver has made the switch to football and recently enrolled at Cincinnati.

"He's got a confidence about himself and an aura," said head coach Butch Jones.  "He's very intense, focused, and goal-oriented.  He knows what he wants and I see that hunger and drive.  I'm excited because when you have an individual that has those characteristics, he is going to have great success."

After catching 55 passes for 1,072 yards and 11 touchdowns as a high school junior, ranked Lane as the #20 wide receiver recruit in the country.  After taking visits to Florida, Georgia, and Auburn, Braxton signed a letter of intent to play college football at Oregon. 

But after being selected in the 7th round of the 2009 MLB draft by the Texas Rangers, Lane received a six-figure signing bonus and elected to pursue a baseball career.

"Getting selected in the baseball draft was great for me and getting a chance to play professionally was definitely a dream of mine," Lane told me.  "But I don't know if I would say that baseball was my first love.  I always thought that I was a better football player.  Baseball was a sport that I enjoyed playing, but one that I really had to work on to get better.  Football was more of a natural sport for me." 

Lane excelled in both sports at Sandy Creek High School in Tyrone, GA - the same school that fellow Bearcat receiver Alex Chisum attended.  That connection proved to be significant when Braxton decided to drop baseball for football.   

"I talked to Alex when I came out here about the environment and the family atmosphere," said Lane.  "He loves every bit of it and shared all of his experiences with me.  He was just as big of a recruiter with me as Coach Jones and (wide receivers) Coach T.J. Weist.  He was definitely a big part of me coming here."

"We have a great relationship with Chip Walker, the head football coach at Sandy Creek, and Alex Chisum is having a great experience here -- not only in football but socially and academically as well," said Coach Jones.  "They are big supporters of our program so when Braxton started thinking about making the switch from baseball to football, we were contacted by them.  We had known of him from back in the day when he had originally signed with Oregon." 

Coming out of high school, Lane was considered one of the fastest receivers in the country after reportedly being timed at 4.31 in the 40-yard dash.  Braxton says that he hasn't lost any speed.     

"The main thing about football is using your hips more," Lane told me.  "Baseball is really a straight line sport, so now I'm really working on loosening up my hips and getting my side-to-side motion back.  But I definitely still have my speed."

After spending last summer playing for the Class A Hickory Crawdads and Spokane Indians, Lane is excited to be a Cincinnati Bearcat.

"Playing in the minor leagues for three years with the Texas Rangers was definitely a great time, but coming here there's a sense of family - Coach Jones and the whole staff really made me feel at home on my visit," said Lane.  "Once I got on campus I knew that this was the place for me."

"I know this - he is of the utmost character and I love his maturity," said Coach Jones.  "He may be the oldest freshman in America.  I think when you look at his previous experiences and the maturity level that he brings, it's a great fit and we're really excited about him."

"I'm 21, so if I hadn't played pro baseball I'd be going into my senior season right now," said Lane.  "I think it definitely helps with the maturity aspect.  Me being on my own and learning to manage my finances, finding a place to live, meshing with people of different backgrounds...I think that helps me coming to a big school like UC where I'll have to juggle classes and different football activities."

How quickly could he have an impact on the field?

"We'll know more when we go to training camp, but from a maturity standpoint, we would anticipate him competing for playing time this year," said Coach Jones.  "Just based off of his character, his competitive drive, and his makeup, we anticipate him playing this year."

"My goal is to come in and work hard every day and do anything that I can to help the team this fall," said Lane.  "Whether that's special teams or offense - whatever I can do to help is my goal.

"He seems like he's going to work really hard," said freshman receiver Chris Moore.  "He's an athlete and had offers from everywhere.  I can't wait to see him on the field in pads."

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My Pick To Emerge As A Bearcat Standout This Fall

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Looking for a sleeper to emerge as a budding standout on the UC football team this year?

My pick is wide receiver Chris Moore.

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OK, maybe "sleeper" is the wrong word.  After all, Moore was a Parade All-American two years ago at Jefferson High School in Tampa, FL.  But after redshirting as a UC freshman due to a shoulder injury, the 19-year-old receiver figures that he is not well-known by Bearcat fans - at least not yet.

"I want this to be a breakout year for me and show the fans that I can make exciting plays for them for the next four years," Moore told me.

Moore's high school stats look like a misprint.  As a senior in 2010, Chris had 49 receptions for 1,572 yards - an incredible average of 32.1 yards per catch.  After receiving scholarship offers from numerous BCS programs, Moore did his homework before electing to attend Cincinnati.

"My mom told me that I needed to make a spreadsheet," said Moore.  "She said she wasn't going to help me because she didn't want to persuade me to go to certain places - she wanted the decision to be mine.  So she told me to make a spreadsheet and figure out the best school.

"I did a lot of research:  Passing yards, the quarterbacks, the receivers, what the coaches did at other schools, whether they had indoor facilities.  I had a spreadsheet of stuff about every school that recruited me and everything seemed to fit at UC."

Now Chris is looking to prove that he's a good fit in Cincinnati's offense.  In the spring practices that I attended this year, Moore made several long touchdown catches from Munchie Legaux and Brendon Kay. 

"You can see the ability," said head coach Butch Jones.  "He can play the ball exceptionally well in the air.  It's a great knack that he has and he runs extremely well.  Now it's just refining the little nuances that go into playing receiver on every down." 

"I'm trying to get better at my route running and I'm trying to get bigger and stronger so that I can take hits without getting hurt again," said Moore.  "Right now I'm 192 pounds which is a big improvement.  When I came in I was 170, so they've put the weight on me, now I just have to keep it on."

Moore broke his collarbone in the state championship game as a high school senior and then had to redshirt last year after suffering the same injury in preseason camp.

"I'm kind of happy that I didn't play because I got to learn from everybody else and I still have four more years," said Moore.  "Now I feel like I have a good chance of getting on the field and making plays for this team."

"Don't forget; he was a true freshman this year so there is a lot of room for growth - physically, mentally, and from a technique standpoint," said offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian.  "What is obvious is his ability to catch the ball and his athleticism.  For him, it's the little things and the mental part of the game - the mental toughness of overcoming adversity and the challenges that you face on a play-to-play basis."

Chris admits that he had some growing up to do after arriving at UC.

"At first, it was a little bumpy but I'm getting there," Moore told me.  "Just being on your own is a different experience.  I'm used to my mom waking me up and stuff like that, and you have to learn to do things yourself.  I'm getting better at it every day."

And that's an exciting prospect for the Bearcat coaching staff.

"The natural ability is there," said Bajakian.  "He could be as good as he wants to be.  It's truly one of those situations where if he puts his mind to it, he can be an outstanding weapon."

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This year, members of the UC football family will wear wristbands that feature the words "Sign Your Name."

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"That's a thing that we've adopted going into 2012," said head coach Butch Jones.  "What does your name stand for?  Every time that we have a workout, they sign their name to it.  It's about all of our names coming together as one.  The kids have really adopted that and bought into signing their name to excellence on a day-to-day basis."

Coach Jones is always looking for unique ways to motivate his players.  The "Sign Your Name" theme is a simple reminder that every member of the team is accountable for his actions on-and-off the field.

"Every team is different and forms a new identity," Coach Jones told me.  "We have a lot of players that are going to be in roles that they've never had before and everyone is accountable for their day-to-day progress.  All you have is your name, and what does your name stand for?  At the end of the day, you are judged by that in your productivity and your life." 

Last year's theme was "Be A Champion" as Coach Jones constantly reminded the players that in order to win a championship, they had to had to be champions on the practice field, in the classroom, and in the community.  The season ended with a share of the Big East title and a victory in the Liberty Bowl.  As a result, the phrase "Be A Champion" is inscribed on one side of their championship rings.   

"Before we could dream about being a championship football team, our team had to be comprised of individual champions," said Jones.  "The way we conducted ourselves, the way we won in the classroom, our practice habits, our personal habits - everything.  Our players really bought into that and I think it speaks volumes that that team was a championship football team."

With the school year ending and graduation ceremonies set for this weekend, the Bearcats will get a short break from training before returning to campus for summer workouts.  The coaching staff, on the other hand, started The Butch Jones Football Camps this week which are a critical part of the recruiting process.

"We'll probably bring about 5,000 prospective student-athletes to Cincinnati and to our campus over the next couple of weeks," said Coach Jones.  "It can go anywhere from three to five thousand.  From unofficial visits to one-day campers to three-day campers to quarterback camp to specialist will be non-stop.

"Out of all of (last year's) signees, all of them had visited our campus prior to their official visit.  The next couple of weeks through the month of June will be critical for evaluating prospective student-athletes and getting them here on campus and selling them on the many things we have to offer."

The coaches will finally get a brief break in July before gearing up for the start of training camp at Camp Higher Ground in West Harrison, Indiana on August 7th.  The season begins with a Big East home game against Pittsburgh on Thursday, September 6th.     

"We have to be able to start fast," said Jones.  "That's why the sense of urgency was at an all-time high in spring football.  When we go to Camp Higher Ground, we have to have a great foundation and a great base of what we were able to do in the summer.  Our players understand what's at stake.  As a coach, I'm already worried about the little nuances of playing your first game.  When you look at starting the season off with a talented Big East opponent in Pittsburgh and then Virginia Tech (in week three), we have to have a great level of consistency day-in and day-out, starting in the summer."

The Bearcats have signed up for the challenge.

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Two More Years Not Enough For Kilpatrick

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Remember those rumors about Sean Kilpatrick leaving UC early for the NBA?  Well, the All-Big East guard says that he'll not only be back for his junior and senior seasons - he wishes he could stay even longer.

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"As many years as I can stay," Sean told me.  "I've never said that I was going to the draft - it isn't even in my mind.  The college life that we're living now is something that is more important than the draft for me.  The NBA is going to be there, but I still have a lot of learning to do.  I still have to learn how to read defenses and on top of that, just to better myself.

"Another huge point is that I love Coach Cronin and I don't want to leave him.  I want to stay here as long as I can.  That's why I put it out there on Twitter to let everybody know that I'm not going anywhere."

Except to the gym.

After leading the Bearcats in scoring as a sophomore at 14.3 points a game, Kilpatrick is dedicating his off-season to improving his ball-handling ability.

"A lot of dribbling drills," said Kilpatrick.  "Coach told me that I need to work on my left hand a lot more and be able to handle the pressure when someone is guarding me.  He said, 'Don't concentrate on your jump shot so much - just worry about your handle.'  That was one of my biggest weaknesses.  This year it will be a lot different and I'll be able to get to the rim with my left hand."

During this part of the school year, the players are limited to two hours a week of on-court workouts with the coaching staff, but Sean puts in extra time on his own.

"I'm in here every day in order to get better," Kilpatrick told me.  "I make it my business to be in here most of the time because this is the actual season for me.  This is where everything starts. 

"I come late at night.  I have (graduate assistant) Scott Ratterman come open the gym up around 9 - 9:30.  He just tells me to hit the lights when I'm done." 

Kilpatrick's dedication is not going unrecognized.  The Sporting News recently ranked Sean as the nation's sixth-best shooting guard (including number one in the Big East).

"It's an honor, but it made me a little bit hungrier," said Kilpatrick.  "I know that I can keep pushing myself to where I can be better than sixth.  I'm never satisfied with being below number one.  It made me more focused on what I need to do."

And if he needs an additional push, Sean knows that he'll get it from Coach Cronin.

"He knows how to get me going," said Kilpatrick.  "We both love winning and love the game so much.  If we lose, just know that something is going to get thrown, or somebody is going to curse.  I love him.  Since I was in prep school, he's never changed with me or with any of the guys.  The loyalty and respect that I have for him is amazing."

I asked Sean if there's anything about Coach Cronin that Bearcat fans don't know.

"Everyone thinks that he's mean," Sean said with a laugh.  "That's because everyone sees Coach Cronin on the court and they don't know how he is off the court.  He's the nicest guy you'll ever meet.  He's polite, he knows exactly what he's talking about every time, you can go to him for advice, and you can actually talk to him about anything.  He's like a father figure to us when our dads aren't around.  That's what I love about him the most." 

It sure sounds like Kilpatrick plans to stick around.

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Pike Grateful For Bengals Opportunity

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All Tony Pike wants is a chance - and he's about to get one from his hometown team.

Pike at UC (550x415).jpg

On Wednesday, the Bengals announced that Pike is among the unsigned players who will attend the team's May 11-13 minicamp on a tryout basis.  After spending the 2010 season as a backup with the Carolina Panthers, the 26-year-old quarterback missed all of last year after having elbow surgery.

"I've been back in Cincinnati rehabbing for a long time and the Bengals reached out to my agent with some questions about my health and when I was going to get back to 100%," said Pike.  "After that, it was just a matter of me getting healthy and the timing being right for the mini-camp.  It's an unbelievable opportunity.  Growing up in Cincinnati and being a Bengals fan, it's been a life-long dream to be a Bengal.  For them to give me that opportunity to come into mini-camp and see what I can do means a lot."

After leading the UC Bearcats to a perfect regular season and trip to the Sugar Bowl as a senior, Pike was selected by Carolina in the 6th round of the 2010 draft.  Tony appeared in one regular season game as a rookie, going 6-for-12 for 47 yards in a loss to New Orleans.

But last July, Pike needed surgery to fix a nerve injury in his right elbow.  When the first procedure didn't correct the problem, the former Bearcat had a more extensive operation eight weeks ago.

"On the second surgery, they cut the muscle in my forearm and they tucked the nerve underneath the muscle," said Pike.  "Then they sewed the muscle back together to protect that nerve from moving around.  It was a more painful procedure, but with my history at UC, it's nothing that I haven't been through before.  The end result was a lot better than the first procedure, so I'm really happy.

"I saw (Cincinnati Reds) Dr. Kremchek here in Cincinnati and he said he does this surgery every year on pitchers here.  He told me it's something that pitchers come back stronger from and that's how I feel right now."

Pike broke his left arm in his junior and senior years at UC, but bounced back quickly to lead the Bearcats to back-to-back Big East Championships.  Tony says that he is completely recovered from his elbow injury and is ready to show the Bengals the powerful arm that tossed 29 touchdown passes and only 6 interceptions in his final college season.

"I feel great," Pike told me.  "My strength and accuracy are back.  That was the biggest thing with the elbow - the nerve was causing my accuracy to go down a little bit, so with that being back, I feel great about my chance here.

"The frustrating thing about the nerve surgery was that we couldn't really give teams a timetable for when I would be healthy.  The Bengals rookie mini-camp fell at just about the right time.  I just saw the doctor (Wednesday) to get cleared.  I've been throwing a lot and staying in shape.  I've actually been going over to Elder a little bit to throw to my brother and some of those receivers.  So, it's been a long process and a slow process, but it's all coming together at just the right time."

Pike might seem like a longshot to make the Bengals roster, but keep in mind that he began the 2008 season as the fifth-string quarterback at UC before leading the team to the Orange Bowl.

All he needed then was a chance.

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