McCarney: We're anxiously awaiting the start of the season. 2003 seems like it was 10 years ago. I just feel like there's been a lot of progress made in the program in terms of development, recruiting, staff, intangibles, and leadership. I'm real pleased with it so far.
I stick my head in the weight room every day. The numbers for our offseason program are great from an involvement standpoint, and the leadership is strong. I appointed one or two players per position for summer leadership. In the past I've left that up to the captains, but we didn't do that this spring. That's been real good for leadership and discipline. I feel good with where we're at right now.
CN: Is this the youngest team you've had at ISU?
McCarney: A lot of the best players on this team are going to be freshmen or sophomores. That doesn't take away from an Ellis Hobbs or Cale Stubbe, because we've got some good upperclassmen, but there's an influx of good young talent on this team. Whether they're four-star, two-star or no-star recruits, I could care less. It's our evaluation of those kids, the development of them, and the commitment once they get here that matters. There's a real burning desire to get back to being successful here by all of us. It hasn't wavered or slowed down, but has increased.
CN: Where does that burning desire come from?
McCarney: It's a combination of things. It starts with me being sick to my stomach about last season, especially when you build a program like we did and did it the way we did it without taking shortcuts. We didn't win all of our games and had some tough losses over those three or four seasons. But all in all, we had credibility, honor, and respect across the country; through a lot of big wins and even back-to-back losses from one season to another to Alabama and Florida State. You're not supposed to gain a lot of respect and honor in a loss, but we did.
People around the country respected Iowa State. You don't lose all of that respect, but you lose some of it and tarnish it when you go through a season like last year. We want to get it all back. There is tremendous pride in this program and coaching staff of what we've accomplished and where we've been.
The additions of Barney Cotton and Todd Fitch have been fantastic. There is a real hunger on this football team. There are enough guys in this program that really did experience major success here, they want to get back there, and have to be a real influence on the young guys that have yet to.
CN: In terms of philosophy and teaching, are you going back to basics after a 2-10 season considering how young this team is?
McCarney: I think that's accurate. When you go through a season like last year, it can really shake you. It's easy to take things for granted when there are so many good things going in a program. We've gone back and looked at everything that we're doing, and not take one thing for granted. I don't want one kid or coach in this program going around with their hand out. Let's earn everything that we get, including me. That's the attitude that prevails right now in the program. We haven't earned anything right now, but this team is a different team, and doesn't have anything to do with last season.
CN: Cyclone Nation obviously wants you to rebound strong from last season. However, should expectations be tempered given the youth on your roster?
McCarney: Right now we've got a bunch of kids that are ready to be coached, to learn, and improve. The schedule and challenges are going to be really tough, with 30 wins among those first three teams before we start the Big 12 with Oklahoma State, who was in the Cotton Bowl. Missouri and Kansas State will be tough, and Nebraska is coming off a 10-win season. When 2004 is over I want everyone in the program – players, coaches, fans, and media – to know we improved. The major nucleus of this team will be back the following season, and I don't want anybody to have any doubts this was a better team than last year.
CN: What's your overall assessment of the quarterback position?
McCarney: Bret and Austin both have Big 12 ability and they're good athletes. I think Bret really did a nice job from a leadership standpoint and Austin improved in that area, as he needed to. Austin needs to be a more vocal leader. It's typical of young guys, if they're just trying to figure it all out themselves it's hard to lead and step into that huddle with the eyes of a leader. You can see him starting to grow a little bit in that way.
A lot of times, Bret carries himself on and off the field as a guy who's been around longer than he has. His maturity goes well beyond his years. I think it's going to be a heck of a battle. I think we've got a chance to win with either or both of those guys.
We're going to take a serious look at Terrance Highsmith. If it looks like Terrance has got a chance in the first few days to make a run at the two-deep, then fine. If not, we'll kick him to wide receiver. There is no doubt he's one of the better athletes we'll have on this team, and we need to get on the field. Kyle Van Winkle and Cris Love didn't go anywhere. We'll still evaluate those guys.
McCarney: It really is up to those guys. I'd really like to establish our starter and then a backup. But if we get into this thing and feel like we trust them both, and the best combination is to use both of them, we'll do it.
Back in the spring, Bret had the performance edge with the exception of the spring game itself. But that was really the most important evaluation, and Austin was the better player.
Who's moving the sticks? Who's making good decisions and not going to get us beat? Who keeps their mental errors at a minimum? How do you respond to adversity? Mental toughness is so important at the quarterback position and that's what we're looking at.
CN: What about the rest of the offense?
McCarney: We definitely got better at tight end, a position that was non-existent as receivers and not nearly as physical as it needed to be. We were below average at best at the offensive line and tight end. You hear about the offensive line all the time, but those tight ends are really involved in blocking a lot, too.
I think the offensive line is definitely going to be better. It's going to be real important that guys like Luke Vander Sanden and Cale Stubbe, who've both played a lot of football, assert themselves as leaders. There aren't many guys who have played more snaps than Stubbe has in his career here. Both of those guys really need to come on.
After starting from scratch at wide receiver, we made a lot of progress. I really like the leadership of Andy Kohler and Todd Miller, two seniors that have never started at wide receiver. Both of those kids are about as unselfish as we've ever had. They've got their arms around those young guys trying to help them, knowing that they still may beat them out.
Stevie Hicks did the same thing with Jason Scales, who also has a lot of ability. There's more of that permeating on this team right now than what I saw last year, which is a good sign. At running back and fullback, we need to continue developing those guys and get our tradition back. It's not necessarily 100 yards every week or 1,000 for the season. It's the attitude, confidence, and belief that every week we're going to have a good running game. We've got to get that back into this offense.
CN: Has the offense adopted Barney Cotton's ‘old-school' mentality?
McCarney: No question they have. That's one of the most important things, and something Barney and I talked about when he interviewed for the job. We sat and talked for hours about how we've lost that edge and attitude with our offense and needed to get it back.
It's not just smash mouth football and thinking you're going to be tougher than everybody is when you're facing top-10 defenses. It's also being able to move the sticks and imaginative from a play-calling standpoint.
CN: Your defense will be more athletic but also young. Who is the leader over there?
McCarney: Ellis Hobbs is the example. This is the attitude; this is the way you practice; this is the way you prepare; this is the way the game's supposed to be played. He can be a real infectious leader for our defense and football team right now. He excites people. He's not going to tolerate any of that garbage from last year. If one guy thinks about being selfish or going into the tank as soon as adversity hits, Ellis might get to him before I do.
CN: Could your defense have an entirely different look this fall compared to this spring, given the influx of newcomers arriving for two-a-days?
McCarney: It will help to have a lot of guys there in the hunt, and they won't just be names on the second team. Tim Dobbins is a big, strong guy. Then there's Jerry Gair, Josh Hargis, and all of those defensive backs. Collins Eboh was a no-name guy, but now he's 240 pounds and is very athletic. Fabian Dodd is up to 327 pounds, but has potential on both sides of the ball. I'm not holding my breath on any junior college guys coming in here and being saviors.
Last year we had no idea Jason Berryman was going to be such an impact guy. We really have to wait until we get those guys into camp and coach them before it becomes obvious they can play right away
A bigger priority is developing the players we already have. Brent Curvey is 297 pounds and doing exactly what we want him to do. Matt Scherbring needs to be a better player. Korey Smith has to be a better player. Hopefully Andy Leaders can stay healthy and give us some snaps. Shawn Moorehead is 233 pounds right now. If he gets a little bit bigger and continues with the motor he has he may end up being a swing player. If we continue to develop those guys, we could have our best defensive line since 2000 when you factor in a Berryman and Nick Leaders.
CN: What about special teams, which has long been a point of contention for the fan base. What changes did you make over there?
McCarney: Terry Allen and DeMontie Cross – our new special teams co-coordinators – have hunkered down and put a lot of time in. They've taken the bull by the horns. It's not just a title for them or something to put on a resume. We've asked them to go be leaders of those units. Each of them oversees three of the phases on special teams.
When we had success, we didn't turn it over a lot, we had a good running game, played solid defense, got some takeaways, and were pretty solid in the kicking game. If you look at statistics of teams that are going to postseason play and challenging for championships, there are very few times that they're down there dead last in special teams.
Improvement requires emphasis, schemes, personnel, attitude, selling it to the kids just how important it is. If you're on scholarship and all you're doing is working with the scout team, why can't you at least give us some quality snaps on a special team? I don't have a lot of patience for guys that don't have a great attitude about special teams. It does make a difference. You need to get off your dead rear end if you're not helping us on special teams.
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