Media Day Notes: Weis, Tressel, Smith, Quinn

We have a ton of notes from Friday's Fiesta Bowl media day at Sun Devil Stadium. We have in-depth comments from ND coach Charlie Weis, OSU's Jim Tressel, OSU quarterback Troy Smith, ND quarterback Brady Quinn, OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock and ND tailback Darius Walker. These figure to be some of the key principles in Monday's game (5 p.m., ABC). Click here for more.

On Friday, media members had a chance to meet with the entire football teams and coaching staffs from Ohio State and Notre Dame.

The set-up is simple: The head coach and four selected players sit on risers near the playing field, while the rest of the team is spread out in the east stands at Sun Devil Stadium. Media members mill about for 45 minutes and ask questions pertaining to the game, each team's season or any other various subjects.

We have some notes on Friday's proceedings.

Weis' World

For many members of the OSU press corps, this was their first experience with ND coach Charlie Weis. Weis is equal parts charming and abrasive – just like his former boss, Bill Parcells.

"We're treating this trip a lot like a business trip," Weis said. "I'm looking to come into this game and win and I know only one way to do that and that is give them little time for rest and relaxation and get them mentally ready for the game."

Weis had several memorable quotes. The best had to be a question about the effect his jewelry has on prospective high school players. The Irish head coach was wearing his Super Bowl ring to the session and it led to a reporter questioning if he used it in swaying recruits to Notre Dame.

"They start to tell me that they're going somewhere else because it gives them a better chance to go to the NFL," Weis said. "And I'll go, ‘So, you want to play in the NFL?'"

At this point, Weis, with his gigantic diamond-clad ring on his finger, put his hand over his face and left it there, which drew a huge laugh from the media contingent. The Arizona sun, coupled with ring size, caused it to make an impression on the crowd.

"They get the point," Weis said.

Of course, all of Weis' offensive acumen will be tested as he pits his offense against OSU's stellar defense.

"They are giving up 14.8 points a game and we are averaging 38," Weis said. "Obviously, something will have to give statistically. The truth lies somewhere in between. We'll have to see how it plays out. If we score 14 points and we win 14-13, sign me up and we don't even need to play the game. It's all about scoring more points than they do."

Weis was asked about the prospect of ND and OSU scheduling games in the future.

"One of the most interesting things about this match-up is we play several teams from the Big Ten yearly," he said. "Purdue, Michigan and Michigan State are on our schedule every year. Ohio State is not one of them. That makes this game better. Geographically, this is a natural match-up. For us to go against each other is kind of exciting."

And, the question of whether Weis ever sees ND joining the Big Ten or any other conference also came up.

"We're independent," he said. "Any time you're affiliated with a conference, you are considered regional. We're national and I think that's a great resource for us. We have Notre Dame alums all over the world – trust me, I know because they all are asking me if I can come and speak."

Tressel's Time

The Buckeyes are making their third trip in four years to the Fiesta Bowl, all under head coach Jim Tressel. The biggest win came in 2003 when Ohio State shocked Miami (Fla.) to win the national championship. The experience of coming to Tempe and knowing what to expect from the bowl week festivities gives the Buckeyes a slight edge in that area. Tressel hopes his team can go out and make another special moment for the Ohio State football program.

"We have had a good week," he said. "We got in on the 26th and got situated. Then on the 27th and 28th, we had two good hard, padded practices. As the week goes on, we have scaled back more. You can tell it's time to play. You have to remind yourself why you're here.

"A lot of our guys who have been here before went to the team hotel with some fond memories," Tressel said. "Now they walked in here this morning and I'm sure had some fond memories. The great thing about sport is that you have to go out and create your own memories. It's exciting to see if we can do that again."

But Tressel knows the Buckeyes will have their hands full against the Fighting Irish.

"The biggest thing about Notre Dame that impresses me is how fundamentally sound they are," Tressel said. "They are very aggressive and they apply pressure. They have a veteran group of guys who have played a lot of football games. They have stayed relatively healthy. Obviously, they are very deserving of being here. This will be a great match-up for us."

Tressel was asked if a team can play in the same bowl too many times.

"Not if it's the Fiesta Bowl," he said. "If you continue to play in the Fiesta Bowl, that means you've had good fortune."

The coach was asked what he expects to see from the crowd on Monday afternoon.

"I'm sure there won't be as much scarlet and gray as what we see in the Horseshoe for us and it won't be like Notre Dame Stadium for them," he said. "I bet it'll be fairly even and I bet it'll be an unusual atmosphere. There will be a lot of noise made in both directions."

Tressel was asked if he followed Notre Dame growing up.

"I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, which isn't too far from South Bend, and I grew up delivering the Plain Dealer, which covered the Browns, the Buckeyes and Notre Dame like I guess a lot of Northern industrial cities did," Tressel said. "And that was before Cincinnati had a team. Every once in awhile my dad's Baldwin-Wallace team would get a couple inches in the paper. But I was familiar with Notre Dame and what they were about. I was an Ohio State fan and I was a Notre Dame fan. I would deliver that paper then read it immediately. That's who I grew up watching."

Smith's Say

OSU quarterback Troy Smith was one of his team's featured interviewees. He was asked if the quarterback – bogged down with extra tape to watch – gets to enjoy the bowl trip as much as his teammates do.

"You have to watch more tape, but you still get a chance to have fun with the guys just like everybody else," Smith said. "I'm having a great time since I've been here. But we still have mandatory film study right after practice. It's all to make us better and I don't have a problem with it.

"With us having this much of a layoff, the extra film study is key. You can sit back and watch film."

So what has Smith's extra film study shown on Notre Dame?

"Every team they play, they come after them," he said. "They're going to come and we pretty much understand and know what they're going to do. Your awareness level at this stage has to be at its highest level because Notre Dame has a great defense."

Heacock Happenings

OSU defensive coordinator/line coach Jim Heacock confirmed that freshman defensive end Lawrence Wilson has turned some heads during bowl practice.

"Lawrence has shown us he's a heck of a football player since he's been here," Heacock said. "The nice thing about bowl practice, for young guys, is it gives them a chance to have a little bit more attention. They get more reps and they can learn a little bit more. True freshmen, when they come in, you're getting ready to play Miami (Ohio) and Texas. They don't get a lot of attention. The bowl practice is a chance for them to showcase what they are and what they can do.

"He's had an opportunity to get a few more reps and, obviously, he has some more confidence in himself and understands the scheme a little bit better. He's going to be a great football player. He is an outstanding young man who does a nice job in the classroom. He's a special football player. He's had an opportunity to get into the system a little bit more and will get some more playing time."

Heacock also discussed the knee injuries suffered by freshman defensive linemen Doug Worthington and Ryan Williams during bowl practice.

"It really is unfortunate," Heacock said. "That is the worst part about it for me to see two young guys get hurt. But there is a fine line. You have go out and scrimmage and you have to go out and play football. It's football. They had some bad luck. But, shoot, it's not the end of the world. They're both young. They're only freshmen and they'll have to get back and do their rehab.

"A lot of great football players have had their injury and come back from it. They just have to take a positive approach. We didn't like it and we wish it didn't happen. But you can't play football unless you play football."

Heacock switched gears and discussed ND's 10th-ranked offense.

"They're a great offense," he said. "They're fourth in the nation in passing. They throw the football really well, but they are also really balanced. They have a tailback with over 1,000 yards. They have two receivers who are really good and three tight ends who are good. Brady (Quinn) makes it all go.

"The group that is underrated is that offensive line. If you look at that number of starts those guys have, those guys have been around a long time. That's where it all starts. They do a good job of protecting Brady and they do a good job of opening up holes.

"They are a great offense, but I don't know if this is going to be any different than any other game. We're going to have execute our defense. Our guys are going to have to run to the ball and give great effort. We're going to have to make sure we don't give up any big plays. It's still defense. What's gotten us this far has been our team concept and lack of individual selfishness. We hope we can maintain that mentality and go into this game and play as 11 guys on the field."

Quinn's Quips

Quinn, ND's record-setting junior quarterback, was asked what struck him at first after meeting Weis last winter.

"The first thing is how blunt he is," Quinn said. "He is extremely honest. He tells you what is on his mind. It doesn't matter who you are. I'm sure he would tell President Bush what he thinks of him. He demands perfection. He demands a lot out of his players. But you know he's going to get results."

Many believe it has been Weis' teachings that have helped Quinn reach his potential.

"He has obviously helped me a lot mentally and working through adversity," he said. "You have to have a short-term memory. You can't do anything about the last play. You just have to move on. I'm someone who tries to strive for perfection. It's hard sometimes when you care about something too much."

Reporters asked Quinn if he felt pressure to end ND's seven-game bowl losing streak.

"I don't know if that puts more weight on my shoulders," Quinn said. "I know it is something that needs to end. It goes to show we have not been doing something right. We have not made plays when we've needed to. That's something that needs to stop.

"This game should leave a mark on what kind of season we've had. I think 10-2 sounds a lot better than 9-3."

Quinn, of course, is a central Ohio native from Dublin Coffman High School. A win in this game would give him bragging rights for life in his hometown.

"This game sure is special, just from the fact that these two schools get to play one another and it's very rare that you see Ohio State and Notre Dame – two powerhouses in the Midwest – match up," he said. "For me, personally, it's a great opportunity for me to beat a team that's in my hometown."

Quinn went back to the summer of 2002 – just before his senior year at Coffman – when he selected ND over Ohio State and other top choices.

"Iowa was my first offer," he said. "Once that had come, I wasn't sure how to handle everything. I started calling different coaches. I started looking at schools. It got almost too hard to see every school. You try and do your best and make a decision based on where you live and what kind of education you want and all those other things. It was a crazy experience, but when it came down to it Ohio State and Notre Dame were two schools I looked at very seriously and it ended up that Notre Dame was the best place for me.

"Actually, Ohio State offered before Notre Dame. Notre Dame was one of my last offers."

Quinn was asked to give a scouting report on Smith, his opposite number – literally as both QBs wear No. 10 – for the Buckeyes.

"He brings a lot of different weapons to the table," he said. "His running ability and passing ability both present a tough challenge for our defense. You can see him progress and get better as the season went on. He became the leader of that team. It's been neat to see how he has gotten better with both aspects of the game."

Quinn, who now holds every meaningful ND passing record, was asked how he sees himself in the pantheon of great Irish quarterbacks.

"I'm just trying to do the best that I can while I'm here," he said. "The first few years were rough and this year has gotten better. Hopefully, we can still win a national championship. Hopefully, that will be in the future for me.

"But as far as comparisons, that's tough because Joe Montana is the best quarterback ever. You can't place yourself anywhere close to him or Joe Theismann or any of the other quarterbacks who played at Notre Dame."

One fun moment occurred as Quinn's sister, Laura, a television reporter who is dating OSU linebacker A.J. Hawk, got a chance to interview both her brother and her boyfriend.

She asked her brother what his biggest distraction was this week.

Without batting an eyelash, Brady Quinn replied, "You."

Hawk's answer to the same question: "The girl to my left."

Walker's Ways

ND sophomore tailback Darius Walker seriously considered Ohio State before signing with Notre Dame in 2004.

"The good thing about Notre Dame is there is always excitement on campus and fan support, no matter what we're doing," he said. "That's why Notre Dame is such a special place because the fan support and the tradition there is incredible. But now, with the season we've had, everything is increased.

"For me, it was Notre Dame, Ohio State and USC – those were my top three schools. With the blessed opportunity I had to go to those schools. I could not make a bad choice. There really wasn't a wrong decision. I wanted to go to a place where I could get some grade A football and also a great education.

"To get an offer from a place like Notre Dame, you really can't pass it up. You get so much more than just football."

Of course, OSU running backs coach Tim Spencer, who was recruiting Walker, left the school to join the NFL's Chicago Bears.

"I guess that sort of put a stamp on my decision," Walker said.

Walker said the Irish have been all business on this trip.

"As much as we would like to keep this a vacation, it's not," Walker said. "That's something this coaching staff is good at is keeping us focused. They understand that this is a business trip and know what we need to do."

Walker knows he will be a marked man on Monday. He was asked, rhetorically, if he had heard that Ohio State has the number one ranked run defense in the nation.

"I think I've heard it every single day," Walker said. "I see it on TV. I get calls about it every day."

But Walker is not conceding anything to the Buckeyes.

"This is the reason we play football," Walker said. "You go to a place like Notre Dame and play the USC's and the Tennessee's and play the Ohio State's and in the BCS games. It's the reason why we're here. It's a very exciting time. I know they have the number one rushing defense but I'm really up for the challenge. Players and coaches are excited about it. It'll be a great game and there is a lot riding on the game. We need a win."

Plenty To Read

In the last six days, we have had 25 content items on Ohio State football, the OSU-ND rivalry or the Fiesta Bowl. The link below goes to our story archive so you can go back and check on any pieces you may have missed: Story Archives

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