Blue Raiders focus in on Western Carolina

First weekly press conference held Friday

August 23, 2013 · @MTAthletics

Head Coach Rick Stockstill

Opening Statement:

I'm very excited about this thing getting started. We're six days out now and I've been very pleased with camp so far. Our guys have had a tremendous attitude and work ethic and I've been extremely proud of the mindset they've come to practice with every day. I think we've gotten better on both sides of the ball and I'm excited to see us get out there on Thursday night and play. I'm really excited and proud of what I've seen of our team up to this point.

On the mindset with the move to Conference USA: 

Our objective last year was to win the Sun Belt. Our goal this year is to win the Conference USA championship, but we'll focus on one game at a time, and when that first Conference USA game gets here we'll be ready to play. I don't look at this season any differently. Going into it, our goal is still the same - to win the conference.

On expectations for success entering the season:

I think if you asked me or any of our players last August if we thought we could win eight games, I bet every one of us would have said we'll win more than eight. I remember saying last year that I liked the way that team focused and prepared. I say the same about this year's team. I like the leadership we have and I like the mindset our team has right now. Every year, you have to be able to overcome adversity, and we were able to do that last year when we had some key people get hurt. We got behind and we came back and won. It's the same thing [this year]. We've had some key people get hurt in camp and we have to overcome that adversity. More adversity will happen throughout the year. How we respond to that will determine the success this team has and I believe 100 percent that this team is physically and mentally tough enough to have a nice year.

On new players who will make an impact:

Shane Tucker is a lot like Jordan [Parker] was at this time last year. You hoped that you would be able to redshirt Jordan, but then you get a couple injuries and you can't. Shane is a very smart football player and he seems to be a very tough football player, both mentally and physically. He has a good grasp of the offense at this stage in his career and I think he could help us. Hopefully we can keep everybody healthy and we'll be able to redshirt him.

I think Shon Akins is a guy on defense that will contribute early and Veion Robinson is another guy that has a chance to make an impact on that linebacker position. A lot of it will depend on how healthy we stay and how they continue to progress.

On the Steven Rhodes story:

I'm really happy for Steven. The bottom line is that you want your players to be happy and to experience success. Here's a young man who fulfilled his obligation to the military and all he wanted to do was play ball and go to school. I'm happy that he gets to do it without sitting out a year. How much he plays? That's still a long way to go. But from a personal standpoint, you just want your players to feel good about themselves, experience success, be happy and get on the right path to life.
This was really the first time something I was a part of took off like this. It got legs and took off. People were talking about it from California to New York to Miami. I think a lot of it is the patriotism of the United States. If he hadn't been in the service, I don't know if it would have played out the way it did.

On the team's depth:

We're deeper at wide receiver than I think we've ever been. We still have a couple nagging injuries, but I think those guys will be okay by this weekend. I felt really good about our backfield until Jeremiah [Bryson] got hurt, now we're at three and a freshman. We have some pretty good depth in the secondary. [The] Linebacker [position] is a huge concern and defensive line is probably as big a concern as any I have on this team. [The] offensive line is always a question mark. Those are the three positions I don't feel good about, while secondary and receiver are the ones I feel best about.

On shifting the focus to Western Carolina:

They have an excellent running back and two very good quarterbacks. Down the middle, they're pretty good. Both of those guys can throw it well. Their running back isn't very big, but he runs well and has some shake to him. The league he came out of in his high school is a very good league and he led that team in rushing. He's a good back.

On defense, they're not overly big, but they're athletic. I think they're a really good football team, even though their record didn't show it last year. Coach [Mark] Speir is a good coach and I know they'll be better than they were last year.

On getting into game week preparation:

It's probably more fun for the players than it is for the coaches. As a coach, you're still teaching while getting into game planning. The players get tired of hitting each other. That's why I tried to change things up a bit today just to break up the monotony. Practice is not fun. Playing the game in football is the fun part. You can see the sense of urgency in the players, and I hope they can see the sense of urgency in us as coaches as game day gets closer. We're doing everything we can to wake up Friday morning 1-0.

On Logan Kilgore:

He's matured and gotten better as a quarterback every year. He was mature to begin with. His first game was against Minnesota, and he played well in that game. He's a tremendous leader, he understands football, he loves football and he's gotten better at understanding situations. He's an excellent quarterback. I think he has a chance to play this game a long time. If he'll stay humble and continue to work, he has a bright future.

Redshirt Senior QB Logan Kilgore

On preseason preparation:

I think preseason has gone really well. We've been relatively healthy. The coaching staff has been excellent with mixing very demanding days with others where we pop off the helmets and shoulder pads and do a run-through. I think we're in better shape at this point than we've been in since I've been here.

On not taking a team in a lower division for granted:

We were ready for McNeese [State] last year. I don't think we overlooked them. I think that they came ready to play and there were no surprises. At 8-4 last year, I think we should have been in the postseason, but at 9-3 we don't leave any doubt.

On the beginning of the season:

It'll be fun. It's what football's about. At the end of the day, it's to fight for the guy next to you, and the guy in the locker room.

I don't think it will ever get old. I think of guys like Brett Favre who do it for 20-25 years if you include college. It never gets old. You think back, and it's the same tunnel you were running out of for summer workouts when it's 100 degrees with no one in the crowd. It's hard when you're young to envision what you're working towards, but at that moment when the smoke starts going and everyone's cheering, you really understand what all that hard work for.

Sophomore RB Jordan Parker

On now compared to this point a year ago:

I try to approach things the same. Do things the right way, run hard and do what I need to do.

On having a "good game":

[A good game is] no negative plays, no fumbles and no turnovers.

Redshirt Senior CB Kenneth Gilstrap

On the importance of the season opener:

The first game usually helps you find your identity and what you need to work on. I feel we're more mature than we were at this point last year and have found our identity already.

On the beginning of the season:

It's like waiting for Christmas. You've been waiting all year and you've been trying to be good all year. Now, it's time to put up or shut up. We'll be ready next Thursday.

Redshirt Senior CB Sammy Seamster

On Western Carolina:

They're a good team, but everyone has to stay focused and do their assignments.

On sophomore safety Xavier Walker:

Watching him, I can tell he's coming along well. He just needs to stay focused and listen to coaching. He's picking up on things very well.

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