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Press Conference: ODU football coach Bobby Wilder

odu logoODU football coach Bobby Wilder talks with reporters on Monday.

Good afternoon to all our 12th Monarchs out there in Monarch Nation! We are coming off a devastating home loss to Florida Atlantic on Saturday. First of all, congratulations to Coach Partridge and his team. They played well and deserved to win. From our standpoint, it was a case of getting down too much too early, as we were down 24-3 with 50 seconds to play in the first half. As we’ve done all year in the close games, we found a way to come back and take the lead, 31-27, going into the fourth quarter, but we didn’t finish the game, and FAU did. They outscored us, 6-0, in the fourth quarter and earned the victory. We were 5-0 in the close games going into Saturday, but we just couldn’t find a way to finish this one. We trailed in all 12 games this year, but we still found a way to be in six of them.

When I think back to this group, I will always remember and respect how resilient they were. They were very young and were down in every game, but every Sunday they would show up with the right attitude and were ready to get right back to work. I was most worried after the stretch of three games when we played North Carolina State, Appalachian State and Marshall all in a row, but these guys came back after the bye week and beat Charlotte and always kept a good attitude. I am very proud of them for that.

I said in the beginning of the year that I thought it would take us at least until the midway point of the year for us to really start figuring out how to prepare and how to understand game plans, and I really felt like at 3-5 is when we started to put it all together. We played the best football we did all year in the last four games. I look back on it and feel like the best football we played was at the end of the season, and that is really encouraging for a young team. I’m really excited about the youth and how we performed at the end of the year.

We currently have 112 players on the team, and 71 of them played this year in games. Of those 71, 49 guys are first or second-year players. Out of the top-25 players on the depth chart in the last game, 19 of those guys will be back next season including nine of the 11 starters on offense, eight on defense and two of our three specialists. In addition, 24 of the 25 backups from Saturday will all be back next year. So 43 of our top-50 will be back, so we are going to be an experienced group next year. We played six true freshmen this season, which means we were able to redshirt 25 of our recruited players. That’s the most we’ve ever been able to redshirt in a recruiting class. Some of them, like Melvin Vaughn, were not by choice, as that was a devastating injury that happened in camp. Then his backup Adam Swann broke his leg. Blair Roberts also redshirted this year with the back, and hopefully he can work back into it next year. Then Christian Byrum and Isaiah Worthy were two guys that played as true freshmen last year that were redshirted this season. I am really excited about having those players back, and this is clearly the most excited our staff has ever been going into an offseason. Out of 112 on the team, we only graduate 12 players. That is pretty exciting for us.

We are going to practice this week, as the rules state that you are allowed to practice up through your league’s championship game. When I talked to the players yesterday, they are all for it. So we will be going to the stadium Friday and Saturday and will basically hold two spring football games. As I told our guys, it’s the start of the 2016 season, and we are going to get better as a team. The kids are all excited about it; nobody in this team meeting wanted the season to be over.

Q: Do you have any hope that Old Dominion may be one of the five, five-win teams to make a bowl game?
A: There are three teams that are 5-6 that play this weekend, so they could potentially earn an automatic slot. Then there are 12 other teams like us who have five wins, and their seasons are over at this point. Four of those teams are actually in Conference USA with Rice, UTEP, Old Dominion and FIU, all finishing at 5-7. But there are two C-USA bowl affiliations that are still open, so there is a possibility there are 15, 5-7 teams when the regular season is over. Conference USA has let everyone know that they are reviewing this with the national committee on how they are going to move forward with it. We let them know that we are all for it, and I told the team that it is a possibility but certainly not a guarantee. The players want to pursue that opportunity because it would be an honor to represent ODU and Conference USA. And with 100 players returning, those additional 15 practices we could get would be invaluable. That’s the approach we are taking with our players. The 2015 season is over, and if we are afforded the opportunity to play again at a bowl game then that will be the start of the 2016 season. That is how we are approaching it.

Q: Even though it was a tough loss, do you think the team realized that they really had a golden opportunity and learned a lot from the Florida Atlantic loss?
A: Yes, I told them in the locker room right after the game that I was really proud of them for putting Old Dominion in the position to be in week 12 and still have an opportunity for postseason. If someone told me that would have happened at the beginning of the season I would have said “I’ll take it!” There were just so many question marks, and we were so young going into the year, but I can’t even put into words how much we grew as a team in the last month. We were placed in so many situations where we really needed to have a sense of urgency, and that is when we played our best football. Traditionally around here November is when we play best, as we have gone 19-4 in that month all-time. As much as Saturday hurt, we will grow from it and be better as a program.

Q: Do you think Shuler Bentley grew a lot in the last few games?
A: Yes, he got much better in the last six weeks of the season. From the amount of time he got to stand back and watch David play and all the time he spent with Coach Whitcomb on the areas he needed to improve, he improved in a lot of spots. What you generally get with a freshman quarterback is some really good drives, quarters and halves, but then you get some inconsistent play. That is what we saw on Saturday. For four straight drives where we scored touchdowns he played as well as a quarterback can play. Then he was one-for-seven in the fourth quarter, but we also had some drops in that quarter. That was the best defensive line we played and is arguably the best in the conference, as they lead the league in sacks. They sacked us seven times. We were hoping we would be able to run the ball a little bit more to take some pressure off him, but we couldn’t. He definitely improved as a player, though, and hopefully he can carry that through into the spring to compete for the starting job.

Thank you very much to all our 12th Monarchs for an unbelievable season and your incredibly loyal support. We continue to be the only team in the history of college football to sell out every game, and it’s all thanks to you.