Press Conference: ODU football coach Bobby Wilder
“Good morning Monarch Nation! We are excited to get started with our 2015 season. First I’d like to welcome all the members of our armed services who are here today as a part of our Wounded Warriors program. We are absolutely honored to have you all here today with us, and on behalf of myself, Old Dominion University and our entire coaching staff, we thank you for everything you do in protecting us, making us feel safe, and allowing us to feel good about ourselves living in the greatest country in the world. So thank you all, very much.”
“I’d also like to announce that we, here at Old Dominion University, are excited about our partnership with EDS Inc. For a second year in a row, we are going to provide tickets to ODU athletic events to active and retired military members and their families throughout Hampton Roads. This Tickets for Troops program is something we are all very proud of. It’s something that we feel like, in a very small way, we can continue to say thank you to all of our military personnel. With that being said, let’s get started on this year’s football team.”
“We reported on August 9, and these last 22 days we’ve spent preparing the team for the September 5 opener at Eastern Michigan. We had 105 players that reported to camp on August 9, and we added 10 more players the first day of classes. We have a roster right now of 115 players, but only 10 are seniors. The good news is we have 43 players who have played before and have experience. We are the youngest team in Conference USA, and statistically, we are the fourth youngest team in the country. But we feel as a coaching staff, this is the most talented team we’ve had thus far here at Old Dominion.”
“Starting with special teams, I feel like this is an area that we, as coaches, feel that we will be greatly improved in from last year. We now have much greater depth on offense and on defense, so that will benefit us greatly with special teams, too. We welcomed Reed Buce, a junior college transfer long-snapper from Glendale Community College in Arizona. He had an outstanding preseason; we feel like he is as good as the two guys we had before at this position in Dustin Phillips and Rick Lovato. Both of those guys were outstanding for us, so we definitely welcomed Reed to the team.”
“Defensively, we have really good experience on this side of the ball. Eight of our 11 starters have game experience on defense. We have 18 guys total who have played on that side of the ball. We currently have more depth than we ever have had on defense, which is a real good feeling. We feel as though at this point, there are 13 guys that can play on the defensive line, which is probably twice as many players that we’ve ever had at that position who can competitively get out on the field and play good football. We also have 10 linebackers that we feel really good about and nine guys in the secondary. So we feel like there’s going to be a lot of competition on defense early in the season. There are 32 guys right now that are going to travel, and we feel like all of them can be good players for us.”
“On offense, we have a lot of good experience coming back as well. We have 10 of our eleven starters have played. We have 18 guys on offense who have played before for us. Shuler Bentley, our quarterback, is the only player at this point who hasn’t played a college football game yet, but he redshirted and had an outstanding offseason. He also just had his best performance in our last scrimmage this past Saturday, so we feel really good about Shuler. Offensively, there are 10 guys up front that we feel good about. We have four running backs who have been competing; all of them had good camps. We have nine wide receivers that we feel like can play, and we feel good about all three of our quarterbacks.”
“Speaking to this week’s opponent, Eastern Michigan, we have a lot of respect for their head coach, Chris Creighton. This is his third job, and he has won everywhere he’s been. Generally, it’s taken him a minute to get it started, but then he gets it going pretty well. He has won 70 percent of his games as a head coach. When you go on the road to open the season, you’re always a little bit concerned because it’s not something we’ve done a lot of. Unlike with other sports, we can’t have scrimmages against other teams, so our first competition against another team is our first game. When you’re doing it with a young team, it makes it a little bit more challenging. They played well at home last year, so we know we have our work cut out for us.”
“Offensively, they are led by Reggie Bell, their quarterback. Interesting stat about Reggie is that he was one of only seven quarterbacks that led his team in both passing and rushing last season. He had an outstanding rushing game, and ran for over 200 yards in their home win over Buffalo last year. So defensively, we know we will have to focus on him as both a passer and as a rusher. He is a very explosive player. They return five starters on offense, so we are going to see a lot of new faces. But we, as a coaching staff, can appreciate what they’re doing. They’ve got a lot of transfers in and are playing a lot of young players to build their program around.”
“Defensively, they return six starters and are led by linebacker Great Ibe. He had 133 tackles last season; he was one of the leading tacklers in the nation. So, this will be a challenge for us, going out there with a relatively new team. We know it’s going to take a solid effort from all three phases to come back with a win and start the season off 1-0. At this point, I will take questions.”
Q: Coach, at the beginning of every season you have begun to crystallize a saying or a few-word phrase about what the season is going to be all about. Have you made a new one this year?
A: Yes, I think the best way I can answer that question is by saying we have a lot of youth, but we have a lot of talent. The majority of the time, that is a good combination. We’re going to need to be very patient as a coaching staff. This is going to be a learning process early on. The good thing about the first month of the season is that there’s only one game away from home. We come back for three straight home games after Eastern Michigan. So, the young talent and how we develop that young talent will probably be the key to how the outcome will be this season.
Q: Talk about how your quarterback, who you mentioned hasn’t played yet, is ready to handle this situation?
A: The best thing for Shuler is that he has a lot of experience around him. We have changed the dynamics of what we’re going to be doing on offense, and the offensive coaching staff has done a great job emphasizing to all the players around him that this is a different team. So, we will be much more run-oriented, which always helps develop a quarterback’s confidence. A lot of experience around him will help him; he’s got plenty of veterans on the offensive line, at running back and at wide receiver. We’ve made it very clear to Shuler that the number one thing he needs to do is manage the operation. If he does that, he will have success and be able to develop throughout the season.
Q: With Melvin Vaughn going down, did you have to make more changes on offense?
A: Well, we’ve always had the philosophy here that the best 11 are going to play. If something happens, such as an injury or performance suffers, then it’s our job as coaches to get the twelfth best player on the field. We were planning on being more tight end-oriented based on Melvin’s talents, but now we will have to make some adjustments with that. We’re not going to be completely four-wide; we’ve got some other things in the plan that we will work to develop. Finding that combination of who we are as a team, early on, is going to be critical for us.
Q: Last year you were bowl eligible, kind of. This year it’s a little different. Can you talk about how important that is this year?
A: That was a major accomplishment last year for us, to become bowl eligible. Unfortunately, there were too many teams, so we didn’t get to go based on those transition rules, but that did a lot to infuse confidence into our program. For our first season playing an FBS schedule with 11 FBS games and to end the way we did on a three-game winning streak and to beat the best team in the west, Louisiana Tech, that gave us a lot of confidence. So, the players in the program and the coaches already know that we can get bowl eligible. But the goal for this year’s team isn’t just to get to a bowl game but to compete for the eastern division championship in Conference USA, which will be a major challenge with Western Kentucky and Marshall, both of which are picked pretty high in our division. But we know that if we accomplish that, then we will be playing on December 5 in the Conference USA championship and will already be guaranteed a pretty good bowl game. This team already knows it can become bowl eligible, but the goals and expectations will always be higher than that.
Q: While opening up on the road with such a young team is not ideal, do you see it as a good challenge for them to have to face that kind of adversity?
A: It definitely is a good challenge, and sometimes there are advantages of having a young team open up the season away from home. You travel and get into a hotel, so there is more of a sense of comradery because you have the whole team together. I will use that part to our advantage. From the time we practice on Friday, then go to the airport and get on the plane and then get to the hotel, it will be all about that rallying cry of “it’s us.” We’ve got to be together to win this football game.
Q: Is there anything you learned about this team just from camp and the practices leading up to now?
A: Yeah, I learned they are a lot of fun to be around. This group has a lot of energy; you generally get that out of a youthful group. Our coaches did an excellent job explaining to the guys the importance of competing at practice. We set up our drills purposely to make it very competitive. The only thing we don’t know about this group, which is probably also true of every team in the nation, is how are they going to react when they get punched in the mouth? How we react when we have some adversity will be critical. But, we have proven as a staff and with our returning players that we can handle those adverse situations. All four of our league wins last year came on the last play of the game; it doesn’t get any more adverse than that. But I have a lot of confidence in this group and our coaching staff going into this season, but I think it will take us a minute to get to who we are going to be. We are not going to be as good in week one as we’re going to be later on in the season, so it will be a measure of patience for everyone.