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Q&A with Coach Stockstill as spring drills begin

First practice set for Saturday

March 19, 2014 · @MTAthletics

BACK-TO-BACK 8-WIN SEASONS HAVE NOT HAPPENED HERE IN 21 YEARS AND THE RAIDERS HAVE BEEN BOWL ELIGIBLE FOUR OF THE LAST FIVE YEARS. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE STATE OF THE PROGRAM ENTERING THE 2014 SEASON?
I am excited about the future and proud of what we have accomplished. Our program is on solid ground, we have a great culture from an academic standpoint to a work ethic standpoint to how we go about our daily business. I like where we are and now we just have to keep building on that success.

WHAT IS YOUR KEY TO DEVELOPING LEADERS?
Leadership is critical on a football team and it does not always have to come from your senior class. I think most coaches would like for the seniors to be the leaders but that does not always happen. I do game captains during the season because I want to get more people involved in a leadership role. We do not have a large senior class this year so there will be even more emphasis put on leadership among our freshmen, sophomores and juniors. I like where we are in terms of leadership following our winter workouts. Guys are being accountable to themselves and accountable to each other, while always having respect for one another. These are the first steps in developing leadership.

YOUR STAFF VISITED A NUMBER OF OTHER PROGRAMS DURING THE WINTER. CAN YOU SHARE WHERE YOU WENT AND WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT?
As a coach and staff, you are always trying to learn. You never have all the answers. You know what they say, once you stop learning, you stop living. We visited with Baylor, Oklahoma State, Kentucky, Auburn, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt. It's been a good winter from that standpoint, getting some new ideas, and being around some quality coaches.

YOU LOST A VETERAN UNDER CENTER IN LOGAN KILGORE AND NOW HAVE THREE YOUNG PLAYERS COMPETING TO TAKE HIS PLACE. SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON WHAT APPEARS TO BE A KEY BATTLE THIS SPRING.
I think all three players are very talented and I think we can win with all three. I will not be in a hurry to name a starter even though it will be asked a lot because of the position. Brent (Stockstill) and AJ (Erdely) have not played and Austin (Grammer) has played very little so there's not a lot of experience at this level. I don't believe it's fair to name a starter after just 15 spring practices. It will all work out. The cream usually rises to the top so I will be comfortable even if we don't make an announcement until the Friday before the first game. I am confident in all three guys and look forward to watching them compete this spring, summer, and in August for the position.

YOUR TOP FOUR RUNNING BACKS ARE OUT FOR THE SPRING WHILE RECOVERING FROM SURGERIES, SO WHAT WILL BE YOUR GAME PLAN AS FAR AS THE RUNNING GAME GOES THIS SPRING?
It's very unique to have your top four backs out for the spring so it will be a good opportunity for redshirt freshman Kamani Thomas and a couple of our walk-ons. We will still work on our running game but when we get into a lot of team periods we may not be able to run it as much as we like. Kamani will get extra work so that will be a positive.

HOW ARE THE BACKS PROGRESSING WITH THEIR INJURIES?
They are doing well. Jordan (Parker) and Reggie (Whatley) are off crutches, and Jeremiah is looking better every day. Shane (Tucker) should be out of his sling by the third week of March. They are all on schedule and hopefully they will be back 100 percent for summer workouts so they can get back to rebuilding their bodies.

WITH ALL FOUR RUNNING BACKS BEING HEALTHY WHEN THE SEASON BEGINS, HOW WILL YOU JUGGLE SO MANY GOOD PLAYERS AND STILL UTILIZE THEM ALL?
We will spend a lot of time evaluating that because they all have different skill sets. I thought we did a good job with them last year when we had Jordan, Reggie and Jeremiah all healthy. We did not overload them or overwork them. This is a luxury that I like and it's much better than just having one or two guys to turn to.

YOU LOST TWO PRODUCTIVE RECEIVERS IN TAVARRES JEFFERSON AND KYLE GRISWOULD BUT YOU ARE EXCITED ABOUT A FEW OF THE YOUNG GUYS. TELL US WHO YOU EXPECT TO STEP UP TO SOLIDIFY THE POSITION?
No doubt we will miss Tavarres and Kyle. They both had over 100 career catches and were good leaders and dependable, tough players. Marcus Henry and Devin Clarke are two experienced guys who return and I expect big things from them. We redshirted Ed Batties and really liked what we saw from him in practice. Demetrius Frazier improved a lot last year and Christian Collis continues to be a steady player for us. Terry Pettis, Shannon Smith, Jevontey Smith, and Chris Perkins all have great potential but just need to get on the field. I like the explosiveness of this group and their big play ability.

THE OFFENSIVE LINE HAS BEEN A STRONG SUIT THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS BUT YOU HAVE A FEW HOLES TO FILL IN 2014. GIVE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE OFFENSIVE LINE.
Our offensive line has been really consistent the past two years and played with great toughness, tenacity and with a chip on their shoulder. We have pass protected well and run blocked better than at any time during my tenure here. I like where we are up front. We bring back Isaiah Anderson and Darius Johnson and some guys who saw meaningful snaps in Josh Chester and Daniel Stephens. I think David Adams will help us, Hunter Rogers had a great winter, and Adam Stickel continues to improve. Conner Trent and Dalton Ownby also have a nice upside. Judd Hunt will graduate this spring and has a great job opportunity so he will not be back. We will miss Judd but I am very appreciative of his dedication to the program and wish him the best of luck.

UNDER TYRONE NIX, THE DEFENSE HAS MADE MARKED IMPROVEMENT THE LAST TWO YEARS. WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM THAT SIDE OF THE BALL IN 2014?
I like the strides we have made and the toughness, physicality we play with but we still have work to do. We lost our two corners, a starting and significant backkup linebacker and Dearco Nolan and Jimmy Staten up front. First of all, we have to replace Jimmy who gave us great leadership, toughness and dependability. He loved this place and always gave it everything he had. Replacing Kenneth (Gilstrap) and Sammy (Seamster) in the secondary will be a top priority. We have our nucleus back on defense with eight starters returning but we have to replace some key guys and continue to strengthen our depth. One thing I like with the quality guys we brought in at mid-year will be the competition they will bring for playing time.

YOU HAVE TWO PROVEN PLAYMAKERS ON DEFENSE IN T.T. BARBER AND KEVIN BYARD. WHAT DO THOSE TWO GUYS BRING TO YOUR TEAM?
They are everything that a coach likes to coach. They are committed to being good football players and being a good defense. Both practice hard, study hard, are great leaders, and have proven it on the field. They give me a sense of security on that side of the ball. We are very fortunate to have them representing our program.

THE BLUE RAIDERS RANKED 5TH NATIONALLY IN TURNOVERS FORCED AND 17TH IN RED ZONE DEFENSE LAST YEAR. WHAT WERE THE KEYS TO BEING SO PROFICIENT IN BOTH CATEGORIES?
Our defensive coaches did a great job of emphasizing turnovers and working on it daily. They take pride in creating turnovers and most of the time you get them because of great effort. Our guys believe in it, are hungry and take great pride in creating turnovers and stopping people. When teams got into the red zone we just toughened up and made plays, just effort and heart.

WHAT NEWCOMERS ARE EXPECTED TO MAKE AN IMPACT THIS SEASON?
We can probably answer this better at the end of spring but I am real anxious to see all the mid-year guys we signed. Most of those guys have a great chance to make an immediate impact so spring practice will be a lot of fun in that regard. All of the redshirted guys from last year can fit into this question as well and it will be nice to see how they have progressed.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON BEING THE LONGEST TENURED COACH IN CONFERENCE USA?
This is a tough profession and it's hard to win games. I am honored to be at Middle Tennessee and very fortunate. I never take it lightly. I try to do something every day to make this program better and I am committed to Middle Tennessee and keep trying to take it to heights never reached. I want to do things here that no one thinks can be done. I have a great vision and a great dream.

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