Within days after taking his recruiting visit to
Cincinnati in early January, junior college standout Titus Rubles changed his Twitter
handle to @BearcatBound even
though signing day was more than three months away.
"I think I gave away my plans when I did that, but
Cincinnati fans loved it," Rubles told me with a laugh."After I took my visit, I knew where I was
going but I had to work out a few things with my family and look into a couple
of other schools as well.But in my
head, I knew where I was going.Once I
visited, I was in love with Cincinnati."
"I give Coach Savino the credit," said UC head coach
Mick Cronin."We try to really find guys
that fit our style and system and have a certain attitude and we felt he was
the best junior college player in the country by far.Darren did a great job of identifying him
early before other people figured it out.That was the key, because late in the year he was dominating junior
college basketball but by then, we were way ahead of the game."
Titus is the only recruit that Cincinnati signed
this year and will be counted on to contribute right away.Following the departure of senior Yancy
Gates, Rubles figures to join 6'8" Justin Jackson and 6'10" Cheikh Mbodj as the
Bearcat big men who see the most playing time.
"I'm looking to contribute in any way possible,"
said Rubles."Whatever I have to do to
get on the court, that's what I'll do.I'm
here to rebound, block shots...anything that I can do."
"When you have a new guy, all you're hoping for is
that he helps your team win," said Coach Cronin."Titus has great talent and great athleticism
- he has a lot to learn on the defensive end, but he's a veteran guy coming out
of junior college.He was on a winning
team and had a really good coach in Tra Arnold, so I think he has some
advantages because he does have some basketball acumen.
"The key is going to be to get him in shape so that
he can play at the speed that games are played at in the Big East. And then make sure that he's letting the game
come to him and get him sound on the defensive end."
Rubles, who goes by the nickname T-Rub, is the
youngest of five children and was born and raised in Dallas, TX where he
idolized one of Cincinnati's all-time best players.
"I'm a big Kenyon Martin fan," said Rubles."He used to be my favorite player and still
is one of my favorites, but LeBron James is on top.I've been #4 since I was a little kid, but
(Kenyon's) number is retired here and you've got to respect that.I'm going to be #2 instead.That's a family number - one of my older brothers
wore that and he really liked it."
But seeing Kenyon's retired jersey on the wall of
Fifth Third Arena was not what impressed Rubles on his recruiting visit.It was the atmosphere in the building as he
watched the Bearcats beat Notre Dame 71-55.
"What stood out was the crowd," said Rubles."When I saw how into the game they were and
how many people were there, it was really like a done deal."
"I tell people all the time, when recruits come to a
home game and it's a packed house and the crowd is a factor in the game, that's
impressive to kids," said Coach Cronin."People
say, 'Coach we need to recruit this guy or that guy.'Well, if we sellout Fifth Third Arena every
game, recruiting becomes a lot easier."
Titus Rubles - and his Twitter handle - are proof of
When linebacker Jeff Luc was still in high school,
the parade of coaches that came to visit him in Port St. Lucie, Florida was a "Who's
Who" of head coaches and assistants from several of the top college programs in
"Pete Carroll and Ken Norton (USC)," recalled
Luc."Jimbo Fisher and James Coley
(Florida State).Bobby Williams from
Alabama.Lane Kiffin from Tennessee.Coaches from the University of Miami.My parents had to change our home phone
number because schools used to call like crazy.
"I still have the mail in my old room.If I had to estimate, I would probably say
well over 1,000 pieces of mail and that's no lie.I guess it will be something to show my kids
someday.It was a lot of pressure, but
there are pros and cons to everything.I
enjoyed the experience and I think it was a blessing from God that I got to
have that opportunity."
Luc, a First Team USA Today All-American who was rated as the top middle linebacker
recruit in the country by Rivals, eventually signed with Florida State.But after battling injuries and seeing
limited playing time in two years with the Seminoles, Luc decided to transfer.
"When I first got my release, I didn't really want
to talk to any reporters because no matter what I said about the situation,
somebody would have taken it the wrong way," Luc told me."I guess I didn't fit their scheme or wasn't
what they were looking for, but it wasn't anything personal.I can still call the coach and see how they're
doing.I was a good kid and that's why
they didn't take it personally.It was
Fortunately for Cincinnati, another coach that had visited
Jeff at Treasure Coast H.S. was John Jancek when he was the linebackers coach
at Georgia.John is now the co-defensive
coordinator under Butch Jones at UC, giving the Bearcats a foot in the door when Luc elected to transfer.
"Coach Jancek has been recruiting me since high
school and he's a good guy," said Luc."I'd
love to play for him.That was a huge
part of it."
The Jancek connection helped, and Luc says that the program's "family atmosphere" convinced him to make Cincinnati his new home.
"I saw what kind of guys Coach Jones and Coach
Jancek were," said Luc."When they were
recruiting me, they talked about how it's a family - everybody talks about that
but Cincinnati really showed it.It
feels like home.Everybody has taken
care of me and they're helping me out with everything that I need.Basically, they've welcomed me into the
"When he decided to transfer, the recruiting process
started all over again and we were competing against high-profile institutions,"
said head coach Butch Jones."At the end
of the day, what it proves is that we're recruiting on a national stage and
people want to come here.They want to
be a part of our football family.They
can feel the excitement, they can see the vision, and I really believe that we
have a tremendous product to sell."
Luc is 6'1", 245 pounds and says he's been timed at
4.6 in the 40 yard dash.Jeff has
already enrolled at Cincinnati and is taking part in summer workouts.He'll redshirt this season and then have two years
of eligibility remaining.
"To tell you the truth, I wanted to redshirt," said
Luc."I think it's going to make me a
lot better by helping me pick up the scheme.I think it's going to make me a better person as well by being patient
and knowing that everything happens for a reason."
"He'll have a full year without any pressure to come
in and play right away and that will allow him to fully develop," said Coach
Jones."We lose some linebackers after
this year, so to have an individual who has experience, who has been in a
big-time program, and who understands everything that goes into playing at a
high-profile institution - I'm encouraged that we're going to have him the
Luc will become one of the most highly-touted
recruits to ever play for Cincinnati, but does he expect to be the starting
middle linebacker in 2013?
"I'm not going to say that I see myself as the
starting middle linebacker - that's really up to the coaches," said Luc."I see myself as someone who is going to help
this program and give them what they're looking for in me."
"We're really excited about this young man," said
Coach Jones."I think he has a hunger to
prove himself and is very, very driven.Even though he can't play this year, he'll be on the scout teams and
will work on his craft each and every day."
"I want to help motivate the team and be some type
of leader," Luc told me."I came out of
high school with that 'big time' label, but I just want to win to tell you the
truth.I want to help out as much as I
In 1995 as one of the broadcasters for the Toronto
Blue Jays Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse, NY, I got to know a young man who had
chosen to play pro baseball even though he had been one of the most highly-recruited
high school quarterbacks in the country.After batting .248 in six minor league seasons, the kid decided to give
football a try and enrolled in college at the age of 25.
It turned out to be a wise decision as Chris Weinke
won a Heisman Trophy at Florida State, led the Seminoles to a National
Championship, and spent seven years in the NFL.
Which leads us to UC newcomer Braxton Lane.
After spending three years as a minor league
outfielder, the speedy wide receiver has made the switch to football and recently
enrolled at Cincinnati.
"He's got a confidence about himself and an aura,"
said head coach Butch Jones."He's very
intense, focused, and goal-oriented.He
knows what he wants and I see that hunger and drive.I'm excited because when you have an
individual that has those characteristics, he is going to have great success."
After catching 55 passes for 1,072 yards and 11
touchdowns as a high school junior, Scout.com ranked Lane as the #20 wide
receiver recruit in the country.After
taking visits to Florida, Georgia, and Auburn, Braxton signed a letter of
intent to play college football at Oregon.
But after being selected in the 7th round
of the 2009 MLB draft by the Texas Rangers, Lane received a six-figure signing
bonus and elected to pursue a baseball career.
"Getting selected in the baseball draft was great
for me and getting a chance to play professionally was definitely a dream of
mine," Lane told me."But I don't know
if I would say that baseball was my first love.I always thought that I was a better football player.Baseball was a sport that I enjoyed playing,
but one that I really had to work on to get better.Football was more of a natural sport for me."
Lane excelled in both sports at Sandy Creek High
School in Tyrone, GA - the same school that fellow Bearcat receiver Alex Chisum
attended.That connection proved to be
significant when Braxton decided to drop baseball for football.
"I talked to Alex when I came out here about the
environment and the family atmosphere," said Lane."He loves every bit of it and shared all of
his experiences with me.He was just as
big of a recruiter with me as Coach Jones and (wide receivers) Coach T.J. Weist.He was definitely a big part of me coming
"We have a great relationship with Chip Walker, the
head football coach at Sandy Creek, and Alex Chisum is having a great
experience here -- not only in football but socially and academically as well,"
said Coach Jones."They are big
supporters of our program so when Braxton started thinking about making the
switch from baseball to football, we were contacted by them.We had known of him from back in the day when
he had originally signed with Oregon."
Coming out of high school, Lane was considered one
of the fastest receivers in the country after reportedly being timed at 4.31 in
the 40-yard dash.Braxton says that he
hasn't lost any speed.
"The main thing about football is using your hips
more," Lane told me."Baseball is really
a straight line sport, so now I'm really working on loosening up my hips and
getting my side-to-side motion back.But
I definitely still have my speed."
After spending last summer playing for the Class A
Hickory Crawdads and Spokane Indians, Lane is excited to be a Cincinnati
"Playing in the minor leagues for three years with
the Texas Rangers was definitely a great time, but coming here there's a sense
of family - Coach Jones and the whole staff really made me feel at home on my
visit," said Lane."Once I got on campus
I knew that this was the place for me."
"I know this - he is of the utmost character and I
love his maturity," said Coach Jones."He
may be the oldest freshman in America.I
think when you look at his previous experiences and the maturity level that he
brings, it's a great fit and we're really excited about him."
"I'm 21, so if I hadn't played pro baseball I'd be going
into my senior season right now," said Lane."I think it definitely helps with the maturity aspect.Me being on my own and learning to manage my
finances, finding a place to live, meshing with people of different backgrounds...I
think that helps me coming to a big school like UC where I'll have to juggle
classes and different football activities."
How quickly could he have an impact on the field?
"We'll know more when we go to training camp, but
from a maturity standpoint, we would anticipate him competing for playing time
this year," said Coach Jones."Just
based off of his character, his competitive drive, and his makeup, we
anticipate him playing this year."
"My goal is to come in and work hard every day and
do anything that I can to help the team this fall," said Lane."Whether that's special teams or offense -
whatever I can do to help is my goal.
"He seems like he's going to work really hard," said
freshman receiver Chris Moore."He's an
athlete and had offers from everywhere.I can't wait to see him on the field in pads."
Looking for a sleeper to emerge as a budding
standout on the UC football team this year?
My pick is wide receiver Chris Moore.
OK, maybe "sleeper" is the wrong word.After all, Moore was a Parade
All-American two years ago at Jefferson High School in Tampa, FL.But after redshirting as a UC freshman due to
a shoulder injury, the 19-year-old receiver figures that he is not well-known
by Bearcat fans - at least not yet.
"I want this to be a breakout year for me and show
the fans that I can make exciting plays for them for the next four years,"
Moore told me.
Moore's high school stats look like a misprint.As a senior in 2010, Chris had 49 receptions
for 1,572 yards - an incredible average of 32.1 yards per catch.After receiving scholarship offers from
numerous BCS programs, Moore did his homework before electing to attend
"My mom told me that I needed to make a spreadsheet,"
said Moore."She said she wasn't going
to help me because she didn't want to persuade me to go to certain places - she
wanted the decision to be mine.So she
told me to make a spreadsheet and figure out the best school.
"I did a lot of research:Passing yards, the quarterbacks, the
receivers, what the coaches did at other schools, whether they had indoor
facilities.I had a spreadsheet of stuff
about every school that recruited me and everything seemed to fit at UC."
Now Chris is looking to prove that he's a good fit
in Cincinnati's offense.In the spring
practices that I attended this year, Moore made several long touchdown catches
from Munchie Legaux and Brendon Kay.
"You can see the ability," said head coach Butch
Jones."He can play the ball
exceptionally well in the air.It's a
great knack that he has and he runs extremely well.Now it's just refining the little nuances
that go into playing receiver on every down."
"I'm trying to get better at my route running and
I'm trying to get bigger and stronger so that I can take hits without getting
hurt again," said Moore."Right now I'm
192 pounds which is a big improvement.When I came in I was 170, so they've put the weight on me, now I just
have to keep it on."
Moore broke his collarbone in the state championship
game as a high school senior and then had to redshirt last year after suffering
the same injury in preseason camp.
"I'm kind of happy that I didn't play because I got
to learn from everybody else and I still have four more years," said
Moore."Now I feel like I have a good
chance of getting on the field and making plays for this team."
"Don't forget; he was a true freshman this year so
there is a lot of room for growth - physically, mentally, and from a technique
standpoint," said offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian."What is obvious is his ability to catch the
ball and his athleticism.For him, it's
the little things and the mental part of the game - the mental toughness of
overcoming adversity and the challenges that you face on a play-to-play basis."
Chris admits that he had some growing up to do after
arriving at UC.
"At first, it was a little bumpy but I'm getting
there," Moore told me."Just being on
your own is a different experience.I'm
used to my mom waking me up and stuff like that, and you have to learn to do
things yourself.I'm getting better at
it every day."
And that's an exciting prospect for the Bearcat
"The natural ability is there," said Bajakian."He could be as good as he wants to be.It's truly one of those situations where if
he puts his mind to it, he can be an outstanding weapon."
This year, members of the UC football family will
wear wristbands that feature the words "Sign Your Name."
"That's a thing that we've adopted going into 2012,"
said head coach Butch Jones."What does
your name stand for?Every time that we
have a workout, they sign their name to it.It's about all of our names coming together as one.The kids have really adopted that and bought
into signing their name to excellence on a day-to-day basis."
Coach Jones is always looking for unique ways to
motivate his players.The "Sign Your
Name" theme is a simple reminder that every member of the team is accountable
for his actions on-and-off the field.
"Every team is different and forms a new identity,"
Coach Jones told me."We have a lot of
players that are going to be in roles that they've never had before and
everyone is accountable for their day-to-day progress.All you have is your name, and what does your
name stand for?At the end of the day,
you are judged by that in your productivity and your life."
Last year's theme was "Be A Champion" as Coach Jones
constantly reminded the players that in order to win a championship, they had
to had to be champions on the practice field, in the classroom, and in the
community.The season ended with a share
of the Big East title and a victory in the Liberty Bowl.As a result, the phrase "Be A Champion" is
inscribed on one side of their championship rings.
"Before we could dream about being a championship
football team, our team had to be comprised of individual champions," said
Jones."The way we conducted ourselves,
the way we won in the classroom, our practice habits, our personal habits -
everything.Our players really bought
into that and I think it speaks volumes that that team was a championship
With the school year ending and graduation
ceremonies set for this weekend, the Bearcats will get a short break from
training before returning to campus for summer workouts.The coaching staff, on the other hand, started
The Butch Jones Football Camps this week which
are a critical part of the recruiting process.
"We'll probably bring about 5,000 prospective
student-athletes to Cincinnati and to our campus over the next couple of weeks,"
said Coach Jones."It can go anywhere
from three to five thousand.From
unofficial visits to one-day campers to three-day campers to quarterback camp
to specialist camp...it will be non-stop.
"Out of all of (last year's) signees, all of them
had visited our campus prior to their official visit.The next couple of weeks through the month of
June will be critical for evaluating prospective student-athletes and getting
them here on campus and selling them on the many things we have to offer."
The coaches will finally get a brief break in July
before gearing up for the start of training camp at Camp Higher Ground in West
Harrison, Indiana on August 7th.The season begins with a Big East home game against Pittsburgh on
Thursday, September 6th.
"We have to be able to start fast," said Jones."That's why the sense of urgency was at an all-time
high in spring football.When we go to
Camp Higher Ground, we have to have a great foundation and a great base of what
we were able to do in the summer.Our
players understand what's at stake.As a
coach, I'm already worried about the little nuances of playing your first
game.When you look at starting the
season off with a talented Big East opponent in Pittsburgh and then Virginia
Tech (in week three), we have to have a great level of consistency day-in and
day-out, starting in the summer."
Remember those rumors about Sean Kilpatrick leaving
UC early for the NBA?Well, the All-Big
East guard says that he'll not only be back for his junior and senior seasons - he wishes he could stay even longer.
"As many years as I can stay," Sean told me."I've never said that I was going to the
draft - it isn't even in my mind.The
college life that we're living now is something that is more important than the
draft for me.The NBA is going to be
there, but I still have a lot of learning to do.I still have to learn how to read defenses
and on top of that, just to better myself.
"Another huge point is that I love Coach Cronin and
I don't want to leave him.I want to
stay here as long as I can.That's why I
it out there on Twitter to let everybody know that I'm not going anywhere."
Except to the gym.
After leading the Bearcats in scoring as a sophomore
at 14.3 points a game, Kilpatrick is dedicating his off-season to improving his
"A lot of dribbling drills," said Kilpatrick."Coach told me that I need to work on my left
hand a lot more and be able to handle the pressure when someone is guarding
me.He said, 'Don't concentrate on your
jump shot so much - just worry about your handle.'That was one of my biggest weaknesses.This year it will be a lot different and I'll be able to get to the rim
with my left hand."
During this part of the school year, the players are
limited to two hours a week of on-court workouts with the coaching staff, but
Sean puts in extra time on his own.
"I'm in here every day in order to get better,"
Kilpatrick told me."I make it my business
to be in here most of the time because this is the actual season for me.This is where everything starts.
"I come late at night.I have (graduate assistant) Scott Ratterman
come open the gym up around 9 - 9:30.He
just tells me to hit the lights when I'm done."
Kilpatrick's dedication is not going
unrecognized.The Sporting Newsrecently
ranked Sean as the nation's sixth-best shooting guard (including number
one in the Big East).
"It's an honor, but it made me a little bit
hungrier," said Kilpatrick."I know that
I can keep pushing myself to where I can be better than sixth.I'm never satisfied with being below number
one.It made me more focused on what I
need to do."
And if he needs an additional push, Sean knows that he'll
get it from Coach Cronin.
"He knows how to get me going," said Kilpatrick."We both love winning and love the game so much.If we lose, just know that something is going
to get thrown, or somebody is going to curse.I love him.Since I was in prep
school, he's never changed with me or with any of the guys.The loyalty and respect that I have for him
I asked Sean if there's anything about Coach Cronin
that Bearcat fans don't know.
"Everyone thinks that he's mean," Sean said with a
laugh."That's because everyone sees
Coach Cronin on the court and they don't know how he is off the court.He's the nicest guy you'll ever meet.He's polite, he knows exactly what he's
talking about every time, you can go to him for advice, and you can actually talk
to him about anything.He's like a
father figure to us when our dads aren't around.That's what I love about him the most."
It sure sounds like Kilpatrick plans to stick around.
All Tony Pike wants is a chance - and he's about to
get one from his hometown team.
On Wednesday, the Bengals announced that Pike is
among the unsigned players who will attend the team's May 11-13 minicamp on a
tryout basis.After spending the 2010 season
as a backup with the Carolina Panthers, the 26-year-old quarterback missed all
of last year after having elbow surgery.
"I've been back in Cincinnati rehabbing for a long
time and the Bengals reached out to my agent with some questions about my health
and when I was going to get back to 100%," said Pike."After that, it was just a matter of me
getting healthy and the timing being right for the mini-camp.It's an unbelievable opportunity.Growing up in Cincinnati and being a Bengals
fan, it's been a life-long dream to be a Bengal.For them to give me that opportunity to come
into mini-camp and see what I can do means a lot."
After leading the UC Bearcats to a perfect regular
season and trip to the Sugar Bowl as a senior, Pike was selected by Carolina in
the 6th round of the 2010 draft.Tony appeared in one regular season game as a rookie, going 6-for-12 for
47 yards in a loss to New Orleans.
But last July, Pike needed surgery to fix a nerve
injury in his right elbow.When the
first procedure didn't correct the problem, the former Bearcat had a more
extensive operation eight weeks ago.
"On the second surgery, they cut the muscle in my
forearm and they tucked the nerve underneath the muscle," said Pike."Then they sewed the muscle back together to
protect that nerve from moving around.It was a more painful procedure, but with my history at UC, it's nothing
that I haven't been through before.The
end result was a lot better than the first procedure, so I'm really happy.
"I saw (Cincinnati Reds) Dr. Kremchek here in
Cincinnati and he said he does this surgery every year on pitchers here.He told me it's something that pitchers come
back stronger from and that's how I feel right now."
Pike broke his left arm in his junior and senior years at UC, but bounced
back quickly to lead the Bearcats to back-to-back Big East Championships.Tony says that he is completely recovered
from his elbow injury and is ready to show the Bengals the powerful arm that
tossed 29 touchdown passes and only 6 interceptions in his final college season.
"I feel great," Pike told me."My strength and accuracy are back.That was the biggest thing with the elbow -
the nerve was causing my accuracy to go down a little bit, so with that being
back, I feel great about my chance here.
"The frustrating thing about the nerve surgery was
that we couldn't really give teams a timetable for when I would be
healthy.The Bengals rookie mini-camp
fell at just about the right time.I
just saw the doctor (Wednesday) to get cleared.I've been throwing a lot and staying in shape.I've actually been going over to Elder a
little bit to throw to my brother and some of those receivers.So, it's been a long process and a slow
process, but it's all coming together at just the right time."
Pike might seem like a longshot to make the Bengals
roster, but keep in mind that he began the 2008 season as the fifth-string
quarterback at UC before leading the team to the Orange Bowl.
On April 6th, the website NBAdraft.net
started a mild panic among some UC basketball fans when it listed Sean
Kilpatrick among the current college players who are likely to leave school
early this year for the NBA draft.
Kilpatrick quickly put out the fire on his Twitter
BEARCATNATION ATTENTION PLEASE!!! I AM NOT LEAVING THE BEARCATNATION ANYTIME SOON! #BEARCATNATION4LIFE
It was a savvy use of social media as Kilpatrick quickly
defused the rumor by communicating directly with the nearly 6,000 people that
follow him on Twitter - many of whom promptly re-tweeted his message to
thousands of others.
"I love Twitter and the fact that you get to speak
to people across the world every day," Kilpatrick told me."For example, I communicate with former
Bearcat Kenny Satterfield nearly every day.I'm happy that I have people like him constantly in my ear about staying
Former UC football star JK Schaffer (@Schaff37) is
also a fan of Twitter who sends frequent tweets to more than 2,000 followers.
"It's fun to reach out to people," Schaffer
said."You get to show fans your
appreciation and you get to show your love for your team.There are a lot of things that I really like
But social networking sites like Twitter and
Facebook are obviously an area of concern for Cincinnati's head coaches.According to a recent
story in USA Today,
Boise State, Mississippi State, and South Carolina are among the universities
where coaches have banned or limited tweeting.
"In the age that we live in today, all it takes is
one bad decision or choice of words and that lives forever with you," said UC
head football coach Butch Jones."It's
the age that we live in, so you try to educate them and make policies, just
like you would with your own kids.
"One of the most powerful things that we did was
bring in the National Football League's Director of Player Development Troy
Vincent.He posted all of our players
Tweets and knew how many of them were on there, and I think our kids were
amazed at how much was out there."
"Coach Jones definitely spends a lot of time
teaching about social networking and how it can definitely get you in trouble,"
said Schaffer."You can't post things
about your team that you shouldn't be talking about - there are things that
stay within the football family.You
have to learn to censor yourself and hold back your personal feelings on some
"We don't let anyone know what's going on the locker
room or what's going on with the team, period," said Kilpatrick."I think everyone has done a great job with
While Kilpatrick does not share locker room secrets,
he does keep followers informed about his daily activities and frequently
states his love for the Cincinnati fan base.
I love Cincinnati and how they have supported me since day 1. This city is one of THEEE greatest cities in the world. #BeleeeDattt
all of the people that follow us on Twitter, because they come to our games and
support us throughout the season," said Kilpatrick."Besides being a basketball player, I'm just
a person at the end of the day and I try to show everyone that you might know
the Sean Kilpatrick that you see on the court, but you don't know him off the
Thanks to Twitter, we know that Kilpatrick will be
back for his junior season, but if he
does eventually become a professional athlete, he'll already have experience in dealing with social media.It's one of benefits
that Bearcat athletes receive by being taught to use Twitter and Facebook responsibly while
they are still in school.
have to make sure is that your players understand the ramifications that go
along with Twitter," said Coach Jones."There's nothing private about any of that, and they have to understand
the repercussions of their choice of words."
"When you post things on social networks, you're
representing your university, your team, your coach, and yourself," said
Before becoming a Hall of Fame college basketball
head coach, Jim Boeheim was the varsity golf coach at Syracuse University.
Mike Bajakian, the offensive coordinator for the UC
football team, has a similar line in the early portion of his resume.
"I almost don't want to admit this," Bajakian told
me with a laugh, "but in addition to coaching football and baseball, I was a
head bowling coach at the high school level."
Hey, it's a sport where you throw the ball on every play
All kidding aside, when you look at Bajakian's
history as a football coach, it's easy to see why he's held in such high regard
by UC head coach Butch Jones.
In 2001, Mike helped coach the punt rush at the
University of Michigan.The Wolverines
blocked a school-record eight punts that year.
From 2004 to 2006, he was on the offensive staff for
the Chicago Bears, culminating in a trip to Super Bowl XLI in his final season.
Since 2007, Bajakian has been the offensive
coordinator under Jones at Central Michigan and Cincinnati.More than 30 school records were set during
their tenure at CMU, and at UC, the Bearcats have ranked in the top two in the
Big East in scoring in each of the last two seasons.
"There isn't anyone that I trust more than Mike
Bajakian handling our offense," said Coach Jones."We share the exact same beliefs and it's a
comfort level where we always know what the other person is thinking.I think that comes with time spent working
with each other.He is of the highest
character, he's extremely competitive, and I can't say enough about him."
"Coach Bajakian doesn't like to lose," said Isaiah
Pead."He's not a big guy, but when he
speaks, we all listen.We all respect
him and know that he wants to win just as bad as we do."
"I think they accidently let me in," said
Bajakian."Small college football gives
5-foot-10; 165 pound backup high school quarterbacks a chance to play at the
college level.A 0-0 tie was the very anticlimactic
end to my college playing career."
In 2010 and 2011, Forbes Magazine ranked Williams
College as the best undergraduate institution in the United States - ahead of
every Ivy League university.Bajakian
majored in history but knew before graduation that he wanted to pursue a career
"Since the day I realized that I wasn't going to
play for a living, I knew that I wanted to stay involved in the game and always
thought that I would be a teacher and a coach," Bajakian told me."Late in my college career, I got the itch to
get into coaching at the college level and pursued it after two years in (high
"People often ask me why I coach and I tell them
that I'm not qualified to do anything else.But the reality of it is, I love the relationships.There are so many emotional highs and lows
that you go through as a coach that you develop really close relationships.It's not something that you can get in the
everyday workforce - I truly believe that."
Bajakian's relationships with the players go beyond
"We get the opportunity to mentor young men who are
still very impressionable and who are still developing their character and
world view," said Bajakian."I try to
talk to them about quite a bit more than football and academics.I gave a physics lesson in our meeting the
other day to try to illustrate a point."
"He's well-rounded to say the least," said Coach Jones."The great thing about Mike is that he is a
student of the game.We are in a CANI Principle
business - Constant And Never Ending Improvement.He is always doing that."
"If you spend two minutes with him, you know that he
is a very intelligent guy," said Pead."Spend
another two minutes with him, and you can tell that he knows a lot about
football.We're blessed to have him and
hopefully he can stick around."
Bajakian says that becoming a head coach is one of
his goals, but he appears to be in no hurry.
"For me, every day is about learning and growing
professionally," Mike told me."Honestly,
I could be in no better place than right here in Cincinnati because I'm
learning from the best coach in the country - I honestly mean that.When it comes to motivating a team and
getting so much out of players and coaches, I really believe that Butch Jones
is the best in the country."
The NFL draft begins in nine days and UC might have
the necessary funds to renovate Nippert Stadium if head coach Butch Jones had a
dollar for every phone call he's received about the Bearcats' pro prospects.
"NFL teams have left no stone unturned," Jones told
me."I've talked to just about every
scout and a number of head coaches and general managers.So have our position coaches, (strength
coach) Dave Lawson, and right down to Keri Thoman who heads up our
academics.Teams have done their due
diligence and it's going to be a fun time for Bearcat Nation to see where they
Isaiah Pead and Derek Wolfe are locks to be selected
this year.Pead boosted his stock by
being named the MVP of the Senior Bowl and was among the fastest running backs
at the NFL Scouting Combine when he clocked a 4.47 in the 40-yard dash.
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder from team to
team, and I'm hearing anywhere from second to third round with Isaiah," said
was under the radar until the Senior Bowl and he really blew up there," said
ESPN's Todd McShay."He's versatile,
quick, and I think he has a chance to be in that third round range and a steal
for an NFL team that's looking for a versatile back."
fellow ESPN draft expert - Mel Kiper - recently tweeted that Pead would be a
good choice for Tampa Bay if he is still available early in the third round.
does Pead think of the speculation?
"I live in a bubble," Isaiah told me."I'm still a college student and I don't have
cable or internet at home.I just hang
out with the guys and stay away from that.You can't get caught up in it because nobody really knows what goes on
in the meeting rooms of NFL teams.I
used to have butterflies early in this process, but now my emotions have calmed
down and I'm just praying for the best."
While Pead is widely projected to be the first
Bearcat selected, Kiper's latest mock draft shows New England selecting Wolfe
with the next-to-last pick in the first round.
"I love the versatility he can bring," said
Kiper."I projected Wolfe as a surprise
first-round pick by the Patriots because a scheme-versatile team can use a guy
like him, who can be a one-gap guy in a 3-4 or easily flip to a 4-3 defensive
tackle up front.I've seen him on some
boards as low as the third round.He
should go higher."
"I think Derek Wolfe's stock is rising daily, which
is a tribute to how hard he's worked," said Coach Jones."The thing I keep hearing is that he has the
reputation for being the hardest-playing defensive lineman in college football
last year.I think that's a tribute to (UC
defensive line coach) Steve Stripling and to Derek for buying in."
The other Bearcats who are most likely to be picked
are defensive lineman John Hughes and tight end Adrien Robinson who clocked a
4.56 40-yard dash at 264 pounds at Cincinnati's pro day.
"After about game four, John Hughes really came on,"
said Jones."I think that he's worked
himself into a position of possibly being drafted.And Adrien Robinson is really gaining great
momentum going into the draft."
J.K. Schaffer and Zach Collaros are generally not
projected to be drafted, but could wind up in NFL training camps as free
"I'm really proud of all of these individuals and
how far they've come," said Jones."We
take great pride in our players being NFL-ready and I think you see that.I think it's a compliment to them, I think it's
a compliment to Dave Lawson, and I think it's a compliment to our program."
Connor Barwin, Brent Celek, Trent Cole, Kevin Huber,
and Jason Kelce are among the former Bearcats who are playing big roles on their
NFL teams and Pead hopes to join them.
On Saturday, I asked Isaiah where he will be during
"I'll be in Columbus at my grandparents' house with
my family and friends and it's an open invitation," Pead said."You can come if you want to."
I appreciate the offer, but I'll proudly watch on
TV.Along with thousands of other