Q&A with Fresno State Coach Pat Hill - Part 2

Conversation with Pat Hill continues, with a discussion of last season and how his team dealt with the media hype, and some news on players that will not start Friday night.

Q: When you look at your defense, who do you count on for leadership this year?

Hill: Once again, another good question. Alan Harper and Vernon Fox were the leaders of our defense for three years, since they were sophomores. This year we look to Sam Williams probably, in the front, and in the secondary, it hasn't been clearly defined yet and we'll find out who's going to step up in those roles the first time we're in a tough third-down situation at Wisconsin.

Q: You've been quoted as saying you have the most talent that you've had in your six years at Fresno State, but you're unsure if it's your best team. Do you have any more thoughts after training camp about how that talent is coming together?

Hill: I think it's coming together very well. This team didn't start in training camp, it started back in January. Like every other program in the country, we work year round. Our voluntary summer program was very intense. Our training camp has been very physical. Even though we have a 13-game season, we had a lot of live contact, a lot of live scrimmage. That's just something we do here. But until we play a game, you really don't know what's going to happen when you go in front of those live bullets. I think it's a great opportunity for us to step into Camp Randall where it's going to be a hostile environment. There's no warm-up game for this one. We have to get right into it and get busy early. We'll find out a lot about this team early. So far they've passed all the tests. Now the ultimate test comes. All the quizzes are over, now we have to take the test.

Q: Who will replace Brian Morris? And can you rank Nick Burley with some of the past defensive ends you've been around?

Hill: Nick Burley is a very special young man. He came to us out of high school at 6-2, 205. He's got a great motor, and he's grown obviously. He plays with great desire and has a great motor. As for Brian Morris, that's a young man we thought was going to be a big plus for us. He will be replaced by Claude Sanders, who is a sophomore, 6-4, about 230. He ran the 100 meters in high school in 10.9. He has great speed. He hasn't played in big game yet. This will be his first game. But from an athletic standpoint, he's a lot like Burley. Faster, but he doesn't have the experience. It will be his first test. Our nose man, Jason Stewart, missed a lot of fall camp, and so did Clarence Denning with a death in his family. He was out of the state for a week. Those two young men haven't gotten the practice time that I think they really needed to be in top shape. They are going to make the trip, but they will not start, so we have some young guys playing on the defensive front. They understand what the task is in front of them. The offensive line and running back at Wisconsin, we are really impressed with. It will give us a great opportunity to see how our young men stand up against a good unit.

Q: Would you agree that you club snuck up on some people last year?

Hill: No I don't think so. I don't think we snuck up on people. I think that's just…I just don't believe in that. I don't think you can sneak up on people in college football. You only have about 11 or 12 games, and you practice 360 days a year in preparation for them, so if people sneak up on you, I don't know. You can say whatever you want, but when we came to Wisconsin last year, I thought Wisconsin had played a great game the week before against Oregon. I think they were probably motivated to play well against us, and I thought they played really, really well the first half. They had us by 10. I don't know. I don't believe in sneaking up. That's for (the media) to talk about.

Q: Do you people are more aware of your program right now?

Hill: That's a fair assessment. But if you look at our schedule, last year wasn't the first year we've played the kind of schedule we're playing. It's just very hard. Our record in September has not been very good. We've had some very close losses. UCLA twice, Oregon in overtime, and all these games have been on the road, and losses really don't do anything for you. Next year's schedule will be Tennessee, Oklahoma and Oregon State, so we play those types of games every year. I don't know. I don't really worry about what other people say or think. All I know is there's going to be a game on Friday, it's going to be fun, both teams are going to get after it and the best team is going to win, period.

Q: Have you ever been around better special teams than the ones you have right now?

Hill: No, this is the best we've been. I think our coverage units will be better. I really feel we have a chance to be a better football team, because there are so many intangibles that go into it. Last year we stayed healthy until about the middle of the season. There are so many different things that are involved in football. That's what makes the game and the coaching part of it so important. We're going into this game with three of our four starting defensive linemen out, and we'll see what happens. That's up to the players to step up to the plate. You know Wisconsin is playing without their great receiver, and he's a special, special guy. And the players have to step up. Somebody has to pick up the flag and away we go. That's just football. That's what makes football such a great game, and a game that teaches a young man so much about life.

Q: What do you think the biggest accomplishment was for your program last year?

Hill: Oh I don't really know. That's a hard question because we didn't win our conference championship. I don't really have an answer for that. I've never really thought what our biggest accomplishment was. I think the biggest accomplishment was that our team learned what it was like to get involved in a national media hype. We handled it well for a while, but soon it got to us. We had never been through anything like that before and hopefully we learned a lot from that experience, that you have to remained focused on the target every week, and understand that every week, no matter what's being said or what's being done, you have to remember you have to stay focused on the task at hand. I think we lost a little bit of focus at midseason and I think a lot of us, including myself and my football team, went through a lot of growing last year. I think the person that handled all the hype better than anybody else was Dave Carr last year. He never had a bad game.

Q: With all of that BCS talk early on, would you do things any differently?

Hill: No, the reason we schedule the way we do is because the only way we have a chance at a BCS bid…six of them are spoken for and only two are open…we need to go undefeated against non-league opponents that are very highly ranked. Wisconsin, Oregon, Oregon State this year are very, very good opponents. Last year Colorado, Wisconsin and Oregon State were all highly-ranked teams early in the year. Colorado ends up having a real good year. The only chance we have is going undefeated and winning on the road against great opponents. We understand that and that's what we're trying to do. It's a very, very tough task, but our kids understand the goal. Our coaches understand it. We don't have to play the schedule if we don't want it. We choose to play it, so we just have to go out and win. That's the bottom line.

Q: Do you expect Wisconsin to be highly motivated after last year?

Hill: I think they are going to be highly motivated for their opener no matter who they're playing. I don't think it's Fresno State. I think that's a very proud program. I think they have an outstanding coaching staff and an outstanding tradition. They're out to prove that last year was not what Wisconsin football is. I think that's the approach they're going to have. It doesn't really matter who the first opponent is. It just happens to be us. I think we're going to get their best shot. They've had 220 days to get their mind set on having a great year, and I believe Wisconsin will have a very good year this year.

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