“This is a great way to get the season started. You look forward to the first one of 15. This is a very challenging schedule for us. It’s one we look forward to. Eleven games in the state of Texas and it’s going to be a fabulous, fabulous season for us. We kick off this Saturday, the 5th, against Wagner, an FCS school out of New York. They have a new head football coach (Jason Houghtaling). He’s been part of the staff there. They do an excellent job both offensively and defensively. They will be a very solid opponent for us to get started.
“I’m excited about the Rice football team this year. I think it starts with our quarterback, Driphus Jackson. For us to have a fifth-year quarterback, his second year to start for us. He’s had the same coach. He’s very confident in everything he does. He has a great understanding of what we’re doing offensively. He’s also the most incredible leader that we’ve had. He was elected captain last year for his junior season. We had the fewest turnovers in school history last year with 12 and a lot of that is because of the decisions that he makes with the football.
“All of our running backs are back – Jowan Davis and Darick Dillard. We’ve also added to the mix with Sam Stewart and Austin Walters. We’re looking forward to getting the ball in those guy’s hands. The receivers, you have Dennis Parks back, you have Zach Wright back and you have James Mayden back. Coming out of camp, Zach Wright’s just had an incredible camp for us, as has Cameron Decell. I think we’ve answered some of the questions there as far as who replaces Mario (Hull) and Jordan (Taylor). The offensive line, right now Spencer Stanley is going to be the starting center. Peter Godber and Connor Patterson are going to be the starting guards. You have Caleb (Williams) back and Calvin Anderson will be the other tackle. Andrew Reue is still a question mark for this game. If it’s not this week it will be the next week. So he’s really close.
“Defensively, our linebackers are the strength. Alex Lyons is a returning starter for us. Nick Elder is going to be a senior and Tabari McGaskey will provide great depth there. Defensive line has been a blast. We get Stuart Mouchantaf back after his knee surgery and sitting out last year, he’s had a very disruptive camp. Ross Winship is another senior starter. We’ve got two young ends with Brian Womac and Graysen Schantz, along with some other guys pushing them. In the secondary, we have three new guys at safety, but they all played last year. Destri White and Zach Espinosa, who is going to be a senior. I’m just excited. Where we don’t have experience, we have great talent. I think we have a chance to be faster, this year, defensively than we were a year ago.
“In the special teams, James Farrimond is back as the punter. Ty Carter will be the deep snapper. He’ll be new, but he’s been a guy that has been waiting. Our field goals, I think we have to perform those more consistently. We have Jack Fox and Hayden Tibola, the two young freshmen, coming in. We’re going to get a look at them early and see how they are doing. We still have Taylor Knopf and Anthony Price there also. I think we’ve addressed some of the concerns we’ve had. I like the personality that we’ve come out of camp with. We seem to be a bunch of guys that care about each other and a bunch of guys that love football. It’s fun to come here every day and coach those types of guys.”
On two freshmen starting:
“Calvin, offensively, has gained the body weight that he needed. He’s sitting at about 290 (pounds). He’s so athletic. He’s one of the guys who probably lead the team in camp of knocking down the defensive lineman, just because of the explosion that he has and he’s so athletic. He’s brilliant. He has an understanding of what we’re trying to do offensively. There’s also Sam Pierce who’s pushing him. Defensively, you have J.T. Ibe. He’s a very mature young man who runs extremely well. He’s had a great camp so we’re excited about him. If you look, Garrett Fuhrman is listed as his backup, who’s a senior. He has a lot of playing experience. So I think we have some depth there. We’re just starting some young, talented guys.”
On making sure the team does not overlook Wagner:
“All we’ve talked about since January is Wagner. We’ve been telling them that it’s the most important game on the schedule and that you can’t overlook them. We learned a lesson with me here in 2007. We didn’t play our best against Nicholls (State). But you listen to the seniors talk and the theme is pretty consistent that we’re not going to overlook these guys.”
On the first several weeks of the season:
“It is a very challenging schedule. It starts with Wagner. This is the first time in 100 straight games that we’re playing an FCS team. That’s one where we know that we’re going to get their best. I used to coach at that level. We used to play the (Texas) A&M’s and I remember how motivated our guys were to make a point. We know that Wagner is going to be challenging for us. Then we have to get on a bus and play the University of Texas. Then we have to get on a bus and play North Texas. Then we go to Waco. The thing about when you play a Texas or a Baylor, when you look back to our Notre Dame game a year ago, they exposed some of the weaknesses that we had. It forced us to increase our speed on special teams because we weren’t fast enough. When you play up, you want to improve each week, but those are the guys who can really show you where you are deficient and where are the changes that you need to make. I think it’s always important to play a tough, challenging schedule to prepare you for Conference USA. That’s how you play your best.”
On the challenges of playing Wagner in the first game:
“That’s one of your worries. We’ve watched all of his video. They’ve retained the defensive staff, so we think we know what they are going to do, but you really don’t know. We introduced what we think they are going to do last week, but, this week, we’ll work some things in to make sure that we are prepared for them as a team. They are going to have some wrinkles in there with a new head coach and we have to be prepared for them.”
On talking to the team about the three-year run:
“We don’t. We talk to them about being 1-0 this year. We talked to them early about what we take from the past and how we prepare for the future. But we don’t talk about (the run). We really don’t. That’s in the history books. There’s a new set of seniors and what type of legacy they are going to leave.”
On what he thinks about the run:
“The momentum that we’re building has helped us put together some solid recruiting classes. There’s no finish line in football. So when you’re building a program, it’s never finished. I think the three straight bowls, though, has allowed us to bring in a very talented freshman class. Every year you want to get rid of the inconsistencies of winning 10 (games), but the next year two. I think in the future, we’ll be able to more consistently compete, and that’s exciting.”
On the coaching staff staying consistent:
“Driphus (Jackson) and Larry Edmundson have a tremendous on-the-field relationship, as well as off the field. When young men know what to expect in meetings and they can feel the continuity and rhythm of the entire staff, just not on the field, but when you take that continuity when you’re recruiting. It takes you awhile to learn Rice, just like any school that you’re at. I’m so fortunate right now that I haven’t had any turnover in the coaching staff in three seasons. It makes it where when you go out to practice, everyone knows where to go. Everyone knows what drills there are. Everyone understands the demeanor. We also understand how to work with Driphus. So continuity has been a big key to our success.”
On Zach Espinosa:
“Zach’s going to be a four-year letterman after this year. He’s been a stellar player for us on special teams and any time in the past, when Gabe (Baker) has needed a break, Zach went right into the game. Now, it’s Zach’s time. It’s Zach’s turn and he’s excited about it. It gives us a lot of confidence knowing that you really don’t have a young player out there. He’s a guy with over 100 college snaps under his belt. He just wasn’t listed as a starter. He’s going to meet the challenge. He’s excited about finally starting. I think that’s one of things that we’ve been able to do here. These young men have put the team first. I promise you, Zach didn’t like now starting, but he just kept working. He didn’t complain. Now it’s his time and he’s ready for a great season.”
On Driphus Jackson’s leadership:
“Driphus, since the day he’s gotten here, has been a true student of the game. He has spent more time alone in the meeting rooms watching tape. He backs up everything he says with action. He’s been a man of action for his five years here. It really started last season where he wasn’t worried about being popular. He’s worried about winning football games. He has a standard and he expects this entire football team, on both sides of the ball, to achieve it. We have other seniors like that. But, it’s great to have a guy that’s a two-year captain that is as highly motivated as him. The strength coaches don’t want anybody late and neither does Driphus. He’s not afraid to verbalize what he’s thinking. But, he’s also the first one to tell them when they’re doing something great. I really appreciate his leadership. Every year, you win with your senior leadership. There’s going to be obstacles this year that come at us. We don’t know what they are yet. But, Driphus has done an excellent job of negotiating those obstacles so far.”
On the senior leadership:
“One of the senior’s jobs is to educate the freshmen on what is acceptable and what’s not. That’s an entire senior class’ obligation. It’s not only the legacy that they are going to leave Rice with this season. You look to the freshmen class. When freshmen go to college, they don’t know what to expect. So, whatever they are taught about everything…do you go to class, do you do the right things, are you involved in the community…that’s a senior class that educates the freshmen. I think that’s one of the great things that we have going right now. We’ve had a lot of stellar senior classes in a row, and so is this one.”
On what he would like to accomplish this season:
“Our seniors and coaching staff have set the goals high. We want to be Conference USA champions and be ranked in the Top 25. To do that, it’s going to require us to be the best team that we can be. We have guys that truly care about each other and truly care about this university. You have a staff that knows they can trust us. You just have to keep working hard, keep worrying about beating Wagner and being 1-0 each week. That’s how you get those goals. Just keep worrying about that now and not worrying about the future at this point.”