The following is a transcript of head coach Houston Nutt’s press conference during media day. Comments from fullback Mark Pierce are also included.
Quoting Mark Pierce:
“First I’d like to start by saying how wonderful it is to be back with the team. Not a day went by that the players, coaches, and fans weren’t on my mind. As you all know, my Dad passed away in December, and I haven’t had much of an opportunity to spend with my family. My mom recently had surgery and was in bed rest for two weeks, and I really felt like I needed to go home for a support factor and to be with her.
“Coach Nutt cares enough about his players that he granted me this opportunity to go home as long as I needed. Today I’m just thankful to God that I am back with my teammates and in good health and good condition. I would really prefer not to be bothered by these issues or have them come up. I’d really not like to talk about them any further. I’ll be happy to comment on anything else as long as they don’t involve my personal issues. Thank you.”
Head Coach Houston Nutt’s opening comments:
“I just want to make a difference, you know, in young people’s lives and a guy like that (Mark Pierce), Mark went through some hard times, and I think with the help of his teammates, people around him, I think he knows he has great support right here and he is ready to move forward.
“This is a little odd speaking to the media since we already got a practice under our belt, usually we do this before practice starts. And now we get to address you guys. I think back to last year at this time when it was very difficult recruiting. The last two years were difficult, but especially last year. And if you look at the freshmen, this is an excellent football class. And I tell you, you look at some of the offensive linemen, and Chris Baker or Willie Hordge, this is going to be a good, good class.
“So I just want to praise the assistant coaches because it’s so easy to get caught up in making some shortcuts, taking some shortcuts, and doing some things that are wrong in today’s world, and our guys did not have one (NCAA) violation. You hate being associated with probation, but I want to give our staff a great deal of credit for going out and really beating the bushes, working extremely hard, doing it the right way, and getting an excellent class – young men that really want to be here.
“To me, that’s the way I want to start off this morning and I think you’ll see this afternoon when you go out and watch (practice). By the way, we’re probably going to move it back just a little bit so we can have time to install and really correct the mistakes from yesterday. So were probably going to go out at 3 p.m., and then the varsity will come out at 3:45. You know it used to be when I played for Coach Broyles, he would get us in shape during two-a-days. And as you know, the times have changed so much where our guys run year-round.
“About 95% of our team could run all day and they did yesterday. I was really pleased with our bigger guys, the way they ran yesterday. For two hours and 20 minutes, we had an excellent football practice and one of the better ones we had for a first day where there was not one lazy step. There is the excitement, the joy of being back out on the football field practicing. And that’s the way it should be on the first day. Now the key is can we do that on the 10th day, the 11th practice, the 12th practice.
“That’s going to be the key, but I tell you, it was a great start. And you even got guys like a Shawn Andrews and Jason Peters didn’t quite make all the sprints, but we ran a great deal yesterday. And so they did some work this summer, and I’m pleased with everybody. But the real leaders are those seniors. The George Wilsons, the Caleb Millers, the Tony Buas, Jimaar Gallons. And that senior offensive line with Mark Bokermann and Bo Lacy. Bo Lacy is in the best shape he’s ever been in his life and he was laughing as we were running and that’s a good feeling. So I’m just excited about getting going again, but I’m real excited about our attitude. I know we got a long way to go, but it starts with that. It starts with an attitude and the willingness to be out there, be unselfish and do whatever it takes for the team. Right now that’s the attitude that we have and I’m excited to get going.”
Q: How are the special teams taking shape?
“We are going to really miss Richie Butler and Chuck Nalley. They were very steady for four years. If we played tonight, Brennan O’Donohoe would be our punter and Garrett Lewis would be our deep snapper. We signed a punter, Jacob Skinner, who hit some good ones yesterday. He has a very strong leg. He will need to get rid of the ball quicker and we need to see him with a live rush coming at him.
“As for the kicker, David Carlton seems to be very strong right now. Dowell Loggains is our holder and the guys seem to really trust him.”
Q: How surprised were you that Mark Pierce came back so early?
“I was very surprised. You don’t ever know in those kind of situations. The last thing on my mind was him being here for two-a-days and football. I didn’t expect him to be back this soon, but there was a smile on his face that was great to see. He was like a little kid playing little league football and there is just nothing like that.”
Q: How do you see the defensive line shaping up?
“I love Jeb Huckeba, Arrion Dixon and Justin Scott. They have been with us a while and done a good job. We need Elliott Harris to come on and be a player for us. The difference is going to be the guys right behind them stepping up. Chase Pressley has had an outstanding spring and summer. He has worked hard and looks fit. James Johnson is in good shape and we need his help. Jayson Johnson is in there too.
“Brandon Holmes has been moved back to defensive end to provide depth. He could play linebacker, but he is a team player and will do a great job for us there. Those guys have got to get it done for us and stay healthy. Probably a younger guy will be in the mix too. Maybe Jeremy Harold or Keith Jackson, but it’s tough on the new guys.”
Q: You look more relaxed now than you did at this time last year, what has been the difference?
“Last year at this time there were a lot of issues that dealt with things off the field. I was sitting here with Ken Hamlin on this day last year and we were all wondering what was going to happen. You pick up the paper and that’s all you hear about and it wears you out. And, knock on wood, it’s been a wonderful summer as far as players taking care of business. Our seniors have taken full ownership of this team.
“George Wilson has really taken charge. This group is, if you count everybody, is bigger than Clint Stoerner and Anthony Lucas’ group. Having that kind of leadership within the team makes things less stressful.”
Q: Is this the first time you have started practice with 105 players?
“Yes. Even as an assistant coach this is the first time that has happened. I really like some of the things the NCAA is trying to do. They are concerned about the heat and the health of these young men. I really wish they would give us 24 hours with the freshmen before they practice with the varsity because it’s so overwhelming for them. It’s an intimidating thing to line up across from Shawn Andrews and Bo Lacy and guys like that. The freshmen really need some extra time.”
Q: Could you asses the quarterback, including the freshmen?
“We have two very good freshmen. Landon Leach is very knowledgeable. His high school coach did a great job with him. He has good presence. He catches on quickly. Robert Johnson is a smooth athletic player. He has good arm strength. As for the older guys, I thought Matt Jones threw the ball very well yesterday. When he’s fresh, he can throw the ball and make plays and that is why you can’t say he is a full-time receiver. We have a lot of confidence in Matt. Ryan Sorahan has perseverance and works hard. He threw the ball well after he got going. It’s going to take both of them this year.”
Q: Is this the deepest at receiver you’ve been?
“Our nucleus of George Wilson, Richard Smith and DeCori Birmingham can line up anywhere. They are winners. Carlos Ousley has improved. David Thompson, Chris Baker and Willie Hordge really add to the mix. You’ve got some guys who can run with that group, then you add Matt (Jones) to the equation and it’s one of the deepest sets we’ve had. We just need to get the pieces in the right place.”
Q: Can you talk about Tulsa?
“I know everybody wants to talk about playing Texas, but Tulsa is the only thing on our mind. Our seniors have done a great job of keeping everybody focused. We have not started game-planning yet, but that is the only opponent we want to talk about. But, they have a new coach and he brings a fresh start and a new sense of hope to the program.”
Q: What one thing do you look at that has to change from last year?
“We led the league in penalties, for 10 weeks. That has to change. We need to work at playing smarter. We did a great job taking care of the ball with no fumbles last year, but we need to stop beating ourselves with penalties. With our schedule we have to play that way. We don’t have any gimmies on the schedule. There was a sense of urgency from our players yesterday that we have not seen in a while. And that excites you. Now we have to keep that.”
Q: How is the running game coming together?
“The first thing you notice is the offensive line. That makes you feel so good. They all have experience. Andrews, Bokermann, Hicks, Lacy, all those guys bring experience. I think we will be just as good with Cedric Cobbs and De’Arrius Howard. Last year, Fred Talley gave you the ability to go 80 yards on one play. We have quality backs and I think our running game could be better because of our passing game.”