Heard it From Hoard: Column 24
Greetings from a Sheraton hotel room in Columbus where tonight the Pawtucket Red Sox take on the Columbus Clippers in the 107th game of the 2007 season. Despite the PawSox current 50-56 record, it's been a fun summer. I've had the opportunity to broadcast two Curt Schilling starts (with another coming up tonight), seen Jon Lester courageously bounce back strong from a cancer scare, and have enjoyed watching the development of several of Boston's top minor league prospects. All of you baseball fanatics should remember the names Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury who have "future star" written all over them.
By the way, so does 20-year-old Jay Bruce of Louisville, who should be a fixture in the Reds outfield for many years to come.
As I type this, the UC football season opener is one month away and I'm happy to say I will be in the booth at Nippert Stadium on opening night. Pawtucket Team President Mike Tamburro is graciously allowing me to miss a PawSox game to be behind the mic when the Bearcats take on Southeast Missouri State. I'm already fired up to see how the 'Cats look under new head coach Brian Kelly.
I had a great opportunity to spend some time with Coach Kelly at the recent Big East Media Day in Newport, RI (yes, one member of the Cincinnati-area media was there) and I'm more convinced than ever that he was the perfect choice to replace Mark Dantonio.
He's certainly not afraid to share his opinion as he took every opportunity to express his disappointment that the Cincinnati newspapers and TV stations did not send reporters to the event.
"We're the only school here without media representation, which for me is a major challenge," Kelly said. "We've got bowl game representatives here. They could be saying, 'Why would we invite them if the media's not even here,' and that's a challenge as the head coach that I've got to be able to move our program through. The college football fans in southwest Ohio deserve better. I think it's a piece that's missing from building a championship football team."
There will certainly be reporters on hand this Friday when the 'Cats open preseason practice and the first question they'll probably ask is, "Who is your starting quarterback?"
"Before we can even get into a choosing situation, I think you have to define who's in the mix," Coach Kelly told me at media day. "Ben Mauk, right now, is not healthy enough to be considered. If he's healthy and able to throw the ball effectively, I think we go to camp and battle it out. If it's apparent that he's not going to be ready, then I would probably lean towards naming Dustin Grutza as our starter, but we still have some time before I make that statement. It's similar to where the Bengals were last summer with Carson Palmer. They didn't know where he was going to be until that first snap and we might be in that same situation leading up to August 30th with Ben Mauk."
Whoever wins the job won't have Derrick Stewart to throw to, since the Bearcats big-play receiver from last season is not academically eligible.
"I don't think we miss a beat, I really don't," Coach Kelly said. "I think we have athletic guys at that position that can make up for his loss and we have guys that we can rely on. Derrick was a great kid and I loved him, but we couldn't rely on him and know if he was going to be eligible from one week to the next. It's an unfortunate situation, but we'll be able to rely on the guys we have and that's very important."
UC brought two players to media day and I barely recognized left tackle Digger Bujnoch. For one thing, the Johnny Damon-like hairdo is gone (for a good cause-see locksoflove.org). More significantly, he's noticeably skinnier as part of Coach Kelly's goal of having leaner offensive lineman.
"I was 293 pounds last year and now I'm 280," Bujnoch told me. "All of the 300 pound guys are now 290-295. I can move better and it's a lot easier on the knees. And it's kinda nice not having a gut."
Mobile trumps mammoth when running Coach Kelly's spread offense.
"As an offensive lineman running the no-huddle in the bowl game, we were winded in the first half," Bujnoch said. "Up front we're in shape now, and if you're running that many plays, the defense is going to wear down."
The other Bearcat at media day was safety Haruki Nakamura who shared an interesting tidbit that hasn't received much publicity in Cincinnati-that Chad Johnson has been working out with UC's defensive backs and wide receivers on a frequent basis.
"It's unbelievable," Nakamura said. "When he first started working out with us, I've never seen anything like that. Week-in and week-out, we've played some great college athletes, and he's by far the best athlete I've ever seen. It's completely stepped our game up, just working out with him, because we see what it takes to be able to be great at the NFL level."
Finally, I've received several e-mails since my last column asking for a Sam Hoard update. Well, he's walking, talking and got his first haircut last week (photo of the handsome lad attached). If he's anything like his dad, haircuts will no longer be necessary in about 29 years.
See you at Nippert on the 30th!
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