ODU football coach Bobby Wilder talks with the news media in advance of the Monarchs’ season
opener on Saturday vs. Hampton.
Good Afternoon everybody! Good afternoon to all our 12th Monarchs out there in Monarch Nation, with our first press conference of the 2014 season and what should prove to be a historic year for Old Dominion Football. Our first year as a division I (FBS) program; our first year in Conference USA and something we are all excited about and looking forward to. We spent the previous 22 days in preseason camp. I’m really excited about what happened coming out of camp. This is the most players we’ve ever had, we welcomed 105 players back to our camp. The previous high we had was 90, and just a tremendous level of competition throughout the camp. I feel like this is the best depth chart we’ve ever put together which is really a compliment to the coaches; what they did recruiting and developing the players, and also to our student athletes. The way they attacked this summer. This is a very good group we are bringing back to our team this year. Of the 105 players we have now going into this season, we have created some tremendous competition. For myself and all of the assistant coaches it was a major challenge trying to pair this down to a group of about 70 players that will be dressing Saturday night for the game. Right now of the 70 players that we have, 42 of them are returning players. They are veterans that have played whether it be a senior, junior, or sophomores that have played for us. We have 28 first year players on this football team this year, and 20 of them on this travel squad are brand new. Eight are players that were redshirted last year in and will also be playing for the first time.
So 42 veterans 28 new players to our roster.
I’ll start with the specials teams. We feel really good where we are right now with our specialists. Ricky Segers has taken control of the kicking position. He had an outstanding camp and he’ll handle our kick offs on our kickoff team, all our extra points and field goals. He’s really improved a lot over the season. The fact that we were able to redshirt him last year, Jarod Brown’s senior year, and give him a year to develop. He’s done an excellent job at camp so I’m excited for Ricky. Joe Pulisichas earned the starting punting job. Joe has improved, but he’s still got a lot of work to do. We’re still working with him on his operation time, his hang time on punts, trying to do a good job with that but Joe has earned the punting job. We are very fortunate to have Rick Lovato back as our long snapper. Rick will be a four-year starter going in to this year and he’s an excellent performer for us on special teams.
Speaking to our defense through the camp I feel like we have tremendous competition for jobs right now. I don’t feel like at this point we are where we’re going to get to on defense, but the competition has made us better overall as a football team on defense. Of the 35 players right now that are scheduled to be on the travel squad, 25 of those players have experience, and a majority of those players were true freshmen last year. Thirteen true freshmen played last year on defense. They’ve had a year of off-season conditioning, spring ball and summer workouts, so those players are much improved. That will be invaluable for our team to have that experience now on defense, which we certainly did not have last year. The defensive line, that’s our most veteran group on our football team. Ten of those guys on the defensive line played last year and we’ve also got three new players that have earned the right to be in that competition. So Coach Jeff Comissiong is in a good position right now with the defensive line in terms of having players that have experience. We’ve got guys who started games last year at that position who are now either second or third on the depth chart because of the competition. Based on our system, and how we play we’re going to play eight to 10 guys on the d-line per game and I’m confident that group is going to be much improved. It all starts up front.
At linebacker we’ve got nine veterans that are back, nine guys that have played football and then we’ve got three new faces in that group. In the secondary we’ve got six veteran players that returned. Guys with some good experience, guys that have made a lot of tackles back there, and then we’ve got four new faces in the defensive backfield. So overall right now our initial group that we are looking at taking into the Hampton game, 25 have experience.
I’m going to stop here momentarily because we have a very special group that just came in and joined us right now. This first press conference we like to honor our veterans who are part of our “Wounded Warrior” program that will be with us this year during games. I’d like to say that we’ve got some heroes among us and we are all incredibly grateful for what they’ve done, and because of heroes like this we’re allowed to do what we want to do and live in the greatest country in the world. We look forward to having lunch with you all.
Moving from the defense over to the offensive side of the ball, we’ve got a lot of new faces on the depth chart offensively. So we are trying to create depth right now particularly in the offensive line where we lost three seniors that were NFL prospects and good players for us on the offensive line. Right now where we are offensively, the 32 players that we are talking about being on that initial travel team, 17 of them have experience being led by our quarterback, Taylor Heinicke. If you’re going to welcome some new faces to an offense, you want to do it when you have a veteran quarterback, and that something that we all feel good about, Taylor understands that he is working with some new guys in that group. Whether it be O-line, running back, or wide receiver, he understands what we need to do particularly early in the season as we develop on offense. So having a veteran quarterback is critical. It starts up front, being successful offensively. You’ve got to have a successful offensive line and we’ve got seven veteran players back there on the offensive line. So as we look up front we’ve got some good football players with experience led my Josh Mann, senior captain. That’s one position you’d love to have a veteran player amongst new faces is at that center position, which we’ve got with Josh Mann up front who is an outstanding football player. There will be six new faces there that you’ll see be involved. It’s a good group, a good group of players, and good group of kids. That’ll be a work in progress particularly early in the season as we develop up front.
At the running back position we’ve got two veteran players that have played football for us, Gerard Johnson and Cam Boyd. Then we’ve got three new faces that we’re looking forward to getting involved. Overall that’s a talented group. At the wide receiver position its five veteran players back. At that position it’s been a lot of talk about who’s not here and who’s coming in but we have some excellent football players at wide receiver led by Antonio Vaughan and Zach Pascal. Those two guys have combined for a lot of catches, a lot of yards for us. There are five new faces in that group, Nick England, who’s a transfer, is expected to be a good player for us and then we’ve got four freshmen that we’ll work into the mix at the wide receiver position. That’s an explosive group, and the one thing you can always count on around here with our style of offense, is that wide receivers are going to be productive. Eight to 10 guys are going to play because of the amount of plays we run and the system we run, and each year there’s always somebody, one or two guys, that comes out of that group and catches everybody’s attention so I expect it will be the same this year.
Speaking to our first opponent, Hampton. They’ve got a new coaching staff so the biggest challenge that comes from playing against a team with a new staff, is you don’t have reliable video that you can watch. You try to research the coaches, where they come from, the style, the philosophy. You do a lot of work on the players that are returning and may be involved. The one thing we know about Coach Maynor, who came to Hampton from Winston-Salem State, is he’s used to winning. He had a 45-6 record as head coach at Winston-Salem. We’ve been 46 and 14 around here, which we think is pretty good but 45-6 is better than that. So the challenge will be the uncertainty of the game plan that will be our biggest challenge going into this game. It’s going to be critical that the coaching staff and players particularly in the first quarter get a good handle on what they are trying to do in all three phases in the game. We’ve played Hampton three times to this point. Two of the games were decided late in the fourth quarter. They’ve got outstanding talent on their roster we know a lot of the players because we follow their program, whether we play them or not. Coach Maynor and his staff did a really nice job putting together a good recruiting class considering how late he was hired, whether its high school players or transfers. So there is going to be a lot of new faces on the roster. I’m sure this will be a challenging game, one we’ll be prepared for, excited to play. It’s the opener, the first game of the 2014 season. It’s historic in the sense it’s our first year as an FBS team, first year joining conference USA. So we’re all looking forward and anxious to get it started.