I feel confident in using "Dances with Wolves" as my title this week as I actually met Kevin Costner once.
I was covering an old-timer's game in St. Petersburg's Al Lang Stadium in the when Costner and Tom Selleck were both there. Selleck had his "Mr. Baseball" movie out and Costner had just put out his latest western. (Courtesy "Dances with Wolves"/ popcrunch.com)
Since my wife had just seen the movie, and I had just caught a foul ball, I decided to ask him to sign it. I had just did a radio interview with Selleck, so I thought Costner was fair game.
Initially, he hesitated. However, I noticed a shapely female come up with the same request and Costner obliged. He also noticed (me noticing him) and decided to make amends.
"Sir, I'll sign that for you now," he said.
Since I admittedly enjoy some of his movies and was looking for spousal approval, I flipped him the ball.
Now, I'm guessing you're not reading this for my various "brushes with greatness". Some of you may think I'm just a veteran Bearcat who wanders the Lindner Center talking to himself. But, I've always got a story and an opinion when it comes to UC, so here goes this week's attempt to stir the Bearcat pot a bit. This could be the most pivotal game of the Butch Jones era!
A year ago, with a team many thought would be better, the Bearcats lost another prime TV opportunity against North Carolina State 30-19. If you recall, this wasn't long after the opening disappointment at Oregon State (also on TV).
Last year's game wasn't as close as the score. It was 20-7 at halftime and UC scored late to make it look better in the morning paper (or hand-held device).
The good thing is, Russell Wilson is gone. The NC State quarterback has taken advantage of that odd rule that allows him to move on without a year of sitting out since he's got his degree.
The man that tormented Bearcats through the air and on the ground last year, is Wisconsin's starter this season. (Wish those things would work out UC's way for once.)
That said, the Wolfpack can score. They've put 43, 27 and 35 points on the board in three games. Their one loss was to Wake Forest.
UC should win this and needs to win this for a lot of reasons:
The routs against Austin Peay and Akron were expected. This is not exactly a "gimme".
Fans need assurance that mistakes made in the soft-coverage defense against Tennessee have been corrected.
Again, it's a national TV shot. You don't want to soil the nest too many times when opportunity knocks.
Tom O'Brien, the NC State coach, is from Cincinnati. At Boston College, and with the Wolfpack, he recruits this area. NC State wins, and he has more "ammo" to use in the recruiting wars.
The students are trickling back into town with classes starting soon. They need a reason to come out and make a difference. As we've seen, when given the product, they do make a difference.
Personally, I look forward to seeing UC's starters play the bulk of the game and more of the playbook. Give the offense credit, without revealing much, they pretty much took Austin Peay and Akron to the woodshed.
They also moved the ball well against Tennessee, until the Vols were able to shift momentum and change the strategy.
If UC wants to make a statement, locally and nationally, this is a game where the Bearcats need to send the Wolfpack home with their tails between their legs whimpering.
If the defense can affect the game the way they did against the Zips, this could be an exciting night. And, there 's always something a little special about a fine night performance in "The Nipp", isn't there?
Besides, with the Big East and ACC talk going on, don't you think those loyal to the Big East wouldn't like to see UC lay the smackdown on an ACC opponent?
I'm not sure UC can keep up their 60 point average this season at home, but half of that should equate to a Bearcat win.
I begin this piece a bit out of sorts and a bit jealous.
I'm supposed to play the journalist's angle, but as a UC fan and grad, I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't disappointed with the effort in Tennessee in game No. 2.
If you read this last week (and God bless you) you know that I may have overextended myself saying UC should've gone into Knoxville and just had a business-like performance over Tennessee.
In some ways, I was correct.
If you're a Tennessee fan and you weren't concerned when Isaiah Pead rambled 65 yards on the first play, you're lying. Ditto for the second touchdown that came relatively easy.
However, I'm guessing the Vol fans were feeling better once they saw that UC's defensive backs were playing UT's receivers as far back as Sevierville. In many ways, I thought I was seeing Peyton Manning at quarterback, or the next Carl Pickens at receiver.
I'm also jealous that the Tennessee fan base thinks so much of their football team, that they find my little ol' blogpost and blow it up. In all of my writings here, I've never had as many comments about one article.
In one way, I was flattered, in another, I was tired of reading Volunteer fans ripping me all weekend. Had they read anything I wrote, they would've seen my closeness and appreciation of the Tennessee program.
Some people just read what they want to read and see what they want to see.
What I'd like to see is UC fans catch the same fervor the Volunteer fans have. Sure, it's easy to laugh at, but (statistically speaking) the two products haven't been all that dissimilar.
The difference is in the passion and I commend the Orange folks for what they have. In Knoxville, the fans come in by the wagon load. Here, it depends on when the bandwagon starts.
I know that doesn't speak for all, but deep down, you know I'm right. We're a bandwagon town.
Everyone wants to have an Opening Day party, but they don't want to follow the Reds in August if they're not in first.
We throw Super Bowl parties when many can't name three players on either team. Derby parties have a lot to drink, but little in terms of handicapping knowledge.
Each summer, we buy a new Hawaiian shirt for Buffett at Riverbend, but are lost beyond "Margaritaville" , "Fins" and "Cheeseburger in Paradise". Oh well, it's a party.
At Nippert, the party was on when Brian Kelly lit the scoreboard up and UC racked up wins, but it's dissipated some since.
Sure, the Akron Zips don't give you chills like Michigan and Notre Dame, but Nippert Stadium gives you a nice Saturday respite and several opportunities for a cold beverage you couldn't get at "The Big House" or in South Bend.
What's the harm?
Will any of you ride an Akron web columnist like the Volunteers rode me last week?
Will you utilize UC's new tailgating options and throw some money in the local economy? Or, will you just look from afar in your lawn chair watching youth soccer, peeling orange slices and waiting to do that gosh awful "human bridge" thing for Biff and Muffy?
(OK, going a little "Matt Foley" on you--I'll slow down.)
Here's the Cliff's (Scott's) notes for this week.
1) Isaiah Pead will get the first carry. Akron will know it and still won't be able to stop it. 2) Zach Collaros needs to run more. I think they've put the brakes on. Time to freelance No. 12. 3) Anthony McClung will catch a TD. Because of D.J. Woods and Kenbrell Thompkins, McClung benefits. Kind of like a good college fantasy play. 4) Travis Kelce? Wildcat? Anyone? 5) Akron WILL throw the ball against UC. Why wouldn't you based on the tape? 6) Kickoffs must reach the endzone. This is big boy football. If not, let Milligan kick because he'll make a play somehow. 7) UC's a huge favorite. Anything less than 50 points is mildly disappointing. 8) If UC goes for it at 4th and 1, everyone will hold their breath and hope they use the other 99 percent of the field. 9) Sadly, Kirk Herbstreit won't pick us on Gameday. This week, there won't be a mention. 10) Don't EVER "Fear the 'Roo"!
Now that I've got all that out of my system, enjoy these reflections of UC quarterback Zach Collaros on his first game against Akron and his next game with the Zips.
the scenery, but it's nothing more than game No. 2
a lot of folks worked up over this upcoming UC and Tennessee tilt and that's a good thing for the Bearcats.
Travel sold out a bus trip and many are making the four-hour (depending on how many fireworks you buy in Jellico) drive to Knoxville to watch UC face an SEC opponent.
wife's even fired up--particularly at me, because I was a day late in trying to secure her a spot on the previously mentioned bus.She did most of her undergrad work at Tennessee, then finished up at UC.
now a Bearcat and is looking forward to watching them take down a team that used to pack 100,000 plus at Neyland Stadium.
were in college, she came up for a UC game against Rutgers in the early 80s.I mentioned to her the crowd of 15,000 or so wasn't bad.
taken in several games at Rocky Top U., she looked at me like I had three eyes.
UC's not on the same scale of Tennessee yet, but things are evening out in terms of football.
the crowd, it's the only thing to do that day in the entire state and it is the state school.Knoxville has no pro sports, so a Volunteer home game is a big deal.No other school in the state has that same following. The rest struggle to maintain fans.
can compete is on the field.That's exactly why I think this game is no big deal.
clobbered in 1992 by the Vols 40-0.
Prior to that, the two schools hadn't met since 1942 when Tennessee
blistered the Bearcats 34-12.
on the radio crew when Tim Murphy coached, but covered them close enough to know him pretty well.
then, the picture of UC merely playing at Neyland Stadium was displayed proudly in his office and was used as a recruiting tool.
Majors was still Tennessee's coach, with future SEC coaches Phil Fulmer and David Cutcliffe as assistants.Heath Shuler was the Tennessee quarterback before going on to a mediocre NFL career and then politics.
had no conference or bowl ties. "Hanging" with a quality opponent was considered good (UC had begun the season with a 24-20 loss to Penn State at Nippert).
later, a representative from the Poulan Weedwacker Independence Bowl would come to look at Murphy's team that finished 8-3 and left unimpressed when about "15 and change" showed up for a game against Memphis.
how far UC's come.In the recent BCS race, the Bearcats have been and the Vols have faltered.
the day, Tennessee's archrival was Alabama.They didn't much like Georgia either.
(Courtesy of www.frumpzilla.com)
UT's hired Dave Hart from Alabama as their AD and their coach is the son of the legendary Vince Dooley from Georgia.At least one of the UGA's must be rolling in his grave!
embellishing, what about the game?
think for a moment that UC will put up 72 on Tennessee or that Tennessee will smoke the Bearcats 40-zip again.
of recent changes, the Vols still attract top notch talent and their atmosphere will be the best UC will see all year.
the Vols are still young and the coach still doesn't have the track record that the folks around the Smokies are used to. (He is to be commended though for lasting longer than noted scoundrel Lane Kiffin.)
struggled to 6-7 last season (yes, they sadly played a bowl game with a .500 record).If not for winning all of their November games, they wouldn't have even got that far.Let the record show, the November schedule of Memphis, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky wasn't exactly "murderer's row" by SEC standards.
oldest son is getting a Master's degree at UAB and works with their football team. The Blazers were sub .500 in 2010 also, but took the Volunteers to double overtime before falling 32-29 last season.
In the loss, they outgained Tennessee on the ground and through the air.
watched several of UAB's games and saw them in practice recently.I also watched several of Tennessee's games.
what I see (which won't get me on ESPN Gameday anytime soon because I'm not a pretty boy or girl and won't wear a stinky mascot head) UC's talent, at the very least, is on par with Tennessee's.
they're better than UAB and Tennessee.
big of a win as it sounds, UC should approach this game with the attitude that Tennessee should be in awe of them, and not vice versa. (Much like South Florida should look at Notre Dame in the rear view mirror.)
Thompkins should have a fun day.This is the team that sidelined his college career by a year because they wouldn't release him from his scholarship.
Kiffin was able to bolt in the dark of night, but Thompkins was held
contractually hostage by the unfair policies of college athletics.
forward to Zach Collaros and KT hooking up in the creamsicle checkerboard endzone.
forward to Isaiah Pead chewing up yards while Vol fans are searching
frantically for that flask of Jack Daniel's they snuck in.
for a routine win, a small dosage of hillbilly music in between, and all eyes forward on bigger and better games.
I used to write a rather formal game preview here that included when the game was, the name of the field, the time of kickoff and where you can find it on TV.
Due to regular employment and the fact that most of you are intelligent enough to find Nippert Stadium without the help of GPS, I'm going to toss that aside.
(UC and Austin Peay kick off at 7 p.m. at "The Nipp" and it's more fun to be there in person. That's all I'm giving you.)
I will give you a few random thoughts, which I tend to have from time to time.
I remember the last time the two played, I think Robert Tate had kick return for a score. For those that don't remember Robert Tate, he was probably the best return guy the Bearcats have had on kickoffs. If you want to talk punts, you go back to Tinker Keck.
If you don't know who Robert Tate or Tinker Keck are, you're probably not reading much of me anyway because you think I'm too old.
I'll give you this, I'll put my knowledge gained from 14 years on the radio crew up with anyone's regarding UC football personnel and minutia from the early 90s on.
(That's just my little disclaimer for anyone that thinks UC football began when Brian Kelly marched onto the field.) What to watch for:
Will UC open up their big bag of tricks on offense? Or, will they hold back a little knowing they have to travel to Knoxville to take on another Tennessee school of note in a week?
Realistically, with Zach Collaros and Isaiah Pead, the Bearcats shouldn't have to go too deep in the playbook. However, receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Anthony McClung need to rack up some DI college receptions and get their feet wet.
Don't worry about D.J. Woods, he'll get his (and because he'll get his, Thompkins and McClung will get theirs). If they focus on Woods, KT and McClung will have a big night and vice-versa.
I'm kind of interested to see who steps up at tight end. I think UC, at least initially, will miss Ben Guidugli. Adrien Robinson has an NFL body, but hasn't quite put it all together yet and Coach Jones wanted to see more out of Blake Annen at one point in training camp.
Also, two "stud" running backs were recruited, Jameel Poteat and Akise Teague. The staff is high on them and they're realistically the backs of the future. How much will they get in, if at all? Currently, George Winn is listed as the No. 2 back behind Pead.
In addition, Pead has bulked up and improved his pass blocking. Will he get his 1,000 yards or will one of the youngsters get in the mix?
Munchie Legaux won the No. 2 quarterback spot, although Coach Jones says Jordan Louallen will play some too. I wouldn't have guessed Legaux at No. 2 in the spring when Louallen looked very effective running the team and running the ball.
However. watching at Higher Ground, the stronger arm belongs to Legaux.
Where does Brendon Kay fit in with all this? With Collaros wrapping up his career, this season could determine who runs next season.
There shouldn't be as many as last year. Too many players return and some that were injured return. I'm interested to see how transfer Ben Pooler does. (By the way, with his helmet off, he's a dead ringer for Dhani Jones.)
The secondary is clearly stronger and I think the LBs (Maalik Bomar, JK Schaffer, Pooler and throw Dwight Jackson and Solomon Tentman in there) are downright nasty.
If you look up front on the defensive line, you see a lot of the names you heard last year, Walter Stewart, Brandon Mills, Derek Wolfe, John Hughes, Dan Giordano, Rob Trigg, Jordan Stepp. I think overall, the UC defense will be fun to watch and far more successful. Who's kicking?
Elder's Tony Miliano won the job and probably is going to have to go through some of the same growing pains we watched Jake Rogers have. He's young and he's going to be here awhile, so strap on your seatbelt and be patient. Elder kids tend to deliver.
Pat O'Donnell's still the punter and he's fine. I kind of wish he wasn't the holder (I like the possibility of a fake) but I'm typically not contacted on personnel matters.
DJ Woods will handle punts and possibly Isaiah Pead. I like the idea of Pead, because he might have more open space for his moves. As for Woods, I've been predicting a punt TD since his freshman year, so I again see him "taking one to the house".
On the kick returns, it's Ralph David Abernathy IV, all 5-7 and 160 pounds of him. He's a true freshman, but as long as he can secure the ball, he'll give teams fits. You can't tackle what you don't see.
Don't look ahead!
What I hope to see is an all-out blistering of the Governors. I think holding back things for week two is dangerous and you should play them all with the same intensity.
Austin Peay will run the ball, which will give Jim Kelly a clever line during his "Kelly's Keys" segment on radio: "Watch when Peay runs!"
(You didn't think I'd do a whole preview without a sophomoric reference, did you?)
I think UC's defense is up for anything. I think they're hungry to whack someone else and I predict a score similar to the last time these two met in 1993 when I had more hair (42-10 ).
Going into the following game, I think UC has every opportunity in the world to beat a Tennessee team that was far from dominating last year. .
I'd write more, but then I'd be guilty of looking ahead. If I don't want the players to do it, I shouldn't either.
Enjoy the night against Austin Peay and drive safely down to Knoxville. If you take the side trip to Dollywood, say hello to Ms. Parton for me.
Sure, this is a variation of an interview I did with Kerry Coombs at Higher Ground, but at the Butch Jones press conference for Austin Peay, I did notice a number of area kids, not just on the roster, but on the "two-deep" that media folks like me use during games.
In my constant effort to satisfy my high school obligations with my day (and a lot of nights) job and my college obligations with my side job, I cornered coach Jones today outside of the Bearcat locker room.
Here's a fancy little intro I wrote for The Community Press/Enquirer Media outlets....
Going into their opener against Austin Peay, the UC Bearcats have
nine Greater Cincinnati players on their "two-deep" roster: guard Sean
McClelland of Moeller, center Evan Davis of Colerain, guard Austen
Bujnoch of Elder, defensive lineman Brandon Mills of Colerain,
linebacker Maalik Bomar of Winton Woods, linebacker J.K. Schaffer of La
Salle, safety Arryn Chenault of Fairfield, defensive back Chris Williams
of Winton Woods and long snapper Tom DeTemple of Moeller. In addition,
Elder's Tony Miliano was just named the opening game kicker.
Coach Jones had this to say about the Bearcats' local recruiting efforts:
Coming into his final season as a Bearcat, senior Isaiah Pead is coming off a 1,029 yard season where he scored six touchdowns.
Pead was also the team's third-leading receiver with 26 catches.
Since season's end, coach Butch Jones emphasized that Pead needed to become a "complete back". As the team returned to Camp Higher Ground in Indiana to prepare for the 2011 opener with Austin Peay, it appears Pead has made those strides.
"He's really improved in his pass protection skills and has done a great job in handling the throw game," Jones said. "He's progressed exceptionally well. He's had a great training camp and worked extremely hard. He's been a great role model for our younger backs."
Two of those younger backs are incoming freshmen Jameel Poteat from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Akise Teague from Youngstown. Both show tremendous promise.
"It's critical because you lead by example," Jones said of Pead's relationship with the youngsters. "Everyone has a great amount of respect for Isaiah on the field. He's been a mentor for these younger backs. He's been a model of consistency and practiced extremely hard."
For Pead's views on the season, the young backs and the opener, please view this:
(This is something I posted on the Press Preps blog of www.cincinnati.com. My job at The Community Press/Enquirer Media is to cover high school sports. Many local prep stars have made it to UC and other schools, so sometimes we check in on those in the college ranks.)
Since joining then-coach Brian Kelly's UC staff in late 2006 from
Colerain High School, Kerry Coombs has concentrated on scouring the
I-275 belt and points in between to find the best Tri-State football
Convince the many talented athletes to stay in town and become
Coming up on his fifth season, Coombs is still doing it, spurning an
offer from Kelly to jump to Notre Dame. The architect of the powerhouse
Colerain Cardinals is now the associate head coach under Butch Jones at
UC, along with being special teams coordinator and defensive backs
A peak at the current UC roster features a number of locals. Listed
as they appear alphabetically are: junior LB Maalik Bomar from Winton
Woods, senior OL Austen Bujnoch from Elder, sophomore DB Arryn Chenault
from Fairfield, freshman QB Patrick Coyne from Badin, senior OL Evan
Davis from Colerain, senior LS Tom DeTemple from Moeller, junior DB Drew
Frey from Clinton-Massie, sophomore WR Jacob Giltrow from Lakota West,
senior DB Reuben Haley from Mount Healthy, freshman LB Kevin Hyland from
Elder, freshman OL Cory Keebler from Lakota East, junior LB Colin
Lozier from Colerain, freshman LB Innocent Macha from Roger Bacon,
sophomore OL Dominic Mainello from Beechwood, junior DB Breon Mapp from
Anderson, freshman LB Corey Mason from Elder, sophomore OL Sean
McClellan from Moeller, freshman K Tony Miliano from Elder, junior WR
Danny Milligan from St. Xavier, junior DL Brandon Mills from Colerain,
freshman DL Brandon Mitchell from Withrow, freshman OL Justin Murray
from Sycamore, senior K Shane Popham from Covington Catholic, senior LB
J.K. Schaffer from La Salle, freshman OL Kevin Schloemer from Lakota
West, freshman TE Matt Staubach from McNicholas, freshman LB Solomon
Tentman from Roger Bacon and junior DB Chris Williams from Winton Woods.
What if UC could get every prime prep player to stay home?
"We'd never leave," Coombs said.
(The full video of coach Coombs' interview is below)
As talented as UC's receiving corps is, they lost a lot of experience in Armon Binns and Marcus Barnett. Vidal Hazelton's six catch, one game cameo is over as well, leaving D.J. Woods as this year's wily veteran.
"We have a lot of youth and inexperience," coach Butch Jones admitted.
While the youthful wideouts are full of "upside", the truth is transfer Kenbrell Thompkins has yet to play a Division I down and Anthony McClung's just a sophomore.
He's not just another sophomore on the sidelines though.
"As of today, I'm in the starting line-up," McClung said proudly. "It's
going pretty good, going in and playing every play. I'm used to rotating
with D.J. (Woods)."
So, after 22 catches and a couple scores in his inaugural season, No. 6 is a primary target for quarterback Zach Collaros.
"The pressure's on him," Jones said. "He has to go from being a back-up to being a starter. He's got to understand the role that we need being a starter--playing 12 plays in a row on a big drive and being just as physical on the 12th play as the first one."
While the 22 catches may not "wow" you, it's eight more than senior D.J. Woods had in his first year and 22 more NCAA catches than Thompkins.
"They're both great playmakers," McClung said. "I'm just thankful to be on the field with them at the same time."
This season McClung hopes to add to those totals and find his spots when Thompkins and Woods are covered. Thompkins is more a deep threat and Woods is more "possession", but all of them can run the other's routes.
"We all make the same amount of plays," McClung said. "They spread the ball out pretty much, so there's really no standout receiver. D.J.'s the senior leader, we all look up to him."
McClung is trying to learn the slot position from Woods, along with the ways of the various Big East defensive backs. Some of that learning comes on the field, some in the classroom.
"Everybody changes their defense every year, so you've just got to watch film," McClung said.
He twice found the endzone last season (vs. Rutgers and Pitt) and is hoping to find that coveted area again.. He scored once in the open end of Nippert and once at the closed end, near the students. (courtesy uspresswire.com)
"My first college touchdown was amazing," McClung recalled. "They picked me up. It was real fun. It was way more fun in the student section."
Ironically, McClung's high school teammate, Dyjuan Lewis will be among the other receivers pushing to join the starting crew. However, Lewis is more of the "Armon Binns build", where McClung is similar in size to Woods.
Both McClung and Lewis went to Indianapolis Pike High School, as did offensive lineman Andre Cureton.
As always, this year's UC Bearcat football team is loaded with those that played their prep pigskin here in town (many with games at Nippert Stadium).
With the high school season getting a head start on the college season, I cornered two of UC's top defenders (from two of the area's top football high schools) for a little prep/college Q&A at a recent early practice.
Senior JK Schaffer played for coach Tom Grippa at La Salle High School in the GCL,while junior Brandon Mills played for current UC defensive back coach Kerry Coombs at Colerain, along with the present coach Tom Bolden.
You both look beefier. Do you both have more leanness and nastiness about you?
Schaffer: "I probably weigh a good 10 pounds more than I weighed last year. I'm not too angry. Just got done with a good practice. What do you think Mills?
Mills: "It was a good practice for the defense. We're just good." How do you feel compared to the first day you walked in here out of high school?
Mills: "I've grown up a lot. I think I'm more mature now. Being around the fellows, they just keep me on the right path. They're making me a better person."
Schaffer: "I was a little scrawny. Not too scrawny. The thing I'm so much better at is the whole mental thing. I'm so much more experienced than I was. I've got a good amount of ball under my belt now and I feel like I can just go out there and run around and know exactly what I'm going to do every single play. Couple years ago, I had to think about it. Now, it's just muscle memory and it just feels natural."
You both played big-time high school ball, but it's probably still kind of eye-opening when you come in here. It's not that easy, is it?
Schaffer: "It's really not that easy. I was telling the young guys last night, 'You have to earn your keep here. You've got to prove yourself to the older guys and coaches. You can't be given an opportunity. You have to go out and earn it every day.'"
Mills: "You have to come in here and work from day one to get the spot you deserve. If you work hard, they're going to give it to you and see all the work that you've done." How is coach Coombs compared to what he was (at Colerain)?
Mills: "Man, he's the same! Coach Coombs hasn't changed a bit. I still love the guy. Deep down in my heart, that's my guy."
Schaffer: "I wasn't a big fan of coach Coombs or Colerain when I was in high school. But, coach Coombs recruited me in his first year at UC. My freshman year, one of my roommates was Evan Davis of Colerain. I got to accept Colerain a little bit after that. I love coach Coombs and love the Colerain guys on my team. I've got a little bit more respect for them now."
Did you ever wear a shirt with a Cardinal on it?
Schaffer: "I'm not allowed to say what I would say. Absolutely not!"
GMC vs. GCL?
Mills: "There's still bad blood over here, but with JK, I'm cool. Everybody else, I don't like."
Schaffer: "We (both) still don't like (Danny) Milligan (St. Xavier grad)." The Big East media said you were fifth. Are they wrong?
Schaffer: "I think the year we went undefeated, they picked us fifth or sixth. The preseason rankings really don't matter. I don't get real upset over it. I like being the underdog anyway and going out and proving people wrong."
Can you use that to your advantage when you're knocking these allegedly higher-ranked teams around?
Mills: "Yeah. We just need to take it and run with it. We need to make them see that they picked the wrong team. I feel we're a lot better and we're going to be stronger this year."
Schaffer: "I feel so much better about this season. Everything's running so much smoother and everyone's bought in and working hard. We've got guys on this team that have played a lot of football. I think that's one of the main things in college football--experience." Is this your last Higher Ground training camp?
Schaffer: "This is my last one."
Will you laugh at Mills when it's over?
Schaffer: "Yeah, I'll be like, 'Have fun next year!'"
Minus Yancy Gates who was at World Games try-outs and Shaq Thomas who's been home this summer, the UC-based Slats team defeated Raeshon Mansoor Law Office in the Deveroes Summer League Championship game 96-80.
As the game turned to a rout, PA announcer (and former Xavier standout) Jamal Walker called for the buzzer with 28.3 seconds left.
I was with the wife and kids, so I wasn't privy to the actual final stats (which you should see posted eventually on www.greatercincinnatisportsworld.com). However, former Bearcat guard Deonta Vaughn was back and had 30 at last check very late in the game.
Slats also led big at halftime 50-38. The lead stayed around 10-15 and the closest Mansoor got was six (thanks to veteran Paul McMillan who seemingly scored half of their points).
The new guys didn't play much outside of Cheikh Mbodj, who started in the pivot for Yancy Gates. Not to sound "Archie Bunker-ish", but Cheikh (pronounced Shek) might be the best foreign find this team's had.
Think of every lumbering, tall and somewhat useless body that's been around and that's what Cheikh is not.
I was pleasantly surprised by his aggressiveness, his nose for the ball and his general attitude and shot-changing ability. He's no offensive whiz, but he does his job and gets points a guy his size should get.
Also helping Slats immensely today was the presence of Xavier's Tu Holloway. You put Vaughn and Holloway in the same backcourt and that's a pretty tough match-up.
The other recruits present today were Octavius Ellis (who is actually a tad taller than Mbodj and redshirt Kelvin Gaines), Jeremiah Davis and Jermaine Sanders. Again, your best bets for playing time out of the new crew are Shaq Thomas and Cheikh Mbodj.
Get used to hearing "Shaq and Cheikh" in the next few years.