C-USA Coaches/Players Meet Media In Big Easy

The media guides have been handed out to the media and other officials, the interviews are recorded or transcribed and the players and coaches have headed back to prepare for the 2007 season as the Conference USA Media Blitz wrapped up Tuesday at the Royal Sonata Hotel on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Here are some notes from the day of mass interviews of C-USA officials, coaches and players.

Commissioner Britton Banowsky on stability in the league, now and the near future: "We are a very young league, especially with the re-alignment. We're on a good track and staying on course. We play very close games, two years in a row the league has had the closest margin of victory in league games in the nation, but the other side is we haven't had the breakout, Boise State-type team, but I believe that's coming. We have seen growth from '05 to '06 in attendance and, based on season ticket sales being at all-time highs at six, seven schools, we expect that to go up again. We are in a period of stability (in college football), with the television and bowls cycles set. I'm not hearing a clamor for change...in fact, I talked to Mike Tranghese (Big East commissioner) last week and asked him point-blank, what is his league thinking about membership. There is no one in our conference they are interested in, in terms of expansion, and that's good for us. We need to be in a period of committed growth for the league, instead of reacting to external forces."

Jarrett Dillard, Rice receiver, on Coach Todd Graham moving to West Division rival Tulsa: "We were all shocked when Coach Graham left. He made the best decision for him. We have all moved on." The Owls will host Graham and the Golden Hurricane on November 24 in the final regular season game.

George Chukwu, Rice guard: "It used to be the University of Houston was our only rival...Now, we have a new one," of Tulsa.

Todd Graham, head coach of Tulsa and 2006 head coach of Rice: "I'm glad to be hosting Marshall instead of having to go to Huntington, W.Va. (as Rice will do for Homecoming). That's a deal I came out smelling like a rose on. I'm very fortunate to come back to Oklahoma, where I played college football and where I got started coaching, and to take over a program that is committed to being the best in academics and football. We just moved into a $10 million end zone facility and have a $24 million upgrade coming for next year. We are lucky to be in Tulsa. Our focus is, 'Why can't we be Boise State?' and the administration is not just saying it but giving us the tools to get there. Team-wise, we have an outstanding quarterback in Paul Smith and 11 other starters back, so it is a great time to be in Tulsa." Graham was defensive coordinator at Tulsa 2003-2005, and they won C-USA in the Golden Hurricane's first season in the league. He also coached 2001-02 at West Virginia.

Cody Slate, Marshall tight end, on opening at Miami: "I'm excited to be playing in the Orange Bowl. Growing up (in Florida), you would watch Miami every week on TV. You'd say to yourself, 'I want to go there, or Florida or Florida State.' Just being able to go down there is an honor, I'm so excited about it." Miami and Marshall meet for the first game of a three-game series on September 1. Slate is from Chipley and is one of dozen Herd players from the Sunshine State, with a second trip back to Orlando on November 3 for a game at the new Brighthouse Networks Stadium at UCF.

Cody Slate, shown last season against Central Florida, was at the Conference USA Media Blitz in New Orleans with head coach Mark Snyder and center Doug Legursky.photos by Greg Perry/HI staff

Mark Snyder, Marshall head coach, on the new players who might help this season: "Travius Thompson at receiver and Antwan Booker and Mario Harvey at linebacker, there are three guys (who sat out last year) and will immediately add depth at their positions. DeQuan Bembry is a guy to watch, I think he will be in the mix at cornerback. Maybe one of our young running backs or quarterbacks. Definitely, the young defensive linemen are going to have to play and give us depth. We'll see about C.J. Wood, and I mentioned right tackle earlier, C.J. might be a guy we'll look at. He has the physical ability, it may come down to the fact of how quickly he can pickup and adjust to college football." Wood, who has been rumored to be a non-qualifier, has apparently made his test score and will be in the mix for the Herd offensive line, along with tackles Daniel Baldridge, Joe Bragg and Brandon Campbell on the right side.

Doug Legursky, Herd center, on the offensive line this season: "Coach (Mike) Cummings is mixing it up between the veterans and the young guys. We got a couple of anchors on the line in myself and (left tackle) John Inman, we've played together a long time. Also(guards) David Ziegler and Brian Leggett. 'Legs' is a little younger than the rest of us, but he has been under fire. We'll mix in with Baldridge, Campbell, Eric Vint, Chad Schofield and Josh Evans, all red-shirt freshmen who are coming up. Josh can make a huge difference this season if he steps up in camp."

Legursky on run versus pass for linemen: "Run blocking is what all the guys know from high school. It's my favorite, just smashmouth football. We have to transition them to drop back pass blocking, which takes finesse. It's not just putting your head on a guy and driving him, the fun stuff to do in my opinion. They are getting it. It's (the red-shirt freshmen's) second year, they should know what they are doing now and one day, it will click and they will be doing it perfectly." Legursky has played in every game of his Marshall career, 33 games including the Fort Worth Bowl in 2004 as a freshman, and has started 23 straight games at the pivot.

David Baliff, new head coach of Rice, on playing Marshall for homecoming: "I was Mickey Matthews' grad assistant at San Marcos, Texas, at Southwest Texas State. I can tell you Mickey loved his time at Marshall and, from talking to him, I understand the Herd fans are legendary. That's a hard place to come play, so as much as we are looking forward to coming there and playing, I think Mickey has prepared me for how 'wonderful' the fans will be for our arrival." Matthews was the Herd defensive coordinator from 1990-95 and is the current head coach of the James Madison Dukes, who were I-AA National Champions in 2004.

Neil Calloway, new head coach of UAB, on coming to C-USA: "We were fortunate enough to win the league in its first year when I was at Houston (1993-96), by beating Southern Miss in the season and getting the tie-breaker when ending up tied for first with them, and advancing to play in the Liberty Bowl, which was fun. My first two years in coaching (1978-79) were at East Carolina, and I really enjoyed my time there. Greenville is a great town and great place to be at. We played Marshall three or four years ago when I was at Georgia (2000-2006). Everybody knows around the country what a great job they have done at Marshall in building their program, from a powerhouse in I-AA to where they are at now in Conference USA. You have to take your hat off to Bob Pruett and Coach Snyder, the MU administration, and the job they have done and the way they have gone about it." Calloway was the offensive coordinator at UGA when the No. 3 Bulldogs held off the Herd 13-3 "between the hedges" in Athens, Georgia.

Coach George O'Leary of UCF, on rivalries in the league going into year three: "I would think we are rivals (with Marshall). I was listening to the commissioner talk about rivals earlier today and I had to stop and think about it. From our fans standpoint, I would think it has to be Marshall. It's a good question to propose to fans of the league, who is your conference rival. I think those rival games will come as team contend for championships, but I believe rival games evolve in the competition between the two with a geographic context sometimes." Marshall leads the all-time series with the Knights 3-2, but UCF is 2-0 in C-USA against the Herd while MU was 3-0 in Mid-American Conference games against UCF.

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