Coming out of the 2005 football season, University of Cincinnati Head Football Coach Mark Dantonio and his staff focused on making one position ready to battle in the trenches of the Big East by the start of the 2006 season. The Bearcats offensive line saw its share of problems last season, and while there are several key players returning who should help give this unit depth, the ability to bring in seasoned players to compete and push those remaining saw Bearcat coaches take full use of the "Redeye" between the West and East Coast.
While the staff worked hard in recruiting the deep talent pool of offensive linemen in Ohio's high school this year, Junior College players have the chance to enter in January to prepare to learn their new teams system and earn playing time for when the team reports in August for the start of the next season.
Wednesday was a big day for the Bearcats as Coach Dantonio and his staff waited for the official fax from two junior college players, Mario Duenas and Ken Rodriquez. Bearcat Insider caught up with Bearcats recruiting coordinator Mark Staten for a One-on-One about one of these two players, Mario Duenas who he recruited.
Bearcats Recruiting Coordinator Mark Staten also coaches tight ends and tackles and was on the point of Mario's recruitment.
BI: Big day on Wednesday for the Bearcats?
MS: We think so. Anytime you can sign a player who you feel can come in and compete and raise the depth of your team is big in this game.
BI: Talk about Mario Duenas and what he will bring to the Bearcats.
MS: Mario is a great young man who has the potential to be a very positive force for this team. He comes from a great family and brings with him a lot of positives that will serve him well at UC.
BI: What do you feel Mario's role will be at UC?
MS: Mario has a wingspan of 6'8 with great feet. He's very athletic and smart. He was a captain on his JC team and earned All-State and All-California Juco 1st Team. He's considered one of the Top Five offensive linemen in junior college. The main thing he gives us is much better depth, right now. Because of his athletic ability we feel he will make a great pulling guard, but because of his feet and wingspan he also has the ability to play tackle and protect the blindside of our quarterback. We don't pull our tackles a lot, so to take full advantage of his ability we may look at him inside first. Let me tell you, Mario is the type of player that can even play center, he made the line calls in junior college and I could see him doing that here. So he could play any of our line positions.
BI: What other areas of Mario's game do you see as a positive?
MS: Mario plays with great toughness; he's got great hips and feet. He will also give you everything he has on every play. The other thing that's great about Mario is he's got his AA and will enroll in January and be part of our weight program, winter conditioning and spring ball.
BI: What area do you feel Mario needs to work on?
MS: Mario is an emotional player. He gets fired up and plays with a rage that if in control will make him one of the hardest offensive linemen to go against. But while you usually see this in defensive linemen, offensive linemen need to play with more emotional control. We're excited about how he plays and I think he understands how he needs to channel this into a positive.
BI: Bearcat fans didn't hear much about Mario until just the last few weeks, how long have you been following him?
MS: We first learned about Mario last spring. We've followed and watched Mario since last spring when we were told to keep an eye on him. George Rush is one of the best football coaches in the country, he told us to keep an eye on Mario because he felt he had some great talent. So we started working on him then and were very impressed with what we saw of him playing. We were one of the first to show interest in Mario then and he's rewarded us for that with his signing.
BI: Mario was getting interest from several program on the West Coast, how did you get him to Cincinnati?
MS: Because of the early interest we showed Mario, he told us he's very loyal to those who are loyal to him. We were one of the few teams that showed early interest when others knew nothing about him. Mario missed his first season because of injuries and we just watched as he progressed into this top lineman. Then when other teams started seeing what he could do they wanted to get into the action. Mario had several Pac Ten teams recruiting him hard and it was great to hear he was going to be a Bearcat.
BI: You spoke about Mario's family, tell us a little more about them since Mario said they made the trip from California also on his official visit?
MS: Mario is from a great family, they moved here when Mario was three years old. They have a very nice home in Northern San Francisco. Mario also has a younger brother who's a senior in high school.
BI: Does the younger brother also play football?
MS: No, he's a great cross country and track distance runner.
BI: Coach Staten I want to thank you for taking the time out of your busy day and talking with us about Mario. I'm sure Bearcat fans will be just as excited as you are about this young man.
MS: You're welcome.
I want to thank Coach Mark Staten for talking with us about Mario. At the time we spoke the staff couldn't comment on any other player they might sign. It's expected the Bearcats will also sign junior college player Ken Rodriguez. Bearcat Insider will check back with the staff today for more info when available on Ken Rodriguez and have the first official comments about the Bearcats other junior college offensive lineman at that time. Bearcat Insider is also awaiting the chance to catch up with Coach Dantonio for his official comments on both of these players when he's available.