With positions in need of fortification on the two-deep following spring practice, Tommy Tuberville will be reliant on a slew of junior college transfer to fill the gaps this summer.
CINCINNATI -- Standing yards from the spot he observed nearly all of the 15 spring practices and only minutes from soaking in the final seconds of those sessions, Tommy Tuberville held his vision of the 2013 Cincinnati Bearcats clear in his head.
Beyond the emergence of enthusiasm and potential explosiveness, Tuberville couldn't move past an unavoidable fact in his mind. His team needs an injection of depth.
Rarely at this level of FBS football do freshman deliver the necessary impact on a depth chart the new coach expounded upon through his southern drawl. He instead swerves the conversation to his influx of junior college transfers.
Eight of them in all were signed in February with the mind of providing instant impact. Two months later, Tuberville remains convinced he took the proper tactic.
"We're going to need to get four or five junior college kids in here in the summer we have signed," Tuberville said. "We are going to need to get to the point where we can put them in places and get them to the point they can understand what we are doing on offense and defense."
Acclimation will be most important at the running back position where, beyond starter Ralph David Abernathy and current backup Tion Green, Tuberville seeks runners who can handle the force of a 12-game season. Abernathy, for all his flash and flare, doesn't fit into the every-down mold at 5-foot-7, 161 pounds.
Fortunately, Tuberville loves what he acquired in Rod Moore (5-10, 185) and Hosey Williams (5-11, 205). Moore, in fact, rated as the top JuCo running back transfer in the country by 247Sports.com.
"That's really going to up the tempo when it comes to competition in August," Tuberville said.
The question becomes, how effective can anyone expect a junior-college player to be in his first year? For reference, last year's top RB recruit from 247sports was Marion Grice, who committed to Arizona State. Grice combined for 19 touchdowns for the Sun Devils with 103 carries for 679 yards along with 425 yards receiving.
Any stats within earshot of Grice's numbers would be more than enough to complement RDAIV and take pressure off his small frame, particularly in pass protection. Assuring Williams and Moore know where to pick up blitzes and assignments associated with Eddie Gran's offense will be the challenge of the next few months as they arrive on campus.
The same goes for the wide receiver position where Tuberville observes a need for speed. Anthony McClung can hit the home run, as has been evidenced throughout spring practices, but the collection of athletic big bodies lacks the true elite speed to take the top off the defense opposite McClung.
Cue Johnny Holton. Expectations are for Holton (6-3, 190) to compete for time and provide the same explosiveness that allowed him to average 23.8 yards per reception last season. Exactly one-third of his 24 catches at College of DuPage (Ill.) went for touchdowns.
"This guy can run," Tuberville said. "He's a difference-maker in terms of the deep-ball threat that can help open up the running game inside because you got to cover him with two guys every once in a while."
The primary position in need of instant help on defense would be the secondary where Tuberville estimates one safety and one corner capable of competent snaps would be the ideal fit. He'll likely turn to highly regarded freshman safety Mike Tyson (6-2, 190) along with CB Howard Wilder (5-11, 180).
"They got to come in and learn what's going on," Tuberville said.
Coach's aren't allowed contact with players during the summer. Much of the implementation falls back on teammates to install the details. Core members of team leadership such as Brendon Kay and Austen Bujnoch serve as the default setting as TA's in Tuberville 101.
"It's all about coaching the younger guys up," Bujnoch said. "We have a couple guys coming in, freshman don't play we just teach them the basic fundamentals. For those wide receivers and running backs, Brendon is going to have to take some of them ... and bring them along because we know we are going to need some of them."
Too much is needed of these players immediately to allow an arrival without significant knowledge of the playbook on the first snap at Higher Ground.
"That's the reason you got to have good leadership," Tuberville said. "You got to have guys on your team who can teach. We can't as assistants and head coaches do that. They got to watch film on their own, they got to watch film with the other players. Other players have to teach them what to do. They can't start where we started here in spring practice."
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In all the commotion of the the Sean Kilpatrick announcement last week and end of spring football with interesting comments from Tommy Tuberville (You can read about SK here and here. As well as key spring football observations here), a number of other interesting storylines based on comments from the head coaches developed.
The current cross-section of faith between Mick Cronin, Tommy Tuberville, Whit Babcock and President Ono is as strong as possible right now. They all are very much on the same page and understanding belief in the direction of the department in both the short/long term. At least, they are saying repeatedly in public with us media types.
That's a prevailing reason Cronin is so happy here and why the University has reciprocated their desire for him to stay.
Look around, folks. To have a coach with the success Cronin's enjoyed and dedication to staying for the long haul is rare. Consider the new American Athletic Conference.
Here are your AAC basketball coaches with tenure at the school and record:
Louisville: Rick Pitino (12): 310-111
UC: Mick Cronin (7): 135-99
Temple: Fran Dunphy (7): 158-75
USF: Stan Heath (6): 85-109
Memphis: Josh Pastner (5): 106-35
UCF: Donnie Jones (3): 97-75
Houston: James Dickey (3): 47-46
UConn: Kevin Ollie (1): 20-10
SMU: Larry Brown (1): 15-17
Rutgers: Interim (0)
--- That's right, only one coach -- Rick Pitino, who will be gone after one season -- has spent more years at one school. Half of those coaches have spent three years or less.
--- If you want to take a shot at The American, here's the Catholic 7 with their coaching tenures at the school and record. Cronin holds up there as well with only two coaches owning more years on the bench.
Villanova: Jay Wright (12): 257-154
Georgetown: John Thompson III (9): 277-130
Marquette: Buzz Williams (5): 122-35
DePaul: Oliver Purnell (3): 30-64
St. John's: Steve Lavin (3): 40-30
Seton Hall: Kevin Willard (3): 49-48
Providence: Ed Cooley (2): 34-32
And Mick will return next year with statements like this one from Wednesday repeatedly on the record:
"There is a lot of commitment. There is a lot of forward-thinking people in charge. That's exciting because we want to continue to upgrade everything. Not just basketball stuff, football stuff. It's a process. We have challenges, there's no doubt about it, but we have people that aren't afraid of them that are in charge. For me, it's comforting but it's exciting.
"I'm happy to be here. Everyone knows where I want to be. That's not a secret with me. The end of the day when I get a chance to huddle with Whit we both know we got challenges, but we are both young guys looking to forge ahead and we are willing to sit down and attack it."
--- Combine stability in the most important positions along with a proactive administration and it's clear why Cronin finishes answers to questions like he eventually did the above quote: "They know I'm all-in."
Remember, send any comments, questions or thoughts on this or anything else UC sports to me at email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
--- He also put together the women's highlight video, equally cool. Watch that here. Somebody give our guy an ovation followed immediately by a day off, please.
--- Dan Hoard wrote about Tion Green. All indications are he'll be sharing duties along with RDAIV in the fall. The two junior college transfers will add depth, but Green earned the inside track.
As Tuberville says in this piece, Eddie Gran is very high on Green and Gran knows his backs. He's specialized as a RB coach on his rise to coordinator.
--- Grantland took along-form look at Lance Stephenson (along with Ricky Davis), who will be a key figure in the NBA Playoffs this season. He's now a starting guard for Indiana. He scored a season-high 22 points Sunday in a return to The Garden.
The Pacers patience has certainly paid off with Born Ready.
--- Had this question fired off to me a few times on The Twitters after my SK maturity story last week.
This particular one from follower "@nheld: unless we are talking about Europe does killa's decision show maturity or common sense?"
The answer to that and my response to Nick, was if you take a look around college basketball right now you realize you can't have one without the other. They are mutually exclusive. The maturity to listen to those around you and understand the common sense reality of a situation as a kid in your early 20s is much more difficult than for those of us on the outside -- particularly older folks with some perspective.
Consider some others projected for 2nd round or undrafted that declared, according to this Chad Ford ESPN Insider piece: C.J. Aiken (St. Joe's), C.J. Leslie (N.C. State), Eric Moreland (Oregon State), Marshawn Powell (Arkansas), Phil Pressey (Mizzou), Adonis Thomas (Memphis).
That's just where the list stands now, there are dozens more still on the fence, many of which won't make "common sense" decisions.
--- After writing about freshman pitcher Mitch Pattishall last week, it seemed like pitching well on the big stage of the GABP game could have been a turning point for this talented prospect. He backed up that thought process Saturday throwing 6 2-3 innings of one-run, three-hit baseball in the team's 3-2 win at Rutgers.
Spring football concluded Wednesday at the Sheakley Athletic Center. For the most part, these practices all are pretty run of the mill and few true developments can be taken away.
As Tommy Tuberville said himself, "they're all boring, they're all about the same -- it's kind of like watching paint dry."
This year proved slightly different with the beginning of the Tuberville era and a collection of new coaches learning the skill set of their new personnel. From one month of watching drills and scrimmages, interviewing players and coaches, I've come away with a few lessons learned, heard and observed.
1) Brendon Kay sits in the driver's seat for QB1
Kay rode the momentum of his second half of the season into spring football and looked a step crisper than every other quarterback on the field. He made far fewer mistakes and showed a unique weapon nobody else possesses with his consistently accurate deep ball.
In the three scrimmages, Kay's numbers were far superior to anyone else as Munchie Legaux struggled at times with incompletions and interceptions.
Tuberville stated multiple times he doesn't plan on naming a starter until camp, but even he abstained from commenting on the obvious with the media.
"Yeah, I'd say he's a step ahead of everyone else," Tuberville said.
The coach went on to say he's not so far ahead that the ground can't be recovered during summer or fall camp, but he's clearly earned the advantage.
In other developments in the quarterback world, Bennie Coney made a push into the race for starting quarterback. Coney looked excellent playing primarily against the second-team defense, but excellent nonetheless. He's shown a soft, accurate touch but also a rare ability to break away from chaos in the pocket as well or better than anyone else. At the very least, he's separated himself from Trenton Norvell for the No. 3 spot and could easily be the backup come Aug. 31 against Purdue.
"I think there's going to be a place for all three quarterbacks," Tuberville said. "They need to learn their role and we got to learn what to teach them and make their role."
And here were the complete stats from the combined three spring scrimmages.
Quarterbacks in three spring scrimmages
22 of 37 (59%)
19 of 42 (45%)
26 of 42 (62%)
18 of 41 (44%)
2) This team will attempt to out-physical opponents
Tuberville recognizes the strength of this team as the two lines up front. With all five starting offensive linemen returning, the offensive side makes sense. The continuity, depth and summer of adding muscle makes them the top position group on the team from my angle.
The return of starters Jordan Stepp and Camaron Beard, along with rapid progression of Silverberry Mouhon has Tuberville excited for the capabilities of the defensive line. Yet, when talking physicality, this stretches beyond the front four to the linebackers. Greg Blair, Jeff Luc and Nick Temple will be among the best linebacker group in The American. The pure physicality of Luc at his size and strength for an outside linebacker can be heard by standing on the sidelines of practice. His hits just sound different.
There will be questions in the secondary and offensive skill positions as to who will step in and seize the opportunity, but these lines will be the strength and Tuberville plans on building the gameplan around that being the case.
"Trying to be more of a physical team, not that what they did in the past (wasn't), I did what they did in the past where I was at," Tuberville said. "We've got the type of team that can be more of a physical team other than a finesse team on both sides. We can be a little more balanced in the run and pass."
A first-year coach couldn't ask for a better strength than the front lines. As players attempt to learn coaching style and understand the institution of a new offense through the first season, not as much knowledge is needed to line up and move people backward at the point of attack. That alone can win games without needing a mastery of the new system.
3) Anthony McClung is ready to be a star
Few players shined this spring to the extent of senior WR Anthony McClung. He's coming off three productive seasons, but appears destined for a breakout in the pro-style attack. Far more than any other receiver, he consistently worked himself wide open and showed the ability to make plays on the ball down the field.
McClung's best season came his sophomore year when he caught 49 passes for 683 yards and 6 TDs, last year his numbers dropped to 34 receptions for 539 yards and 2 TDs.
With new starters jumping in around him, he'll be looked at as the go-to receiver more than at any point in his UC career. Tuberville expects speedy JuCo transfer Johnny Holden to come in and help stretch the field, but other than him, McClung is one of the few deep threat wideouts among a group of big body athletes.
He'll be counted on to carry the passing game, but appears ready to handle the job.
4) Tommy Tuberville lives on the opposite end of the coaching spectrum from Butch Jones
Practice sessions at the Sheakley Athletic Complex couldn't look more different this year. Gone are the microphones with Jones screaming at his players through every drill. Gone is the sprinting and yelling from station to station.
Tuberville brings a more laid-back approach centered on teaching and technique rather than passion and power. Players told me practices are much easier this year without all the running around and wondering how long it would actually go.
Where Jones would be involved in most every drill at one point or the other, working hands on with the players, Tuberville is rarely heard during practices. He sits back, lets his coaches coach and takes it all in with most of his words coming at the end of practice and in the film room.
And the guy just has that charisma about him that plays into the hands of players, coaches and media alike. If you don't believe me, just take in his post-practice interview with Tommy G from a few weeks back.
Certainly not stating either style of Jones or Tuberville as better or worse, only they couldn't be much more different.
As always, I want to hear from you! Send your comments, questions or thoughts on the 2013 football season to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
At the youth football clinic last weekend, UC football players learned valuable lessons about service all while providing unforgettable unique experiences for the collection of kids participating.
By Ashley Davis/Special to GoBearcats.com
CINCINNATI -- Junior running back Ralph David Abernathy IV might have had the biggest smile on his face of the almost 500 kids and 80 teammates who participated in the UC football youth clinic at Sheakley Athletics Center on April 6.
Running around, high-fiving kids and getting them pumped up with chants of "Are you ready?" could be heard across the field.
It was Abernathy's second year participating in the event and his favorite part is just interacting and having fun with kids in the community.
"Just getting the chance to come out here and enjoy it," he said. "For us, football's always been fun. But now we get to share our fun with somebody else."
The kids, ranging in age from kindergarten to eighth grade and all from the Greater Cincinnati area, came to learn basic football fundamentals from almost all of the UC football players. Most of the UC coaches also participated.
Antrione Archer, the director of player development and responsible for running the camp, says the youth clinic is a great opportunity for kids to be able to say they were on the field at UC with Bearcats players right after a scrimmage when the players are still in their game gear.
"It's all about getting them while they're young, planting the seed into their hearts," Archer said. "The whole goal is to talk to the community and show these kids a good time that maybe one day in the future they can take the right route and go to college."
The clinic started with stretching lines, just as the players do in their own practice. Then the kids, divided up by age groups, went to different stations to do drills. There was a catch and celebrate drill where the kids got to catch a touchdown in the end zone and do a touchdown dance. Others included a sack the quarterback drill, an interception drill and an equipment race.
Of course, the clinic did not go without some Bearcat spirit either, as Archer led the kids in the Down the Drive chant before and after the drills and the players had them huddle up at the end of every drill, putting their hands in the middle and shouting 1-2-3, Bearcats.
Abernathy led the run and leap drill with the other Bearcat running backs. The kids had to run through pads while holding tight to a ball and leaping onto another pad as if they were scoring a touchdown. Abernathy and the rest of the running backs assured the kids performed their touchdown dance after scoring.
Deionte Buckley, a sophomore running back, also understands what this means.
"It's a great experience for the kids," he said. "They get to watch us a lot, but they never get to see our faces because we keep the helmets on. I think it's a great day for them and a great day for Bearcat Nation."
But it's not just about the kids. The clinic is important for the players, too. It teaches them how to lead and coach, while being able to interact with the community.
"It teaches the players how to serve," Archer said. "They have a platform, whether they like it or not, being a Division I athlete, especially at the University of Cincinnati. But it also humbles them to let them know that this is bigger than any individual person."
Abernathy knows UC football is his platform and he is a role model, especially for young kids. And that's why he did everything he could to maintain a positive attitude while making sure the kids had fun at his station last Saturday afternoon.
"As a college athlete, a lot of people look up to you," he said. "They look to you like you're their hero."
Kilpatrick expects to graduate in December and accounted that as the biggest reason for returning. Yet, in the meantime, he could reach hallowed ground in the Bearcats record books along the way to go down as one of the great UC players of all time.
His legacy will certainly be as a premier scorer. Kilpatrick finished his junior season averaging 17.0 points per game. For his career, he's scored 1,444 points placing him 16th on the all-time scoring list.
Here is the all-time list:
1. Oscar Robertson (1958-60): 2,973
2. Steve Logan (1999-02): 1,985
3. Deonta Vaughn (2007-10): 1,885
4. Danny Fortson (1995-97): 1,881
5. Roger McClendon (1984-88): 1,789
6. Pat Cummings (1975-79): 1,762
7. Ron Bonham (1962-64): 1,666
8. Lou Banks (1988-91): 1,644
9. Jack Twyman (1952-55): 1,598
10. Lloyd Batts (1972-74): 1,585
11. Darnell Burton (1994-97): 1,584
12. Jason Maxiell (2002-05): 1,566
13. Robert Miller (1975-78): 1,498
14. Yancy Gates (2009-12): 1,485
15. Dwight Jones (1980-83): 1,451
16. Sean Kilpatrick (2011-present): 1,444
17. Paul Hogue (1960-62): 1,391
Mick Cronin talked about how SK improved every season since his arrival at UC and the numbers bare that out. Kilpatrick's points per game average jumped at least 2.7 points each year.
"He's probably the most improved player that I've coached as a head coach," Cronin said.
Here are his career stats in average per game broken down by year:
Points per game
The biggest difference this season would be his increased trips to the free throw line, though it was coupled with his falling 3-point percentage. That said, let's go under the assumption he again averages exactly 17 points per game and doesn't continue his current career trend arc.
At 17 points in each of 35 games, it would place him at 595 points for his senior season.
Add that up, his career total would be 2,039 career points. That would place him all alone at second all-time in UC history in points scored by 54 points. He would be only the second 2,000-point scorer in the history of the school behind the great Oscar Robertson.
Elite company, indeed.
Just for some perspective, SK would need to average 43.7 points per game this year to equal the career total The Big O did in three seasons with the Bearcats. Ridiculous.
His pursuit of the all-time scoring record books will be the most discussed, but not the only record SK will chase down.
Here are a few:
--- Career 3-pointers Made: He'll be in a battle for the record of career 3-point field goals made. He's at 220 right now. Should he make as many as this past season (82), he'd finish with 302 and the third most all time. But he will be close on the heels of Vaughn and Burton. Kilpatrick made 92 3-pointers as a sophomore. Replicating that season would put him neck-and-neck with Vaughn.
The current record book looks like this:
Career 3-pointers made:
1. Deonta Vaughn: 313
2. Darnell Burton: 306
3. Field Williams: 262
--- Career Shots Attempted: Few shoot as much as Kilpatrick and he'll be among the great gunslingers in UC history. He currently has 1,181 career shots. Should he shoot the exact same number as this past season (488), he would end up second behind Oscar Robertson at 1,669.
Career shots attempted:
1. Oscar Robertson: 1,968
2. Deonta Vaughn: 1,539
3. Jack Twyman: 1,477
--- Three consecutive years as leading scorer: Almost certainly SK will leave UC as one of the few to lead the team in scoring for three consecutive seasons. Since Oscar Robertson did it in 1960, only four others have accomplished the feat. Those are Deonta Vaughn, Roger McClendon, Lloyd Batts and Rick Roberson.
--- Preseason Conference Player of the Year: Reseraching preseason players of the year is about as easy as finding a preseason poll worth paying attention to. So, I can't tell you how many preseason players of the year there have been in UC history.
Kilpatrick will be in the conversation as preseason player of the year in the new American Athletic Conference. There is a chance he could end up the Player of the Year in the conference, that would make him the first player since Steve Logan in 2002 to accomplish the task.
UC dominated the award in C-USA: Danny Fortson (2x -- '96 and '97), Kenyon Martin (2000), Logan 2x (2001, '02). In the Metro, the only two UC players to win were Pat Cummings (1979) and Gary Yoder (1977).
Who would be some of his competition for preseason POY?
Russ Smith, Louisville: If he returns to Louisville would earn the award, but appears he'll bolt.
Shabazz Napier, UConn: Hasn't declared yet, but averaged 17.1 points and 4.6 assists last year
Joe Jackson, Memphis: C-USA POY. Averaged 13.8 pts and 4.8 assists, 49.3 percent from deep.
That's about the list and SK will be in the conversation among these. Regardless of all these numbers and facts, Kilpatrick will go down as one of the most accomplished Bearcats of all-time. He solidified that fact Wednesday night.
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When every high school senior signs on the dotted line to play major Division I college basketball, the thoughts immediately flutter to the NBA. Some view it as a required one-year pit stop; others the holdover may be longer, but still see themselves bolting early for a career of riches.
Anyone who denies those thoughts is lying. Sean Kilpatrick felt that way. One of his goals for this season was to become the latest Bearcats player drafted by the NBA.
Prior to the team's postseason banquet Wednesday he announced he'd be returning to Cincinnati for his redshirt senior season.
To some, this would seem an easy decision. After all, the NBA consensus was he would be a second-round pick at best. But look around college basketball, unwise decisions by underclassmen are occurring on a nightly basis. The temptation for a young man to jump toward his dream on a personal timetable and leave the life of struggling college student behind is strong. For the country's fiercest competitors to admit they aren't yet good enough can be debilitating.
That's why so many jump early -- ill-advised, stubborn. It's happened before at UC as well as every other major program in America.
Place Mick Cronin in the camp viewing this as an easy decision for Kilpatrick. Not necessarily because the evidence insisted this decision be his best choice - which it clearly is. No, he viewed this as an easy decision because he knew Kilpatrick would be mature enough to understand reality and make the logical, informed call.
Maturity comes as much a part of the Sean Kilpatrick Package as the split-second release. He sees the bigger picture, listens closely to trusted voices and embraces betting on his own work ethic. In an age of college basketball where mentioning pursuit of a degree is more often used as a punchline than point of emphasis, he stands as a rare breed of character.
"I don't really sit here and worry about the NBA because it's going to always be there," said Kilpatrick, who averaged 17.0 points per game last season. "I am just focused on making myself better as a person. That's being more responsible than I am and taking care of my school stuff and getting that degree. That comes first. Being able to sit here and get my degree and hang that paper up on my mom's wall when she gets her house, that's more important than anything."
Kilpatrick spent most nights wide awake the last two weeks. His says his father would be up to go to the bathroom at 3 a.m., only to pass his son wide awake in the house. Confusion over his decision and the process kept his mind buzzing all hours.
After sitting down for a long conversation with Cronin, the truth of his situation became apparent. Part of what has made this coach not only a great asset to the university, but universally beloved by his current and former players, is his ability to put the facts of the case on the table and let the decision fall in the hands of the player with fully support of his coach every step of the way.
In many ways, that made all the difference for the two-time Second-Team All-Big East guard.
"My final conversation with coach was the most important one," Kilpatrick said. "That was something that really meant the most because for him to say the things he said and for me knowing that he's here for me throughout everything and every decision I do make, knowing he's here for me throughout everything that meant the most."
Cronin couldn't help but smile when telling reporters his top scorer had news for them. The smile comes as much because of the player he is on the court as the person he's become in being able to make a decision that looks beyond the short-term satisfaction so common with today's youth.
"The key word is maturity, which has really been the case with Sean his whole career," Cronin said. "The issue is expectations. The thing we talked about is trying to have enough maturity to look at what's the worst possible scenario? You have to work for a living. He has a daughter, you want to be able to tell your daughter you worked for your degree. How much that means to his parents."
In many ways, this decision wasn't about basketball. It was about life and figuring out what type of son, father, friend and role model he wants to be.
"As driven as SK is, trust me, (the NBA) was his goal this year," Cronin said. "But he's mature enough to realize the benefits of improving, getting his degree, continuing to improve. In life, whether you play in the NBA or not, that's not what this is about. Yes, that's your goal but that can't be the end-all, be-all for your life."
Kilpatrick's life moves on now with an excitement over leading a promising group of young, athletic players during his final season. He can chase down the top scorers in the history of the university. He can enjoy preseason accolades cascading from all angles. He can focus on improving his level of play, as he has every season at UC to move from nearly unrecruited to one of the premier players in the conference. He can soak in the refreshing knowledge he was mature enough to see the benefit in all those endeavors.
For at least one night, though, they can all take a back seat.
"I'm just happy I can really sleep now," Kilpatrick said.
I want to hear from you! Send any questions, comments or thought on SK returning to UC to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
The Bearcats resilient comeback victory against Xavier left coach Brian Cleary as proud as he's been of any win this year as UC showed an ability to find a way to win amid trying circumstances.
By Ashley Davis/Special to GoBearcats.com
CINCINNATI -- The first words out of head coach Brian Cleary's mouth after the Bearcats came from behind to beat crosstown rival Xavier 7-6 in the first round of the Joe Nuxhall Classic came out bluntly.
"What a stupid sport this is."
Amid the laughs from the surrounding media, he referred, to the idea no one can predict what will happen in the game of baseball. Tuesday night was a perfect example of the craziness that can occur in this sport and why a resilient group which finds a way to win can prove invaluable.
Down 5-0 after the top of the first, the Bearcats wouldn't allow another run and clawed their way back, highlighted by three runs in the fifth and three runs in the eighth.
With players in the dugout wearing rally caps and the crowd of approximately 2,000 doing the Down the Drive chant, freshman Devin Wenzel lined a double over the head of the right fielder in the eighth to put UC ahead 7-5.
"I'd come up with bases loaded quite a few times this year," Wenzel said. "I was just looking for a pitch that I could get the barrel on and see if it could go."
Cleary almost seemed surprised his team came back to win on Tuesday. At the same time, he's proud of them for battling through adversity.
"I'm most proud of this win maybe of any we've had just because of the way that they hung in there and found a way," he said.
He knows what this group of young guys is capable of doing and is optimistic they can put it all together.
"This team that we've got, as these guys get more physical, we're going to be really good," he said. "We're going to be more talented than some people."
He thinks they're due to erupt offensively soon, which would mean turning the corner for a pitching staff that hasn't given up more than eight runs in any of the last 20 games.
"We just got so many guys that are still trying to figure it out in the batter's box," Cleary said. "I told these guys before the game, have a feeling that any time now, we're going to start really scoring runs."
Scoring seven runs and coming back from a five-run deficit might be a sign of just that.
Not only did the win boost the team's confidence, but it also was a win against a rival. Because the Bearcats have a young team, they might not be familiar yet with this rivalry and just how big it is to beat Xavier. Cleary made sure they knew how important it is to everyone in the UC community.
"We talked before the game about how important this is to this university and to our players and our former players," Cleary said. "This is a big deal."
It's always a big deal to beat Xavier, no matter what sport. And the way they won: well, it's just stupid.
On dealing with the frustrations of redshirting and if he had any thoughts that he made the wrong decision:
"I knew it was the right place, I prayed about it every day. I talked to my mom, my family, I prayed about it at the time. I knew it was the right place it was just a matter of when it was going to happen. With the new coaching changes I knew I had a chance now. They didn't know anything about me, so, it was an opportunity. We all got equal reps, we all got equal everything. It's up to me now."
On what those conversations with his mother were like:
"'Son, you got to stay in it, son, it's going to be tough.' She always tell me it's going to be tough I just got to be patient. She's the reason I come out here every day the way I come. Just be patient, your time will come. You don't have to rush anything."
On what happened when his Plant City HS team played Florida power Plant High, led by UGA QB Aaron Murray:
"They tore us up."
On how comfortable he feels now at UC:
"I'm acclimated to eveything now. This is my new home for the next four years. I'm adjusted now. I don't even like going home no more, man. I've been able to run away from all my past, everything that happened. I have been able to get out and just go far and not have to worry about running home to moms when everything goes bad. I just wanted to get out and explore things, try new things."
On working with QB coach Darin Hinshaw:
"I feel like I've been playing well, one thing I can say about Coach Hinshaw is he's a great teacher. It's not about all yelling and all that. You mess up, he walks up to you and says, you are good, man. This is what you did. This is what you can do to get better. That is one thing that helps me out with the film study with him and all that stuff. That's one thing that has made me more comfortable out here."
On not being able to be full contact as a QB:
"I kind of wish we were live just so we could prove to the defense that any time you guys reach with your fingers that we are not sacked because we got a lot of movement going on. I just want to prove to them sometimes that we can get out when we need to."
QB COACH/PASSING GAME COORDINATOR DARIN HINSHAW:
On Coney's development and maturation:
"With him, he's making really good decisions. He can make a lot better ones though. I want him to be perfect but he's also a redshirt freshman. When you talk about redshirt freshman you talk about them growing up. You got to grow up and he's in that process where he's grown up a lot in the last four weeks. I've seen a kid get a little bit more mature. A bad play happens and you can't get into sulking the head, body language and all that. He's getting to where now he's understanding, OK, I made a mistake, let's go to the next play. So, I'm excited about that."
On Coney's greatest strength as a QB:
"Him being able to move in the pocket and throw accurate balls -- that's the game. There are so many guys that can drop and go throw the ball accurately and do things with nothing around them. When all the sudden things are happening around them, to be able to step in and throw with somebody right in your face, he's completed numerous balls when there are guys right in his face and he's completed it. A huge quality to be able to move in the pocket and be able to find the playmakers. Guys that can't do that, everything has to be perfect all the time and you are sitting here just sick to your stomach. That's a great quality he has."
On dangers of plotting him out on a course for 2014:
"I've been with teams where we've had to win with the fourth guy. Guys get hurt, you've seen guys get in situations where my job is to prepare whoever is playing out in that game, whether second, third, fourth guy that we are going to be able to move the offense and never miss a beat."
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Redshirt freshman QB Bennie Coney entered UC with a special skill set but reputation of an attitude problem. After 16 months quietly working in the shadows of the UC football program, a mature Coney is finally seeing the light.
CINCINNATI -- For years, a checkered past haunted Bennie Coney. Every scouting report, every newspaper story, every whisper under the breath of onlooking coaches.
Sure, this kid could play, but would he be more trouble than he's worth?
Coney was the starting quarterback his junior year at Plant City (Fla.) High, but was suspended once, then later dismissed from the team midway through the 2010 season for what he would tell reporters to be "an altercation with a teammate." He'd return and mend fences for a senior season, but his reputation remained in rubble.
The incident lived as the most significant hindrance on a promising football career. Two years later, entering his redshirt freshman season at UC, the emerging quarterback views it as the biggest blessing.
"The one thing I can say about that is I'm glad it happened when it did," Coney said. "Because if it didn't happen then, it would happen now and I'd be home. Now I can see what I need to do and what I need to work on - and that's my attitude. That's one thing I've been harping on, my attitude and just leading."
A contrite, more mature Coney views life through a different prism now. His developmental years were laced with trouble, immature actions and all the ego saddled by any teenage quarterback offered by schools like Michigan, Arkansas and Virginia Tech.
Changing opinions and healing a reputation only occurs with time served. Coney spent many hours over his redshirt year therapeutically spilling this concept on the phone with his mother in Florida. He didn't doubt he chose the correct school, but waiting for his opportunity to prove he's more than the questioned character made for long, frustrating nights and days.
This now humbled, 6-foot-3, 205-pound QB spent the last 16 months quietly grinding away in the dark corners of the Bearcats program, peeling the layers off his potential and persona. One not only utilizing his physical tools to impress on the field, but tapping into maturity and leadership in the process.
This spring, Coney changed the conversation.
"It's fun when you can actually see the light now, man," he said. "I'm seeing the light now. My opportunity is coming."
He's earning it. Of the four quarterbacks taking the majority of snaps through the spring's three scrimmages, he led them all in completion percentage (62 percent) and ranked only behind Brandon Kay in yards per pass. While both Munchie Legaux and Trenton Norvell struggled with interceptions, he threw three touchdowns with only one pass picked off.
Last year, Coney arrived as an early enrollee at UC and participated in spring football. A year later, as he made play after play this spring, he noticed the response from his teammates changing. When he ran on the field with the backups last season, the huddle would be met with a silence, as if they all were looking at him, judging, wondering. Today, Coney sprints directly to his offensive lineman with a smile and swagger.
"Oh my gosh, man, it's so weird," Coney said. "Most of the O-line when I first got here we really didn't talk much. Now when I step out it's, 'Let's go, man, let's go, man, put us on your back. You got to lead us. Come on, 10, you got to lead us.' I feel like I have been making strides and they see it."
Hard not to, combining his natural athletic ability with a climbing confidence produces results to make anyone look twice. Quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Darin Hinshaw raves about his ability to avoid pressure in the pocket and instinctual knack to focus downfield as protection breaks down around him.
During the scrimmage at Paul Brown Stadium, pressure forced Coney out of the pocket and his burst distanced linebackers sprinting off the edge. Just as he appeared destined to take a loss out of bounds, Coney snapped off a throw 20 yards down the sideline to hit a late-breaking receiver who tiptoed in for a completion. Special stuff.
Coney circled through his teammates on the sidelines as he ran back to the field clapping his hands and urging on his offensive team to keep the momentum rolling.
On the surface, his ascension came on plays such as that one during each of the 15 practice sessions, but Coney's always excelled on the field. His spike in development came off it. Now, when practice ends, Coney only begins. Nights and days are spent buried in the playbook and film study instead of assuming his talent will take over on gameday. A constant stream of questions are directed at Hinshaw in a relentless effort to learn.
While Coney's far from perfect, attitude, enthusiasm and maturity are beginning to catch up to the talent.
Hinshaw witnesses the transformation every day. Even over the last four weeks, he's seen Coney jump out of his shell and into the acceptance of teammates.
"No doubt, you see it," Hinshaw said. "As a quarterback you do it with your play. That's the only way. You go out there and run the offense and score touchdowns, you move the chains.
"People make mistakes in life. You don't learn from them unless you make them. He's made them, he's learned from them, now the worst thing you can do is make them again. I think now he's growing up. That's what I talk to him about. You got to grow up. Freshman have to become juniors and seniors out there pretty quick if you are going to play."
Theoretically, the table appears set for him to play on opening day in 2014. Kay and Legaux both graduate after this season and he could position himself to be the redshirt sophomore quarterback to replace them. Coney admits he views that date as when the path clears for him. He's also seen too many teams forced deep into their depth chart to think he's still 16 months away from hitting the field.
"For right now, I am competing like I am the starting quarterback," Coney said. "You never know what can happen. I've seen teams play with their fourth string. My goal is be third string or the backup. That's all I'm focusing on right now. Take a step in front of the freshmen, take a step and learn as much as I can from the seniors so I can be ready when they leave."
Coney spent much of the last three years running from his past. Now, having embraced and learned from it, he's finally prepared to move past it. He finally ready to become a leader.
He's finally able to see the light.
I want to hear from you. Send me your comments, questions or thoughts on Bennie Coney or any other members of the UC football team to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
People may look at the 4-1 loss to Louisville at Great American Ball Park on Saturday and discount it as just another loss for a maturing Bearcats baseball team against a current national power. In some ways, yes, on the surface that's true. For those who attended that game against Louisville pitcher Jeff Thompson, whose numbers have shown him to be nearly unhittable this season (5-0, 0.59 ERA entering the game), they saw a different story.
Running five freshman position players and a freshman starting pitcher out there in GABP against one of the top prospects in baseball and eventually racking up nine hits all the while holding the Louisville offense in check showed the potential of this group in the coming years.
They aren't there yet, obviously. Now 11-18 overall and 1-8 in conference, much progress needs to be made. The bright future can be seen from here, though.
I focused a piece on Mitch Pattishall, the 19-year-old starting pitcher who fought nerves and the No. 9 team in the country for five sparkling innings before seeing a few runs cross the plate in the sixth. Gutty performance from a young kid on a big stage.
As always, if you have any comments, questions or just want to talk about the weather, feel free to shoot me an email to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
Let's eat ...
--- One extra quote from the game on Saturday regarding how great this experience was for the UC players. This from freshman catcher Woody Wallace on his attitude and the sense he got from his teammates as the game rolled on:
"No doubt, something goes wrong in that game you kind of shake it off more than normal and easy because you are playing in this facility," he said. "Kids would kill to do this. We were blessed to have this opportunity. For the most part everyone was out there enjoying themselves today, which was really fun."
Regardless of outcome, Standing O to the Reds, Bearcats and Cardinals for coming together on a cool event that had an estimated 4,500 folks in attendance at GABP. Some of those left by the time the final pitches were thrown, but plenty stuck around to take in college baseball and that's a win for everyone involved.
--- Once again, Silverberry Mouhon with a great day. I spoke with him after last week's scrimmage at Paul Brown Stadium where he racked up 1 1/2 sacks and a pick. In what's become a run of great defensive ends around Nippert Stadium, he appears to be falling in line and has become the pleasant surprise of the spring on defense from my angle.
Over the last four years, four Bearcats defensive lineman have been drafted by the NFL. We'll see what becomes of Dan Giordano on draft day (possible last-round pick) which could make it five in five. Throw Walter Stewart in there and the reputation grows regarding that position here. Mouhon has the potential to be that next guy.
Now, plenty of players look great in the spring and we don't hear a peep out of them in the fall, but keep an eye on the redshirt sophomore out of Georgia.
--- Chris Moore reeled in a remarkable one-handed catch that led to one of his three touchdowns Saturday. He's currently got a spot as a starter at the outside receiver position with Anthony McClung in the slot. Max Morrison has been lining up opposite him with the first team in three-wide sets. An interesting battle in the fall will be what happens when Alex Chisum returns from the injury that kept him out of spring. A host of others could break through as well, ideally, Eddie Gran would like to have four receivers he can rotate in and out on the outside with McClung owning the middle of the field.
As with every storyline in the spring, this one ends with "we shall see."
--- Brendon Kay has shown well this spring and appears to be rolling off the momentum he gained the second half of the season. His three touchdown passes Saturday only cemented a solid month.
--- Joe Reedy withmore Mel Kiper chatter about UC draftees. He continues to love George Winn and claims Travis Kelce's stock has dropped a bit into the fourth round with his abdominal injury. Others have Kelce higher despite it, wait and see. If anybody should know how little the round selected matters, it's Kelce whose brother Jason went in the sixth round and he was the starting center on opening day his rookie year.
Consider this: Not only did Caupain average 26 points per game this season, but also averaged 15 rebounds per night. Sounds like a UC guard if there has ever been one.
His coach pointed out he was the best defensive player on the floor because he would guard any position. Some night take the opposing guard, some night the opposing center. Exciting to see how this translates to UC.
--- National Title Game tonight: Louisville vs. Michigan. Our guy Rob Dauster at NBC Sports writes about how you couldn't ask for a more fitting final game. > He's right. And for those of you who scoff when I quote KenPom here all the time, your two national title participants own the No. 1 team in defensive efficiency (Louisville) against the No.1 team in offensive efficiency (Michigan). Not to mention the second-ranked team at turning opponents over (Louisville) against the No. 1 team in not turning the ball over on offense (Michigan).
So much of March and April are about creating the few extra possessions to make the difference. Whoever is able to win the turnover margin tonight will likely be cutting down the nets.
--- I'm most excited tonight for One Shining Moment, which as everyone who reads this blog knows, I'm moderately obsessed with. I'll post it here tomorrow. For today, here's Cincinnati's own Afghan Whigs with an old classic.