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Transcript: Miami at the 2019 ACC Kickoff

miamiMiami coach Manny Diaz and players K.J. Osborn and Shaquille Quarterman talk with reporters at the 2019 ACC Kickoff.

THE MODERATOR: We now are joined in the room by the University of Miami.

We welcome K.J. Osborn to the podium. Questions, please.

Q. What can you say about your overall thoughts on Manny Diaz. He left momentarily and came back to Miami. Your thoughts on his return.
K.J. OSBORN: First and foremost, it’s an honor to be here.

I love Coach. From the moment I figured out he was going to be the head coach at my time, it was a kind of in-between period. I talked to the former staff. I didn’t really know who he was.

Immediately when I found out he was having the press conference, I watched. I was actually packing up, leaving Buffalo. I was watching it as I was packing up. I sat down and watched hit.

Just his energy, his vibe, what his vision was for the program, what he wanted to do, the new Miami, bringing some of that old-school Miami back, putting us back where we need to be. A great guy from Miami. Easy to speak to. Tremendous person. Tremendous coach, father. Really, really a great guy.

I’m really happy with the decision I made. He’s a really great guy.

Q. How do you like Miami? How is the transition going for you? Your return game, how do you practice that in the off-season? How much pride do you take in that part of your game?
K.J. OSBORN: First, I mean, I love Miami. When people ask me how is Miami, I tell them Miami is everything you think it is, everything that you think it is. It’s amazing.

There’s so many connections to make. Just even football, it’s a tremendous school. I’m getting my Masters degree in criminal justice. The connections I’ve been making with people in the city, alumni, meeting new people. It’s really good.

I really, like I say, am proud of the decision I made. I prayed on it. Really, I made the right choice. But I love it. I love it. I’m a Michigan guy, grew up in Michigan. I transferred down to IMG. I tried to stay in Florida for college. Ended up going to Buffalo. So it was nice getting back to Florida. I’m from Michigan, but I don’t really like the snow that much.

The return game, I feel like that’s really, really important. At first I was kind of nervous. My redshirt freshman or sophomore year, I was a third-string punt returner. I was a second-string outside receiver, the third slot behind two seniors. When you think about it, in a game, you don’t think two punt returners are going to go down in one game. In practice, when you get punt reps, it’s cool. If you drop it, God forbid — it’s cool because you’re in practice. The game is live bullets. The two seniors went down, it was my return. I was standing back there at Western Michigan, hoping I could get a decent kick I was able to return. My first punt, I was pretty far. I was able to get back and track it.

As time went on, I got really comfortable. You start gaining confidence, catching up with guys close to you. You realize the importance of it. Stealing the first down or two in the return game, as you get older, you get to learn the field position, the percentages of your chances to score.

I take a lot of pride in it. Practicing in the off-season, always fundamentals, fundamentals. In the game, it’s going to happen fast. In practice, you got to practice the fundamentals.

I think it’s very important, kick return, punt return. My favorite is punt return. It’s also really fun. It brings you an asset. You’re not just a receiver at the next level. An example I got, at the time you go to the Cowboys. You’re not going to be playing over Dez Bryant. You have to bring something else to the table.

I feel like that’s what I try to tell some of my younger teammates, special teams is very important. People make careers off special teams. I learned that at a young age, even at IMG, my special teams coach, he told us special teams is very, very important, not just punt return, kickoff, punt. There’s onside, anything you do. That’s a very important part of the game.

Q. You talked about coming from Buffalo, what felt right about Miami, returning not only to the state of Florida, but going to Miami specifically? Secondly, your thoughts on quarterback Tate Martell.
K.J. OSBORN: Like I say, I prayed about it. It was a lot of prayer. I tell people when you go to college, you don’t think you’re going to transfer. Obviously, to really think about it, I remember I was sitting in my room, I’m really going to pack up my stuff, really leave my teammates. I’ve been here for four years, things like that. It’s, I guess, not the ideal situation.

It happened. Like I say, when I was in the process of it, it was a coaching change. So I talked to Coach Dugans, who is now at Florida State. I really liked him, really good guy. He was a college teammate of my high school receiver coach and role model, Ernie Green who played at Florida State. They had a good relationship. I spoke to him. Good guy, things like that.

Also Scott Patchan, who is a defensive end. I played with him in high school. Tyree St. Louis, I was able to play with him. I spoke to them. We know when it was a coaching change, I talked to Coach Cooney, who is our director of recruiting. I really loved him, really good guy. I felt very comfortable talking to him. I feel like he really sold it for me as well as Coach Diaz, just seeing immediately like the impact of everything that Coach Diaz was doing. Having my Masters program, which is very important to me.

Then off-the-field alumni, the brotherhood that Miami has. I believe it’s second to none. I think that was really good for me and has been everything, lived up to all the hype.

The second question about Tate. I met Tate when he first came. He’s a very smart guy. That’s one thing I was very impressed with him. When I first met him, very, very smart. You sit down, talk to him, he’ll draw it out for you just like a coach. He knows things, when defense is moving, things like that. He’s very athletic. Works really hard. So he’s a really good guy. He’s a really good guy.

From a big city, so he likes Miami. Him and Brevin talk about it a lot. They can relate to it because they come from Las Vegas. They can adapt to that lifestyle, things like that. He kind of showed me the ropes a little bit, being in a big city. Really good guy.

THE MODERATOR: We can switch positions now with Shaq.

Questions, please.

Q. What can you say about the return of this linebacker corps having so much experience, having the head coach be the former defensive coordinator, stepping into that role? Having your D coordinator, having your head coach. Then secondly what do you think about the linebacker corps having experience?
SHAQUILLE QUARTERMAN: First and foremost, it’s awesome for us to be able to start together. It rarely happens, you know. Especially for us to grow as close as we have from day one, being thrown in that fire with the trust of my coach over there. It’s just been really great.

Throughout every year we’ve continued to grow, continued to grow closer together as brothers. To be able to finish off the senior year with them, it’s a testament to our brotherhood. It’s a great feeling to have. I wouldn’t want to do it without them.

That’s even more rare. The mentality that he put inside of us, which has made us tremendous football players, is the same mentality that’s going across the whole team now. I think that is very, very dangerous because that guy, he has put the feeling of winning into everybody he coaches, everybody he talks to, everybody he mentors. It’s just a breath of fresh air.

At the same time he always talks about two things: you’re defined by your toughness and your word. If you play the way with the mentality that he preaches, we’re going to be fine.

Q. Ever since you got to Miami, you were a starter. What has your experience taught you the most heading into this year?
SHAQUILLE QUARTERMAN: Heading into this year, I think every play counts. Freshman year, I didn’t know much about the innings and outings of football. I knew I could play hard. Before you have all the means to know about all the coverages, what the offense is trying to do to you, you knew how to play hard. From that year, that’s what I learned. I’m going to play hard regardless, give all my effort. No matter how many plays I have to play, 73 out of 76, North Carolina game, my freshman year, I played every one at my 100%.

Year in, year out, I took that. I think that was the most important lessons, first year was effort. After that it turned into, I know I can play now, I learned that my freshman year, now it’s about domination, proving I’m one of the top guys in America, in the country right now.

Year in, year out, that’s what I’ve been working towards, pure domination. It’s not supposed to be fair.

THE MODERATOR: Might be the quote of the morning thus far, “It’s not supposed to be fair.”

Shaq, take us through your decision to return, what the factors that decided you’d come back for your senior year?

SHAQUILLE QUARTERMAN: Talking with Coach Diaz, even Coach Richt at that time, it came down to what I honestly felt I was worth. A lot of guys come out their junior year, it’s becoming more of a fashion to do that. But I don’t think they understand the long-term results of what that does.

A lot of guys, two out of three juniors that come out, don’t get drafted. The one that does, who’s to say he goes in the first round. So I didn’t see the reason in leaving a year early, and leaving so much on the table.

The fact that I get to graduate this year, the fact that I get to do it with my guys that I came in, I have my once defensive coordinator position, which is now my head coach, almost like the stars have aligned for me. I think that’s a tremendous blessing.

Q. Last year you had 14 tackles for loss. Obviously that is such a great thing to have in your arsenal. It puts the offense at a disadvantage. What is the key for you to getting more tackles for loss this year?
SHAQUILLE QUARTERMAN: I think the key is just doing everything I did last year to be able to get those 14 tackles for loss, but everyone better. Being more in shape, being more intuitive, playing harder. On our defense, we had Johnny Garvin, I believe he had 17 or 18 TFLs. We have a lot of guys that get TFLs.

We already understand there’s only so many opportunities because you have dogs around you that play just as hard as you do. That takes your competition to another level.

When you have that, then you become the number one defense in the country, so…

THE MODERATOR: Shaq, thank you very much. You can trade places with your head coach.

Questions for Coach Diaz.

Q. What can you say about not only your story but your family’s story. You’re the first Cuban-American head coach at Miami. Your family has a unique story of coming to America.
MANNY DIAZ: Feel super blessed, super blessed just to stand here in this ballroom today as the head coach of the University of Miami. To be a head coach in the Atlantic Coast Conference, this starts my 13th year in some capacity in this league, more than any other league I’ve ever been in.

My story, it’s the traditional Miami story. My two families, one family that sort of was moving down from the northeast part of the country, and another family that was forced out of their homeland in Cuba. My mom and dad met and had me. They taught me Miami in a weird way is a little bit of a microcosm of the American dream. Generally speaking, not many of us that are from there are from there. If you’re from there, you’re probably not second or third generation from Miami.

It’s a place where you have to go make your way. It’s the old idea: you can be what you want to be. We’re all believers in the American dream. I think Miami is a showcase for that.

I’ll be very honest, I think the Miami Hurricanes are a showcase for that. That’s really what the Miami Hurricanes did in the ’80s. There’s not many college football programs that crash the college football scene. This has been a sport for a long time been dominated by the bluebloods. Very rarely does a team sort of sneak in. Miami did. Miami snuck in.

Why? Because the greatest resource we have in our city, which is what? It’s our people, our talent, the talent in South Florida sort of crashed on the scene, were able to knock off Nebraska, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, the traditional powers in the ’80s. That put Miami on the map.

Now bringing full circle, for me to be now in charge to bring Miami back to that point, I’ll be very honest, if you wrote it on a script, Hollywood through throw it out, it would be too unbelievable.

On one hand I pinch myself every day. On the other hand I realize there’s a lot of work to be done because this is a place where it can happen. The script has been written in terms of how it happens. My job is to follow the script and have these guys understand the recipe for success and hold them to it.

Q. It’s kind of unusual to see a graduate transfer be one of the players brought here. Obviously he must have jumped out, made a quick impression on you and the team.
MANNY DIAZ: Yeah, K.J. did a great job up here today. K.J. is here in Charlotte for the same reason why he’s in Miami. He was obviously a very highly productive player at Buffalo. The film could show you that.

But when we did our research on what type of guy, what kind of a human K.J. was, a gym rat, the first guy in the building, the last guy to leave.

What we are trying to do, what we are doing at Miami, is we’re rebranding ourselves. We have to stop being known for having a team with a bunch of talented guys. Sitting around and talking about how talented we are doesn’t win us any games. We have to go back to being a bunch of hard-working guys. This is how Miami won in the past. All the greats that own this program, our former players, have told us repeatedly how do you win at Miami? You win at Miami by recruiting our footprint, then outworking everybody else. There’s not a coach in America that would say our team is not trying to out-work everybody else. It has to be a conscious choice.

To bring a guy like K.J. into our program, we are very young in the wide receiver room. We felt like we lacked, leadership at that position a year ago, so we needed a guy that could come in. Gosh, K.J. what are you doing here? K.J. texted me at 8:45 at night, Coach, can we get the lights on at the indoor facility, I want to catch balls out of the JUGS. K.J., we’ll find a way to get the lights on, right? That’s what we needed. We needed a guy that could show our young players who do have ability how to become a big-time guy.

It just made sense when we were trying to pick an offensive player to represent us here today that K.J. would make a lot of sense. He did a great job.

If K.J. came every year, we would have to turn this into a four-day event. He has some long answers. We would be like that other league.

I’ll say this, too: I’m probably the first head coach to stand up here who has been to less of these than the defensive representative. This is Shaq’s second, my first. Luckily I could lean on some for some veteran advice.

Q. You’re outside the state now, been here before. How do you see recruiting in the state of North Carolina? When you’re doing your recruiting, does the subject of the ACC Network come up?
MANNY DIAZ: Well, it ought to. The ACC Network is going to be a game changer for our league, not just in terms of providing the access and content to our fan base, but really bringing us from a competitive level to the other leagues.

I can’t wait for it to get started. This is a league, in my mind, that doesn’t get talked up enough. I mean, just walking down the hallways, seeing some of the great coaches that are in this league, some of the great players that are in this league. What it takes to go week in, week out in this league, with the level of competition.

I told you, it’s my 13th year now, so I’ve seen it. I seen it when I was at Florida State and NC State. I know the power and I know the potential of the ACC. The network is just what we needed to really showcase it.

In terms of recruiting the state of North Carolina. Obviously I was at NC State for six years. We built the number one defense in the country. That was really primarily fueled by North Carolina recruits. Half North Carolina, half South Florida was kind of our recipe.

But the defensive linemen in particular that come out of the state tend to really, really be disruptive-type players. Mario Williams, first pick overall. Manny Lawson, first-round draft choice. We have a guy on our team, when I saw him in 10th grade, I said this guy is just like Manny Lawson. Was just like Manny in high school. His name is Greg Rousseau. He’ll be the second year in our program. If he can have the career Manny had, I’ll be a happy guy. I think he’s well on his way.

Q. You referred to social media as “an avenue of fun.” What do you do with social media, the positivity? Not just sharing things about football, but having some excitement with it, having some fun with it, embracing it in a world where some people use it negatively, some people positively.
MANNY DIAZ: Right. It’s free access to our fan base. Free access to recruits. It is something where you get to set the message, right? Let’s be very honest, the message at Miami was — we had a bad December at Miami. We really did. We didn’t finish our season off. We played very poorly in our bowl game. Recruiting was probably not going the way that we wanted it.

So what do you want to do as a leader? What do you want to do as a staff? We have to reset. The one thing you can do now in this day and age, you can determine the temperature in the room, reset the weather. The easiest way to do that is through social media.

The players know I’m a naturally positive person any, up beat person, and I do like a good laugh from time to time. We’ve had our share of good laughs on social media. I say this over and over and over again. Our program can’t be built on social media. You can’t build a program — again, there’s a lot of people that try to win from January until July, right? It’s getting real here really soon.

For us, it gets real a week sooner than anybody else. I walk up and down these hallways, see these coaches who are like, I just got back from vacation. We’re on. We report one week from today. We practice in eight days. So it’s here for the Miami Hurricanes.

As much fun as we’ve had on social media, that has helped alleviate some of the clouds that were on top of our program, what has been happening on the inside is real. That’s been what these guys have been doing with David Feeley, our strength and conditioning coach, while no one has been watching. There’s no hashtag for what is going on on that field, in that weight room. I promise you, that will have a lot more to do with our success than the fun we’re having on Twitter. But we’ll still have fun on Twitter.

Q. The coach of your game one opponent, who I think you know fairly well, he said he was really sold on you when his teams played Middle Tennessee. One of them was a pretty close game. Do you remember anything about those two matchups against Mississippi State?
MANNY DIAZ: It was one matchup, in fact. In ’09 we played Mississippi State. That was Dan’s first year at State, my fourth year at Middle. I remember as he tells the story, I think we lost 24-10. They had Anthony Dixon, a big-time running back. We were the little spunky Blue Raiders. They got a bad draw, had to come to Murfreesboro to come play us.

But you could see the program. We played State the year before in Starkville in ’08. You could see the changes that Dan made, you could see a team that was much more competitive.

But it’s one of those days where you lock up with somebody. What happens happens. You don’t ever really think — we did not work at Middle Tennessee hoping to audition for a bigger job one day. I love working for Rick Stockstill. Still does a great job at Middle Tennessee. We were enjoying our life in Murfreesboro. When Dan called, had the opportunity to bring me to Mississippi State the first time, I think we found we had a lot in common, we think about the game in very similar ways.

I think Mississippi State, in the whole history, they’ve won nine games, maybe six times, maybe seven, it could be seven. Two of the six or seven were the two years we were together at State. I think we worked together pretty well.

Q. As you take over as head coach, you talked about eight days away, what do you view as the strengths of this football team, what are the areas you still have concerns in?
MANNY DIAZ: Certainly our strength, one, you saw right there. Obviously bringing back the oddity of having three starting linebackers who have started every game since their freshman year. The ability to have that, those are the decision makers in the defense, the guys that have to make all the calls. They’ve seen it all in college football. They’re not going to be tricked. Their level of preparation…

They have the ability now to influence the rest of the team. They have the ability now to make the players around them better. As good of a player as Shaq is, he’s going to be a great player this year because he’s going to make the guys around him better.

I think on the offensive side of the ball, with we have weapons, depth at running back, Cameron Harris, DeeJay Dallas, looking to getting Lorenzo Lingard back going. Robert Burns back going. We have four guys that can tote the rock.

We have some tight ends we can use as weapons with Brevin Jordan, Will Mallory, Michael Irvin. We feel like we have some weapons.

The natural concerns everyone is going to have for Miami, everyone is going to want to talk about the quarterback position. I think the best recruit we signed this off-season was Dan Enos.

The minute Dan walked on campus, I think all of our quarterbacks improved. I get the opportunity to sit in his meetings every day. Dan is outstanding with the way we mentors and tutors those guys. They have all improved. They all showed during spring practice they all can be the quarterback for the University of Miami Hurricanes.

We went from January 1st not having a quarterback on our campus we could win with, to on April 20th we had three quarterbacks on our campus we could win with.

We had to go into the summer, let those guys be on their own, when coaches around allowed to watch, really found out who would take control of the football team.

Two of the guys want to be the quarterback at Miami, one of the guys has to be the quarterback at Miami. I don’t know which guy that is here. I’m going to find out here in the next two or three weeks. Whatever guy that is, he’ll take the first snap against Florida at Orlando on the 24th.

The other two positions we have to shore up is the offensive line. My suspicion is they’ll play a lot better than a year ago, partially because of maturity, partially because of what we will ask them to do, partially because of confidence. I think all three of those things will have a dramatic impact on the way they played compared to a year ago.

Then our depth in the secondary. We have some guys that can play in the secondary. This is the fun part about being a college football coach. We went through the same thing a year or two ago. After the ’16 season, we lost a couple great safeties in Jenkins and Carter. We had to move Sheldrick Redwine to safety and no one knew he could do it. Who is this De’Quan Johnson character? Both of those guys were probably the best duos in college football the last couple of years. We lost Corn Elder to the Panthers. Michael Jackson came in, had a good season.

We thought we recruited good options in our secondary, it’s time for those young guys to step up.

THE MODERATOR: Miami, thanks a bunch. Good luck this year.

MANNY DIAZ: Thank you. Thank you all for being here.