The unofficial start of the college football season is finally here.
Paul Rhoads took the stage of the Big 12’s annual media days in Dallas on Monday morning. Below is a transcript of his press conference with the print media courtesy of Big12Sports.com.
COACH RHOADS: There’s a huge amount of energy that’s surrounding our football program right now that’s created an increased excitement both internally and externally as we head towards the 2012 season.
I think that’s supported by the fact that we’re going to open up a brand-new state-of-the-art football facility this fall. We had record-setting attendance last year in three different categories. Season ticket sales, single season attendance at all six of our home football games were over 51,000 for the first time in the history of Iowa State University football. The season ticket sales for 2012 have already surpassed those marks.
Our football team through three seasons has experienced great growth and development, and I think as we head toward this season we’ll put our most talented football team on the field as we once again face a schedule that all if not most will rank as one of the top five toughest in college football.
We have two players that are up for about every preseason honor they could at linebacker in A.J. Klein and Jake Knott, both very deserving of the attention. Plenty of support and excitement as we move toward the start of the 2012 season.
One bit of housekeeping knowledge. Shontrelle Johnson, a running back in our football program, has been cleared to play and will begin practicing with us when we start on August 3rdrd.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. If you could, talk a little bit about the Oklahoma State win last year and what that’s done for the program since and some of the tangible games you guys have seen since that win.
COACH RHOADS: I think the most significant component of that victory for our football program has been national attention. And you play that game on a Friday night at a point late in the season that affected the BCS race, and you got the whole nation talking about it all weekend long.
Now, that spills over, most importantly for us, into recruiting. And you go into living rooms and you go into schools and on the practice fields this spring and the Iowa State brand is recognized on a national level probably more so than it’s ever been.
Q. Take me through the process of getting Shontrelle cleared and were there any doubts that you had and when were you able to start putting him into your plans?
COACH RHOADS: Well, there were doubts until he went through a set of x-rays this summer that had to be looked at by his surgeon and the fusion that took place that was fully healed, fully fused, and that he gave his blessing that he could play.
From there, Shontrelle and his family, specifically his mother, had to sit down and make the decision that they were going to resume playing college football.
And that just happened here within the last week. So now we’ll plug him back in. Certainly he’ll have to work his way back up the depth chart. He’s been out for a while. But we look forward to him doing that.
Now, my biggest concern, as he begins that process, as he does it with his head up and fundamentally does all the things to protect himself as he moves forward.
Q. Paul, you have Jared Barnett and Steele Jantz, a quarterback battle once camp opens. Do you have a time frame on when you want to pick a starter? And how important is it going to be to get more consistent play out of a quarterback this year?
COACH RHOADS: Well, first one easier, probably the same as last year all the way through the last scrimmage of training camp before I’ll make that decision.
And we most definitely need better play from the quarterback position if we’re going to become a better football team, and namely in the area of accuracy. Our quarterbacks completed, I think, 51 percent of their passes is all last year. We threw too many to the wrong-colored jersey.
If we’re going to be a better offensive football team, which is very important in this league to be a better football team, it’s going to take better quarterback play.
Q. Coach, I apologize if you’ve answered this already, but can you give me your thoughts on West Virginia entering the league? You have a little bit of history with them from your time at Pitt. Give us your thoughts on them and what you think they’ll be able to do not only this year but in the next few years.
COACH RHOADS: They’ll come in and compete immediately. I would expect them to come in and compete for a conference championship, they’re that level of program and always have been. They have a high quality of player. They’ve got great coaching. They’ve got an offense that will compete in this league. They’ve got a defensive coordinator who thoroughly knows this league, and I would expect big things out of West Virginia in 2012 and beyond.
Q. The Big 12 has been around now for 16 years. And I’m curious, are you finding it easier now to getting the Texas high schools to recruit players? Like James White is a kid from here in Dallas. As kids down here become familiar with your brand, the way you play, is it easier to recruit in Texas than it was, say, earlier steps in your career?
COACH RHOADS: It is easier. I don’t know the exact number. You know my history a little bit. I was at Iowa State the last year of the Big Eight, so I was there the first year of the Big 12.
We weren’t even recruiting Texas at that time. And Pete Hoener was our offensive coordinator at that point, and he talked Dan McCarney into going into Houston that year, and certainly it’s expanded from there.
But that was new at that time for Texas kids and Iowa State football and where in the heck is Ames, Iowa, where now the kids that are graduating have grown up with the Big 12. They didn’t even know what the Big Eight was. And they just know the Iowa State brand, the cardinal and gold, and that Ames, Iowa, is a university that’s coming to Texas twice every year to play road Big 12 games and they’re going to get a chance to come home and they’re going to get a chance to see their families, and of course their families a chance to see them play back in the state of Texas.
So, yeah, I do believe the doors are open wider than they were back in 1996.
Q. Just with your experience at Pitt and all, from your view, how have you seen all the things that have developed at Penn State and how that’s reverberated around that state at this point?
COACH RHOADS: What’s taken place this morning we haven’t heard that much about because we just landed this morning and travelled in as the news was breaking. I think, first and foremost, this is a matter for the legal systems and the courts, and there’s more of that to come.
And I just– I’ll leave it at, first and foremost, that’s where this case is at. And I can’t say anything or give my opinion about anything that’s going to do anything to help the victims or their families.
Q. Paul, when you said probably be the most talented football team you’re going to put on the football field, do you define that in terms of the top 22, 44, full roster, and how shocking would it be for Iowa State to win the Big 12 this year?
COACH RHOADS: I’m trying to think how big — what I could use to describe how big that would be, that shock. And at the same time I say that we’ll go into all 12 football games with expectations to win them. That’s how our kids are going to prepare, and that’s how I expect the kids to take the field and play.
I think it’s both the top 22 and the top 44. And I separate those two. This is without a doubt our deepest football team.
I finally believe just about every location we’ve got a two-deep; that if one guy, his shoelace broke or he broke his collarbone, we could put a guy in and we’d be okay. Where in 2009 we had six offensive linemen that we would have played. I think the starting 22 overall are our best group. So I don’t have a roadmap that said that in 2012 we better be at this point, but we are progressing like I hope our football program would to make that talent level our best football team and a football team that wins more than three Big 12 games, like our three previous have done, is going to be based largely on how our quarterbacks play and the improvement of our defense, especially our defensive line.
Q. You’ve already talked about the Oklahoma State win and how big that was for your program. But can you describe how much the win over Iowa meant especially with the way the last few games have gone and increasing your brand in the state in saying not only can we compete with them but we can beat them?
COACH RHOADS: Very important to our fan base. Maybe most of all. You don’t just beat Iowa and sign every recruit in the state. As a matter of fact, they’ve got commitments from a number right now — we don’t have commitments from anybody in the state. And we’re the team that won that football game a year ago.
Certainly I put a great deal of importance on the game and our kids understand that, and to finally win in it in our third opportunity was great. I think it was great to win it at home.
But if you got to be a part of that game or see it, it was a game that was played at home in September, a very hot day, went three overtimes, it was two teams that played to complete exhaustion.
And to win a game like that, regardless of it being against your in-state rival, is very important to the growth of your football program.
Q. You guys lost Leonard Johnson. He was a real good corner. Played a big role in that Oklahoma State football game. How do you try to replace someone that’s such a talent, such a lock-down corner like that?
COACH RHOADS: Numbers, and two starters that we think have the opportunity to be good players. Leonard’s a guy that got forced into playing as a true freshman in his first campaign, was a part of only two victories.
Now Jansen Watson is in our program, going into his fourth fall, and he’s just now going to start for the first time. That’s a lot of practice time under his belt.
Jeremy Reeves is a multi-starter on the other side. Then you have Sam Richardson and Ken Lynn both coming off redshirt campaigns to provide depth, Cliff Stokes, who we signed as a junior college player, and Matt Thomas from right here in Lancaster, in the Metroplex area, giving us a three-deep at cornerback and great competition. Hopefully that’s how it will help to replace a Leonard Johnson.
Q. You have a tough home schedule when it comes to the Big 12. You have K-State, Baylor, OU, and WVU all at home. Obviously those are tough games. Obviously it helps to have them at home. What are your thoughts on that?
COACH RHOADS: You gotta protect your home stadium. And we’re going to have to do that against what we always know is going to be a tough schedule. It’s one thing I sort of look at to see where people rank us, and I haven’t seen one prognosticator say anything lower than five as far as where they’d rate our schedule again this season.
It’s something we’ve gotten to know. It’s a challenge that our players embrace, one they better or they’re not going to survive.
Q. Could you tell us a couple of players that you might target and say that you’re looking for big things as they come on this year.
COACH RHOADS: That’s easy. I think the two that are probably gaining the most notoriety as we head into the fall, who are with us here today, A.J. Klein and Jake Knott, a pair of our linebackers, guys like Leonard who played as true freshmen and are starters in a Wally Burnham-coached defense.
But they’re prototype. They’re 6’2″, 6’3″, 245 pounds. They can run and they’re intelligent and they are tough, and the expectations are high for good reason.
Q. Coach, a little bit about James White, his status right now. Do you expect him to carry a big load as far as running back this season?
COACH RHOADS: We do. And it was exciting to see James get some consideration for the Doak Walker Award. He made a number of big plays for us a season ago. And in spread offenses, you better be producing some big plays if you’re going to score the points necessary in this league to win. It’s certainly not one of the things we’ve done and it’s certainly one of the things that James is capable of doing. I don’t know if we have a guy that works harder. I don’t know if we’ve got a guy on our roster pound for pound that’s more explosive or stronger than James White. Coming out of Skyline High School, it’s fun for him to just drive over here today and be part of this event.
But we expect him to be a big component of our offensive football team this fall.
Q. How does the coordinator change affect your offense? And, secondly, talk about your tight end Hammerschmidt.
COACH RHOADS: I think the coordinator change is a very positive move for us. Courtney Messingham has been on our staff the entire four years. He’s coached three different positions now on offense, coordinator of half of our special teams.
This was a move welcomed by our team. He’s an intelligent guy that I think is going to do a fantastic job of play calling as well as putting a plan together. And I think play calling is the biggest piece to being a coordinator, especially in this league.
I think as a staff you can put things together. I think being a teacher of an individual position is awfully important, but being the guy that has to make those adjustments and get your football team in the right situation game day is critically important.
We have two guys that will play for us at the tight end position this year that didn’t a year ago: Ricky Howard, junior college player, going into his senior year coming off an ACL surgery, and Ernst Brun, a junior college player that we redshirted a year ago.
Both give us different things. Ernst can stretch defenses vertically, and then Ricky is a physical player that can move around and play as a fullback, play as an H-back and line up in the traditional spot.
And then we also have Kurt Hammerschmidt, another senior who knows and understands this league very well.
Q. Your quarterback spot, what are you sort of looking to do schedule-wise moving forward in fall camp settling that?
COACH RHOADS: It will be easier for us in this fall camp than it was a year ago because we truthfully had three guys competing a year ago, and this year we’ve only got two.
So you’re looking at a system devised by Coach Messingham to divide up those repetitions, one guy with the one and the other guy with the twos, and give them the equal amount of looks, seven on seven in team situations that they need with those guys to earn the position.
And, as I mentioned before, accuracy and throwing a football is going to be a heightened piece of my attention as they go through this battle.
We’ll have three scrimmages at that point where I’ll probably make my decision, and those scrimmages play out on a Saturday/Wednesday/Saturday, and it will give those boys ample opportunity to show they deserve to be our starter September 1 against Tulsa.