Big 12 Media Days: Kansas State

COACH PRINCE: I think we've made significant moves to answer the running back position clearly. Clearly Leon Patton was our starter in the year. That situation will go unresolved for a period of time. Losing James Johnson, obviously you can have a very doubtful approach to that. We didn't have that approach at all.

COACH PRINCE: I was going to try to say
something clever about the players that I brought, but
Peter told me I might not be that funny. But Chris
Carney, one of our defensive captains, is here and as
well as Ian Campbell, another defensive captain,
along with Josh Freeman.

We're pretty excited about the hard work
that's gone into getting the team to this place in 2008.
Clearly we've played 45 players, we've started 45
players in each of the last two seasons. We've had a
single game in which we've played almost 70 players
in a single game.

We've red shirted very few players. We've put
ourselves in a position to become one of the most
experienced teams in the league for the 2008 season.
That was one of our goals from the very beginning,
partly because of the challenge that we're going to
face within the north knowing that the teams in the
north are very, very experienced, among the most
experienced in the league.

But knowing that the way that the South
schedule is going to rotate around to us, the teams
that we've played in the last two years have been a
couple of the more young teams like ourselves, now
we're going to play some of the more veteran teams,
Texas Tech and Oklahoma and Texas A&M have a
tremendous number of veteran players.

We can see that. All those programs have
done a terrific job recruiting. We knew coming into
year three that we'd have quite a test going down to
the South to play that part of the schedule, and it's
pretty clear that the teams in the North that have
coaches who have been in their program six, seven,
eight years, would have their programs very well
established as well.

So we feel like we've put a lot of work into it.
We feel like we'll have at the most maybe one or two
sophomores in the two-deep. Other than that, we'll
really look at having a bulk of seniors and juniors.
And a huge number of those players have played,
community college players add to the mix, those guys
have all won at a pretty high level of football.
And we're excited about coming into the '08
season and we're just trying to take advantage of all
the hard work that's gone into it. And that's kind of our
outlook for the season.

Q. Where in your opinion is Josh in his
development and what do you think -- what step
has he got to take this year?

COACH PRINCE: The question's about Josh.
I think a couple of things have to be kept in mind.
This is one of the very few quarterbacks in the country
that's never red shirted. This is one of the few
quarterbacks in the country that came in from high
school right into our program, was expected to play
and win. In his very first start, he had a very important
win on the last drive, a two-minute drive.

And I think from there it's just been a matter of
trying to put the kind of talent around him at some of
the skill positions, but really we didn't feel that he was
going to realize any of this talent either until he had an
offensive line that could protect him and have a
complementary running game or at least a running
game that could dictate the terms.

And we put that offensive line together in such
a way last year where they have done a pretty nice
job, gave up among the fewest sacks in the league
and had 1,000-yard rushing on the fewest carries in
school history.

If we build on that, we only lose one player out
of our offensive line two deep, and we've added two
significant players to the mix.

If all those things stay constant, I think now it's
a matter of all the small things: progression, reads,
footwork, all that kind of stuff. Warren Ruggiero, our
quarterback coach, did a terrific job through the
spring. The future is in front of him. The sky's the
limit. I would not trade our quarterback for any
quarterback in the country. There's a lot of really
good ones. I think there's at least eight in our
conference that are very confirmed on a national level
as far as their ability and have the resume to back it
up. But I think our quarterback's right up there with
the very best ones nationally.
And, like I said, I wouldn't trade with anybody.

Q. Your special teams have been
phenomenal, and how does the experience of the
players that you're talking about 70 guys playing
in football games, how does that trickle down to
the area of the team as well?


COACH PRINCE: We would like to think we
have good returners. I think that Deon Murphy is one
of the leaders coming back. But I think you have
terrific kicking game because of the people who block
and who tackle, who cover the kicks. And that's
where we'd like to be able to in my opinion make a
real big step this year.

In '06 and '07 we led the nation in a couple of
categories. But really our kick-off coverage really cost
us maybe a couple of games last year from the
standpoint that we gave up a really critical special
teams touchdown which had not really happened to

When it happens on kick-off coverage, it really
negates any momentum you might have gained by
scoring on the previous play, and that really hurt us.
Hurt us in the Oklahoma State game in particular, the
start of the Missouri game, and also in the Nebraska
game. And I think the coverage units are the place
where we're hoping to find the biggest growth
opportunity for our team and Jeff Rodgers, who we
brought in from the 49ers, their as good as anybody in
the NFL in special teams, he was the assistant special
teams coach there. We brought him in. We're really
hoping that will pay dividends for us.

But at Kansas State, we feel that nonoffensive
touchdowns and the play and the kicking
game has to be an integral part if not the key
ingredient to having a successful program and we
want to continue to build on that. And our players
know that. They know no matter what your resume is
from the place the first place you'll have an impact on
this roster is in the coverage or blocking units and
special teams in some way and we place a
tremendous emphasis on it.

Q. Is your recruiting philosophy this year
impacted at all with the desire to get older with the
number of junior college kids you brought in?


COACH PRINCE: It did. One of the things
that we did when Josh Freeman's recruiting class
which I'll call Chris Carney was a part of that as well,
those players have progressed nicely. And many of
them have not red shirted. They're all going into their
third year. The recruiting philosophy was to really do
what Kansas State is best at and what they've always
done which is to really have a unique mix of high
school players and community college players.
And those players that came in with us in that
initial class from community colleges are now gone
and really we wanted it to not go backwards. We
really wanted to be able to replace those players with
other players who have confirmed in how to play the
game of football, how to get up and go to class on
your own, how to do all those things, many of those
things are unknown with the high school kids, but
that's unique to Kansas State, a very interesting mix.
And we really felt like coming into the year three we
were going to face some of the more veteran teams in
the country.

And we wanted to make sure when the big
fish eat the little fish, 22-, 23-year-olds are pushing
around the 18- and 19-year-olds, we've been through
all that. We want to move through that stage and into
a place where we can be a veteran team. And a big
part of that is winning games in the fourth quarter and
in November, to have mature players who can win late
in the game, late in the season and have enough of
them that's what mature football programs can do,
and we want to be a part of that.

Q. How concerned are you with the
situation at running back right now, with Daniel
Thomas not qualifying and with Leon as well?


COACH PRINCE: I think we've made
significant moves to answer the running back position
clearly. Clearly Leon Patton was our starter in the
year. That situation will go unresolved for a period of
time. Losing James Johnson, obviously you can have
a very doubtful approach to that. We didn't have that
approach at all. We did recruit three and signed three
high school running backs: Kwamaine Brown, Logan
Dold, Jarell Childs. We think all three will have a
significant contribution. But we also brought in Justin
Woods and Dee Bell the year before.

So I think the surprise of our recruiting class is
Keithen Valentine, a kid that walked on from junior
college in Mississippi. He really stole the show in the
spring. That's a very positive thing for us, to have that
veteran presence like you just mentioned. A player
like Daniel Thomas will join us in January or -- can't be
with us now. It's disappointing.

But the truth is that we feel like we've done
enough in the last couple of years in this class to try to
answer them.

Q. How legitimate is the chance that
Keithen will be the number one in that depth

COACH PRINCE: I think we'll go into training
camp and legitimize whether -- you didn't have a
microphone, so your question was -- how legitimate a
chance does Keithen have? I think it's very legitimate.
Ricky Rahne, our running back coach, has an open
mind. He improved in the spring and so did Justin
Woods. I was impressed with Justin. We know Dee
Bell and Justin are 100-meter champs and all that
stuff, so we don't feel like we're really going to
concede much speed. It's just going to be experience.
And that's really where Keithen would help us out
there, because he played in the games and played
against good competition.

Q. Can you talk about how you feel about
your wide receivers losing an impact player like
Jordy Nelson and how that affects your
philosophy heading into the 2008 season?

COACH PRINCE: We had the same question
a year ago with Yamon Figurs going off into the draft,
and I would say Jordy did a pretty good job in
responding to that. But I think that's the news that a
lot of people may know. But I think that Deon
Murphy's contribution may go unnoticed. If you look
at Deon Murphy's contribution as a junior, it well
exceeds anything that Jordy did as a junior. Credit
Dave Brock, our wide receiver coach, for that. I think
that's one of the places where we feel like we've really
made some strides. Dave's going to be our offensive
coordinator this year. We think we've added four
significant players to the wide receiver position
through our recruiting efforts. We're very excited
about those guys.

And we have a number of players returning.
Ernie Pierce returns from a year ago. A lot of these
players get an opportunity to catch and be a part of an
offense that is in its third year, that has a mature
quarterback, that has a offensive line, that we can
assure the ball's going to get off. As the question was
earlier, if you have a running game that can support
that, then you're obviously going to need some of the
coverages that you might think are to your favor.
So we're very excited about the wide receiver
position. We think it's something all the perimeter
play, we think Kansas State should be an advantage
for the kind of skilled athletes you can get there. And
we really feel that the hard work has to go into both
fronts and we think we've answered that.

We're real excited about Brandon Banks,
Attrail Snipes, Adrian Hilburn who was with us in the
spring, and Aubrey Quarles. Three of those four guys
just arrived. But we think that they'll have a
tremendous impact and we're really excited about the
season, particularly at wide out.

Q. In all the ways that Josh matured last
season, one thing that sticks out is 12
touchdowns and no interceptions inside the red
zone. Can you comment on his maturity in that
respect and how he's been able to do that?


COACH PRINCE: I think it's really a credit to
our operation, the kid, the linemen, everything else.
One of the criticisms I had of our offense in the off
season is I didn't feel we ran the ball as effectively in
the red zone as we could have. We had the most red
zone appearances in the league but we also kicked
the most field goals. I think we actually attempted and
completed 23 of them. That's far too many.
Particularly on the road games that we had. That
really made it challenging.

So all those circumstances set and that's the
stage, he still goes out and outperforms a lot of other
players and the kind of care that he took with the ball
to make sure that we did get points I think speaks to a
level of maturity and maybe that's kind of a hidden
yardage type of quotient and maybe doesn't stand out
in some of the other things.

But I think he's ready to improve in the
two-minute as well. I think if that happens, with the
way he's handled the ball and red zone and the ways
he's been able to score and really make strides in the
two-minute game, then I think we'll see the total
package that we think he is and we feel like he's
prepared to do that.

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