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Bearcats need special delivery at FedEx Field

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Here's a crucial game for both teams before we hit October pumpkin season.  This is the odd "home game"  we've known about for a number of years that has finally arrived.

Not meaning to step on any toes, but speaking as a long-time UC fan and alum, this game was sold.  UC gave up the right to play at Nippert (or likely Paul Brown Stadium) for cash.  The school needed cash, they got it and what's done is done.

Hopefully, the cash was used wisely as it's certainly hard to come by these days.

This is all pre-Butch Jones, so it's been a known factor for years and I'm sure Coach will have his men prepared.  (Perhaps more so than the last time UC met Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.)

For the record, approximate driving distance from your normal tailgate spots in Corryville to Landover, Maryland is nine hours and 15 minutes for the "home" Bearcats.  The "visiting" Hokies will travel four hours and 55 minutes from the hills of Blacksburg.

Still, Virginia Tech typically travels well and geographically Virginia is in much closer proximity to D.C. and the surrounding Maryland area than the Queen City.

Should the Bearcats ride the Dan Hoard win streak at FedEx Field (announced the Bengals win over the Redskins Sunday) then everything should be OK.

One more pivotal question....

If Ohio is indeed the "swing state" for the presidential election, will we see President Obama or Governor Romney on hand in a Bearcat jersey?

To the match-up now:

WHEN: Saturday at 3:30
WHERE: The aforementioned FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.
SERIES: Virginia Tech leads 5-4
LAST TIME: Hokies beat UC in the Orange Bowl 20-7 January 1, 2009.
RECORDS:  Virginia Tech (3-1) Cincinnati (2-0)
WHERE DO I WATCH IT:  Anywhere that brings you ESPNU in living color.

UC offense vs. Virginia Tech defense

The Hokies shut out Bowling Green last week, allowed Austin Peay seven, Georgia Tech 17 and then had the mysterious 35-17 loss to Pitt.   The logical thinking is UC will score somewhere between what Pitt and Georgia Tech did.  If they have miscues like they did against Delaware State, things might not go so well.  Pitt won with Rushel Shell gaining 157 yards. While in a spread, UC's bread and butter has been running the ball.  If George Winn can hover around or over the 100-yard mark again, UC should get enough yards from Munchie Legaux and Ralph David Abernathy IV to be successful.  Passing-wise, Leguax's overall numbers were good, but he'll not be able to have the turnovers he did last game.

Linebacker Jack Tyler will be eying the Bearcat runners as he's the Hokies top tackler. Trying to chase down Legaux will be Virginia Tech sack leaders Tyrel Wilson and James Gayle. Munchie's elusiveness will be crucial in this one.

UC will also have to be consistent.  While the teams are different, Tony Pike and Mardy Gilyard marched down the field in UC's first possession in the 2009 Orange Bowl then never scored again.  Virginia Tech will not sweat a deficit.

The pick:  Bearcats should move the ball.  If they regain their confidence in the redzone, all will be well.

UC defense vs. Virginia Tech offense

Stop. The. Run. Stop the run. I repeat, stop the run.  In particular, the 6-foot-6 260-pound, Dante Culpepper-like quarterback Logan Thomas.   He throws OK, but that's not his game. He is a threat running the football.  Think Travis Kelce at quarterback (by the way, remember his Wildcat touchdowns?).  Thomas' completion percentage is just a tad over 50 percent, so  he's not going to pick you apart throwing.  When he does, the Hokies have good-sized receivers in Marcus Davis, Corey Fuller and Dyrell Roberts.  However, an "old school" coach like Frank Beamer will also emphasize the run and Virginia Tech is 6-0 recently when gaining 200 or more yards on the ground.

Walter Stewart, Dan Giordano, Greg Blair, Malik Bomar and company have to play some "smashmouth" football.  Getting a taller Drew Frey back at safety will also be a plus. Of that group I just named, Virginia Tech's Thomas outweighs Blair, Bomar, Frey and Stewart and is equal to Giordano. Of UC's usual defensive lineman, only Adam Dempsey, Jordan Stepp and John Williams carry more poundage than Thomas.

The lowdown:  If UC can tackle Thomas on the lowdown and get a little help from the mythical "Fumblelina" the game could be controlled.  Obviously, if the Hokies control the line of scrimmage, they'll likely control the game.

Special Teams


For years, "Beamer Ball" at Virginia Tech has been based on special teams success. Punt returner Kyshoen Jarrett has already had a 94-yard return for a score.  The Virginia Tech force is also pretty good at blocking kicks, so snaps, holds and loft are going to be crucial to the UC kicking game. Virginia Tech's Cody Journell's long field goal this season has just been 41 yards,so that's something that could be a factor if it's a close game. Tony Miliano is 3-3 for UC with a long of 46.

Nod:  It's a foreign field for both, but the Hokies played there last year with Boise State and will have the advantage of more familiarity and more physical fan support. Best bet for UC? Score touchdowns.

Intangibles

As just mentioned, Virginia Tech played at FedEx Field a year ago and their fans are more likely to make the pilgrimage since it's a more manageable drive.  Plus, a Saturday in Blacksburg WITHOUT a football game?  What do you do? UC and their fans also have to get over the Hokies loss to Pitt. While UC dominated Pitt, they stumbled and were not as efficient against a lesser Delaware State team.  They actually need to take the attitude Pitt had when they stormed over the Hokies. The Bearcats need to play as spirited as an 0-2 team looking to prove people wrong instead of a 2-0 team that could let it's guard down.  That's where the coaches come in and I'm sure Butch Jones and staff will be in their face the rest of the week. Their is no home field advantage in this "home" game, so UC must seize the moment and take over the neutral site.

Next up: A REAL home game as UC protects the Victory Bell against the Miami Redhawks Oct. 6.


First nightcap of the year

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Game one for the Bearcats may have everyone resting comfortably, but that's something any good college coach worries about.  Though UC systematically dismantled Pitt 34-10 in a game that never felt close, Butch Jones will likely build up Delaware State as a Louisiana-Monroe-type that came to Arkansas's home field and sent the Hogs back to the trough weeping.

Just as Nick Saban scowled at the media this past week when someone belittled Western Kentucky playing Alabama, someone will likely tread on the topic this week of, "why play Delaware State?"

It will not be me.

Numerous seasons of sideline reporting has seen me shot down like a "Call of Duty" figure more times than I can recall.  I still have the "verbal shrapnel".

What it basically amounts to is you can schedule a few appetizers before your conference season to give your team confidence, or you can load up on Top 25 teams.  Usually, the weaker teams load up because it all comes down to revenue.  If you're team has a shot, you might take the old Kansas State method to bowl games with "cupcakes" served before the main portion.

Somewhere in the middle is the right answer.  You do need to schedule some "lighter" opponents, but you also need to be tested. With what UC has this year, plus the Virginia Tech game qualifies as "somewhere in the middle" with me.

Here's the skinny this week:


WHERE:  Back at "The Nipp".  Fill'er up.
KICKOFF:  7 p.m. Pull down the tent and shut down the grill in time to watch UC's special teams either boot it or return it.
THE SERIES: Likely a first, wouldn't you think? No trophy involved.
NICKNAME CHALLENGE:  Delaware State is the Hornets.  Win yourself a pre-game bet.

UC offense vs. Delaware State defense


The big question is can George Winn rip through the line for a first play score "Isaiah Pead-style" again?  And, if he does, will he be disciplined for hurling the ball into the student section again? I put the first question at 70 percent.  The second, I would say 0 percent.  He likely got chewed out for chucking the ball, but it did have Chapman-like velocity, didn't it?

Delaware State has a defensive back named Terrick Colston who had 12 tackles and won some honor for his play in the Hornets' win over VMI.  I would venture to say if Colston has 12 tackles against UC, that's a good sign as the Bearcats would have penetrated the secondary in one form or another.  It's usually not a good sign when a DB is the team tackling leader.  Plus, the Hornets were stung by the in-state rival power that is the Delaware Blue Hens last week.  If the Hens put 38 on the toteboard, realistic minds have to think that UC could put a 50-spot up if they wanted to.

This looks like a game where you'll see multiple backs and receivers and I would think Brendon Kay might come in for more than the "victory formation".  That's why these games are good, because you need to develop your bench and no one learns a thing from watching. Kids play sports to play, there's plenty of time as an adult to watch all you want.

Obvious advantage: UC

UC defense vs. Delaware State offense

The pleasant surprise for me against Pitt was the play of the defense.  I worried about the losses of Derek Wolfe and JK Schaffer.  After watching Walter Stewart dominate, John Williams contribute and Greg Blair show no love for his home city, I'm feeling a lot better.  Dan Giordano, Brandon Mills and Nick Temple all were near the ball also.  In this contest, the secondary will likely get a workout and  scouts might get a better handle on what Drew Frey can do.  Delaware State quarterback Nick Elko threw the ball 50 times last week and 38 the week before.  Don't look for the Hornets to "establish the run".  Their best runner is Malcolm Williams, but he's not in the same category of Pitt's Ray Graham or even Isaac Bennett.  Elko's "go to" receiver is Justin Wilson who caught nine passes for 93 yards against Delaware.  Again, he's not in the category of Pitt's Mike Shanahan or Devin Street or Cameron Saddler.

The pick: UC

Special teams

Tony Miliano made his field goals and Patrick O'Donnell's punting average was good vs. Pitt.  In this game, Miliano could be limited to extra points and if it goes well, a back-up kicker might get in the scorebook.  Likewise, for O'Donnell-if it's a good game, he'll be holding for extra points more than anything.  Delaware State has a German punter who's 6-foot-6 and weighs 220 pounds.  His name is Marco Kano and I would expect to hear his name repeatedly Saturday night.

Advantage: UC

Intangibles

This is the equivalent of an NFL preseason game.  That's not meant as a shot, it's simply the truth. Delaware State's home opener was played in front of less than 3,000 fans.  UC's student section alone should cover that.  It's chance for them to play a big opponent and UC to get their back-ups in.  While that might sound like boasting, this program is only about 20 years removed from being in that same position.  Worse off for Delaware State, their next game is against Florida A&M and it's Band Day.  I don't know how well the Hornets race onto the field with their instruments and perform, but have you ever seen Florida A&M's band? They're probably the most athletic and entertaining in the college game today.

So....

The outcome is not in question. The bigger question might be what quarter the Bearcats reach the half-century mark.

The final River City Rivalry?

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Is it?

Who knows?

Pitt's jumped ship to the ACC along with Syracuse so their programs can experience March Madness in the historic venue known as the Greensboro Coliseum (not quite the goose bumps of Madison Square Garden).

I overheard Whit Babcock tell Bill Koch that he's not opposed to playing Pitt again due to the proximity, but you never know what can transpire in the world of college athletics.

Honestly, it'll be hard to top the Pike to Binns catch from 2008, so I won't personally lose a lot of sleep over not playing the Panthers. If they think they're serving their audience by playing in a southern conference, so be it.  Ditto for West Virginia sending the Mountaineer folks out west in Conestoga wagons and such for their Big 12 games.

Trust me, both Panther and Mountaineer fans will miss the ol' Nipp.  Somehow, the world will continue to spin on it's axis.

Now, in the words of the immortal Bobby Knight, back to THE GAME:

WHERE:  Come on!
SERIES: Panthers up 8-3
LAST GAME: Good guys won 26-23 on a Tony Miliano field goal.
KICKOFF:  8 p.m. on ESPN or whenever Holtz and the always unbiased Mark May and company toss it to Rece Davis, Jesse Palmer and former Bengal David Pollack.
USELESS STAT OF THE NIGHT:  Pitt is 7-10 on Thursday nights. I bet Johnny Majors never played on Thursday night.

UC offense vs. Pitt defense

The obvious knee-jerk reaction is that Pitt's defense gave up 31 to Youngstown State. However, six Panthers were suspended for that one and I'm told at least one of those youngsters would easily have helped the defensive effort. On the other hand, the Penguins aren't exactly mentioned in the same breath with the Alabama, USC, Oregon, Boise State, etc. The Pitt "D" also has the reality of playing two games in six days which is not real good in terms of recovery time.

The other question mark is UC's offense.  Does Munchie Legaux pick up where he left off or has he improved his game management skills?  Also, is Munchie "managing the game" or will he be allowed to freelance in a bind?  At running back, who steps forward?  George Winn? Jameel Poteat? Ralph David Abernathy IV? Or, will it be someone less publicized?  What I do know is the receivers are solid with Kenbrell Thompkins, Anthony McClung and Alex Chisum. So are the back-ups and so is future NFL player Travis Kelce at tight end.  If Munchie can get some throws off, UC has guys that can catch it and that will then open up whatever runner steps up.

What does Scott think?

I know.  Who cares.  But, these things are good for debate and firing people up, so I give you my unscientific opinion of having watched every football contest here since 1994 and a good many before that.   UC has some new lineman, but tempo has been practiced so much that I expect the offense to not be far off of where it was at the end of last year.  Keep in mind, it's the first game as colleges have no exhibitions.  Temper your expectations. EDGE: UC

Pitt offense vs. UC defense

Regardless of not being able to foil the Penguins, Pitt still has a senior quarterback in Tino Sunseri, two lanky receivers in 6-foot-5 Mike Shanahan and 6-foot-4 Devin Street, a senior tight end in Hubie Graham and senior running back Ray Graham.  Graham can run.  How he runs a year after his injury is another thing.  Often times the player is better the second year after an injury.  As for Shanahan and Street, they are a concern as beyond Drew Frey, most of the Bearcat DBs are 6-foot or under.

UC also has a new mix of defensive linemen and linebackers.  I'm interested to watch Walter Stewart at defensive end and Greg Blair at linebacker.  Others, like Dan Giordano, Jordan Stepp and Maalik  Bomar will be solid.  On the other hand, the losses of Derek Wolfe and JK Schaffer are significant.

Where you going Scott?  Since it's game one, I think the Pitt offense has something to prove and the UC defense will be a work in progress.  Hopefully, it progresses quickly.  EDGE: Pitt

Special teams

Pitt returner Cameron Saddler is related to Greg Blair.  I don't know if Greg is on the coverage teams, but that could be an interesting encounter on the turf.   Kevin Harper has a leg as he nailed a 52-yarder in last year's game. But, he also missed a 50-yarder.  Tony Miliano booted four treys at Heinz Field in 2011 and I think he'll improve as UC's recent kickers have with time. In the punt game, it's hard not to go with Patrick O'Donnell. The Bearcats' key returner is obviously Ralph David Abernathy IV who last hit paydirt in the Liberty Bowl.  Anthony McClung is no slouch either.  EDGE: UC

Intangibles

(No that's not a lunchbox product or Super Hero movie.)  Pitt is unlikely to follow up the Youngstown State game with a dud.  Put that out of your mind.  UC needs to treat it as it is--a key league game. Also, it's an ESPN opener and a team will feed off of it's fans.  It used to be the kids weren't in school this early, but now they are.  Will the semester system benefit the noisy, closed-end horseshoe section?  EDGE:  I think it will.

The call

I don't give scores, just gut reactions.  Just as Pitt couldn't fall out of the gate at Heinz Field (but did) UC can't and won't keep their fans up late on Thursday without reason to celebrate.

Blair Switch Project

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As I often labor on most Labor Days, I stopped by practice Monday afternoon to get the lowdown on the Bearcats as they prepare for Pitt Thursday.

My interview request was for Greg Blair, the senior linebacker from Pittsburgh.  It's been documented before, but if you missed it, Greg is the younger brother of former Pitt basketball center Dejuan Blair, a "beast in the Big East" in his own right.

I've assured UC's Ryan Koslen that I wouldn't bait Greg Blair for any bulletin board material for Pitt, but I can tell you there are different factions of his family that will be on hand pulling for different teams. Dejuan is now a San Antonio Spur and Greg tells me his brother will be cheering for him Thursday night.

It's also interesting to know that Greg and Dejuan played on the same high school basketball team that won state titles. D.J. Kennedy of St. John's (son of former Bearcat David "Puffy" Kennedy) was also on that team.  Blair is also related to Pitt's Cameron Saddler.

So, Richard Dawson has long passed, but there could be a little "Family Feud" action at "The Nipp" on Thursday.  Here's Greg:


RDA IV 4 UC TD

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OK, a little tardy in getting this video up, but when high school football kicks into gear, the day job gets a little hairy.

Before the Bearcats departed Higher Ground in Indiana, I spoke with Ralph David Abernathy IV about his role with UC this season and last year's tremendous kickoff return at the Liberty Bowl.

The young Abernathy will again be returning kicks for the Bearcats and could see an increased role in the backfield with the departure of Isaiah Pead to the Rams.

As in most cases, don't let his size fool you. Dude can play.


UC's Barbecue Cat

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University of Cincinnati Associate AD/External Relations and Media Communications Doug Mosley has several other titles that many might not be aware of.  As I learned from a recent restaurant review, Mr. Mosley is "The Grand Potentate of Pork", "The Sultan of Smoked Meat", "The Big Kahuna of Brisket", "Ruler of Ribs", and "Swami of Sauce".

There may be others, but that's all we can divulge at this point.

Suffice it to say, as most sports information offices do, the boys find some "good eats" on the road. Back when I traveled more sports-wise, I was always interested in finding the hole-in-the-wall places with big smokers out front that lured you in.

Even now, when I'm out of state, the family knows there's a strong likelihood I'll be stopping if I see an appealing barbecue billboard.

They all have a story.  Some have decent food.  One that I recall vividly was on a trip to Southern Miss when we were escorted to some backwoods, dirt road in rural Mississippi (not there's much of an urban Mississippi) until we came on a house that didn't have much lighting and had towels serving as drapes in the windows.

If anyone of you have seen the opening scene of the old Steve Martin movie, "The Jerk", then that's what the front porch looked like.

That's what barbecue joints are all about--atmosphere, stories, and carnivorous exploration.

So, this has little to do with football, but if you need a little advice on where to find various forms of chopped or sliced meat cooked over an open fire; Doug's your guy. I defer to anyone who has spent time on an official "barbecue eating team".

Williams ready to get cooking in final year

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OK, things are a little out of sequence here, but I defer to the players in terms of news.

This is something I did with UC defensive back Chris Williams and I did it after briefly interviewing UC's Doug Mosley who heads up the Sports Information efforts.  Turns out Mosley's a barbecue expert and I like barbecue and I like interviewing folks I have something in common with (it's my camera and all).

Anyway, Williams patiently waited while I talked about the glories of smoked pork with Mosley and then he chimed in with his two cents worth.  In addition to laying a hit on opponents in the secondary, young Williams knows his way around the kitchen and grill.

When he's not in your grill, he's on the grill and at some point, he'd like to open his own.

Here he is, the man that flies, fries and filets....

Winn's place to show

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Well, I made it through two speed traps on I-75 and I-74 to get to Camp Higher Ground in West Harrison, Indiana today.

As strange as it sounds, I really enjoy getting a chance to watch football practice this time of year so I can get a preview of what's to come.

Plus, the hospitality of the dining hall is always top notch and I was able to witness a veteran reporter devour a number of cookies and another threaten to drive out for the evening practice just for the rolls. 

The food is top notch.

So, were the kids I talked to today.  The one I'll post first here is George Winn, senior running back.

Though we all remember Isaiah Pead having a standout game in the Liberty Bowl against Vanderbilt, the longest run of the game came from No. 32 out of Detroit.

Winn had been a solid back-up all year to Pead and he proved his worth when Pead came out with a helmet issue and Winn answered with a 69-yard touchdown run.

That's called effective substitution!

Winn is now battling for the top job in the backfield with the likes of Ralph David Abernathy, sophomore Jameel Poteat and freshman Tion Green among others.  At least early, they'll all likely play.

He's also sporting a pretty respectable beard as you can see from my little video chat:


Checking in with Cheikh

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As you grow older, you do grow somewhat wiser, which is why I often try to accomplish multiple things at once.

Since my youngest son is attending Mick Cronin's Basketball Camp at UC this week (and in full disclosure, I paid the going price) I thought I might as well talk to one of the players that assists in coaching the kids.

Players that are assisting include JaQuon Parker, Ge'Lawn Guyn, Shaq Thomas and Cheikh Mbodj. In the Olympic spirit of international relations, I chose Mbodj, the recently slimmed down center out of Dakar, Senegal.


Mbodj.jpg
(Cheikh Mbodj)

Q: Tell me how you dropped all of the weight....


A: I just managed to change my diet and stuff. Since my ankle is healthy, I did some extra running and conditioning. That's how I ended up dropping 25 pounds.

Q: Do you feel faster?

A: Dropping the weight really helped my ankle and my mobility out. I can tell I run faster and jump higher.

Q: You guys are going to play fast, right?

A: Yep, yep. We're going to play faster this year. A lot of high motion stuff. We're going to be like a pretty good fastbreak team.

Q: You're helping the kids out here in the camp. Is that fun for you? What kind of things did you do when you were small?

A: I really love helping the kids out and being around them. Years ago, I was one of those kids back in Senegal. I can't imagine how they feel being around us.

Q: And you didn't play basketball until you were older?

A: I was around 14. I can just imagine--I never had the chance of doing this (going to camps).

Q: In Senegal, your sport was soccer?


A: In Senegal it was soccer.

Q; What position did you play?

A: I used to play the right back on the defensive side. I was like those players trying to stop the forwards and stuff. A defensive guy.

Q: Were you tough to get around?

A: It wasn't easy to get around me in soccer.

Q: Did you get to do any of the goal kicks?

A: Yeah, I used to do the free kicks a lot. I was heavy-footed.

Q: Could you kick it to midfield and beyond?

A: Yeah, yeah.

Q: Do you miss playing it at all?

A: Sometimes I just play around with it. I grab a ball and dribble with my legs and stuff and do some tricks.

Q: Can your teammates do that?

A: My teammates probably can't.

Q: Do you watch the Olympics and keep up with the World Cup and things like that?


A: Yeah, I watch the Olympics, like USA basketball. I watch basketball most of the time. It's really fun watching it.

Q: Do you watch Olympic soccer also?

A: Olympic soccer, yeah.  Senegal was in it, but sadly we lost. We lost to Mexico the other day.

Q: Are they pretty decent?

A: Yeah, they made it to the quarterfinals so that's pretty decent.

Q: When was the last soccer game that you played?

A: It was a while ago, when I was a kid.

Q: Do they need more scoring?

A: It's really different than basketball. The game is longer. It's 90 minutes long without counting the additional time they can add to it. I just miss it.

Q: Do you ever see the soccer team here and think about running out there?


A: I have a couple friends that play soccer over here. They're really cool people. Sometimes we play around.

Q: In football, could you try to placekick?


A: Football, the only thing I do with them is running. I don't play football.

Q: Have you ever kicked a football?

A: I never tried. That would be interesting.

Lining up a 6'10" kicker would be interesting.  Lining up a 6'10" lineman to rush the kicker might really be interesting.

Payne looks to gain another Olympic shot

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(This story will also appear in an upcoming edition of the Tri County Press/cincinnati.com as my day (and night) job entails covering high school and community sports. David Payne is a former Wyoming High School Cowboy.)


WYOMING Like his former University of Cincinnati and 2008 Olympic teammate Mary Wineberg, David Payne is making another run at a medal.

The former Wyoming Cowboy turns 30 in July, but is training in the Orlando area at Disney's Wide World of Sports where "Mickey" brings out the youth in all.

"I'm a little bit older, but I'm more mentally strong," Payne said.

Payne already owns a proclamation from Cincinnati, the key to Wyoming, UC track records, a Conference USA (2004) athlete of the year award and a silver in Beijing (13.17), but still thirsts to drink from the proverbial "fountain of youth".
david payne.jpg
(Courtesy of iaaf.org--David Payne, far right, wins silver in Beijing)

Four years after his last Olympic taste, he feels his chances are as good as any.

"I think it's always tough because you have the top athletes in the U.S.," Payne said. "I don't think it's any more competitive than it was in '08. I think guys are running really well right now, but it'll still be the exact same as it was in '08, which is don't get in my own way and just handle my business."

His first preliminary race in Eugene, Oregon, is June 29. The altitude and conditions are a little different than Florida, but Payne is a veteran of such changes.

"It's not that bad, but a lot of people go out about four days before the race so they can get on the track and get used to the weather," Payne said.

With a medal in hand already and countless trips over numerous hurdles on and off the track, Payne still has the swagger of a younger man.

"Hurdlers don't really hit their peak 'til about 28 to 30," Payne said. "Every time you run them (the hurdles) you learn new things and you run better every year. Some of the best hurdlers didn't finish running 'til they were 35-36 like Allen Johnson, Renaldo Nehemiah, Gail Devers. We have a little longer lifespan than the average sprinter."

A lot of Payne's demeanor and presence comes from his time around UC coach Bill Schnier. Payne's 2004 marks of 13.42 in the 110 hurdles and 51.16 in the 400 hurdles still stand and are posted on the Gettler Stadium walls.

"It was a confirmation of what's going on right now," Payne said of his time as a Bearcat. "I had everything I needed at that place and it molded me into the person I am now."

Payne's track exploits started at Wyoming where he ran the 110 hurdles and was in the 4x100 and 4x400 relay. A cautious mother kept him from exploring other athletic options.

"I played soccer for a short period of time, but I started to injure my leg so my mom didn't want me to play anymore," Payne said. "Who knows what would've happened if I had played football. They were like, 'Come out for two-a-days and see how you like it. We could use you for special teams, kickoff returns and wide receiver.' It was so hot and I couldn't deal with the two-a-days. I just couldn't do it."

His travels since have extended long beyond Wyoming and Pendery Avenue and plans to continue as long as he can.

"I've been to like 30 countries more than once," Payne said. "I've been to Rome like four times, Paris four times, Japan three times, I can't even name a lot of the countries I've been to more than once. It's a greaty way to get around the world and I'm very blessed to be more intelligent internationally since I've been running track."

All of those places are a long way from Tri-County and from his training digs in Florida. Still, the former co-feature of the UC Homecoming parade (with Mary Wineberg) and Oktoberfest Chicken Dance leader (again with Wineberg) looks forward to a triumphant return to the Queen City.

"I love Cincinnati," Payne said. "Hopefully, when I do come home, I'll be bringing back another medal."