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<P><FONT color=#ff0000><FONT color=#000000>Standing next to Coach Mark Staten during this interview made me look and feel like one of Tolkien's hobbits.&nbsp; Coach Staten is as big as any lineman the Bearcats have, and he looks like he could still play professionally.<p> </FONT> </FONT><FONT color=#ff0000>This story is a special "Free" look at some of the content you might of missed without a Bearcat Insider Total Access Pass.&nbsp; Sign up today and try it free for 7-Days.</FONT>

But eight surgeries to his knee derailed that train several years ago and started a career in coaching. This ex-New England Patriot gave Bearcat Insider a few minutes of his time after Friday's scrimmage.

The obvious question even a hobbit must ask was his impressions of the scrimmage. "I'm happy with my guys. Why wouldn't I be? One of them went 94 yards for a TD." Brent Celek got behind the secondary, and Dustin Grutza delivered the ball for the longest play of the afternoon. What about Brent Celek? "He's going to be an All Big East tight end and probably an Academic All American at the very least."

Coach Staten has seen his coaching duties increase this year since he now works with the offensive tackles in addition to the tight ends. One of last year's tight ends, Digger Bujnoch, has made the move with Staten. Digger is the smallest of the tackles at 272 pounds, but Coach Staten doesn't think size will hinder Bujnoch. "He'll come into camp next year at about 285 pounds, which is a great weight. At that weight, he'll be able to adjust to the way the Big East ends are. They're big but they're also quick. I feel comfortable having a 285 pound guy going up against a 265-275 pound end. Digger's very athletic. That's why we've been able to move him over."

Spring practice has seen a number of younger tackles play themselves into contention for playing time next fall, according to Staten. "Frank Straub has been getting better every day which is great to see. J.P. Simon is getting there too. He's getting better, same as Frank. Khalid El-Amin is in that bunch getting better too. He's very athletic. He's going to be a great player here, a great player. We tell the kids all the time that we don't have a depth chart because spring is a chance to either get better or get worse every play. We have to help them get better."

The lone offensive line incumbent, Steve Eastlake, has been recovering from a shoulder injury but will be cleared for all drills next week.

Spring camp has seen only two scholarship tight ends, Celek and Hank Davis, so we asked about the incoming recruits, Kazeem Alli and Conner Barwin? "We're fired up. You've seen the tape. They're very athletic and tough. Being tough kids is the big thing. That's one thing Brent has taken from last year to now is his toughness. He's improved ten fold. Those kids are coming in with toughness. You can never say they'll be on the field before they even get here, but we're hoping."

Bearcat football fans have complained in the past that UC ignores the local talent. Since Coach Staten is also the recruiting coordinator, he addressed that issue. "Coach Dantonio recruited Cincinnati when he was at Michigan State so he's had a great relationship with the high school coaches here for years. When he came down here, he had heard Cincinnati didn't recruit the area enough so he wants us in the high schools. If we're allowed to be in the schools twice, then we're there twice whether they have a kid or not. It's all about relationships. We are a resource for the high school coaches. We'll have a new 350 seat auditorium soon, and we want them to have their meetings here." Coach Staten also confirmed that each assistant coach has been assigned ten local high schools to recruit.

It's been well documented that UC has had difficulty retaining its assistant football coaches so why did this staff return eight of its nine assistants? Coach Staten had no difficulty identifying a reason. "That man (Coach Dantonio) over there, the head man. He's a great guy, a family guy. He's going to speak the truth. He's not going to lie to a kid. What you see is what you get. Take it or leave it, but that's the way he's always been so it's attractive to work for a guy like that. You've seen him and talked to him. You know what I'm talking about."

As much as I liked Coach Staten, there was one gnawing concern we had to discuss. He's a Miami guy! What about that bell? "The bell's important to us. Not only are we coaching for it, some of us have played for it. When we win that game, we ring that bell. Kids understand the importance and history of that game. It's been going on since 1888. I had the privilege of playing in the 100th game, and that's something I'll always remember. That's what a rivalry should be."

Coach Staten is another example of the quality people in that program that makes me proud to be a Bearcat football fan.

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