The following is a written transcript from Ken Spark's pre-Catawba press conference.
Ken Sparks Press Conference
SPARKS opening statement: They [Catawba] are a compete team. Seems like the first game of the year was a pretty good test for our defense and the second game was a test for our offense. The kicking, in phases of the first game was a pretty good challenge, and the second game it seemed like things fell in place a little bit better. Catawba is a very talented team and very well coached. I know, like some of our young guys don't understand, this is a conference game which means everybody is going to give us their best shot. So, we have got to be ready to play and ready to respond. Anytime in a conference game, and probably for us every game, if we aren't ready to play we are subject for a struggle, because we are going to get everybody's plays saved up that we haven't seen. The little wrinkles that they have been working on all year long and now it's time to use those wrinkles. We are going to get good effort out of people, so we have to be ready to go.
Q1: They have established a ground game pretty well. Cary Littlejohn put up 90 plus against Davidson. What sticks out to you about their capabilities of rushing the football this year?
SPARKS: Well it's important for them to do that. We all know that two-dimensional teams are a whole lot better than a one-dimensional team, so they have gotten more two-dimensional. Against us, that may change and we don't know. I think that Little John is about a three or four year starter, so he is very capable. They have four starters back on the offensive line—they have moved a few of them around. Four starters are back so they have some experience and some people who they think can do the job.
Q2: What about your defense? How do you keep the momentum rolling for the good things they did against Shorter?
SPARKS: We have to build on it. What you constantly are preaching is to continue to get better. What I told you after the first game is that I went into the meeting room and said we were a veteran team now. And we played more like a veteran team this week. So we have to continue to improve and to work on the things we know we need to improve on—which is everything. That's what we need to improve on. Everything—including the head coach. That's what we need to improve on.
Q3: First time in four years that you have been among the nation's top 20 least penalized teams. [Laughs from Sparks] How have you developed that discipline?
SPARKS: We got some coaches that have really worked on that. Coach Hutsell is kind of our penalty prevention guy. He reminds us all the time and does a great job with that. If we take out seven jumping offsides on offense we haven't had many penalties. We haven't had many- I think three, if we take those seven away. That's inexcusable and Coach Turner is on a war path with that one. A couple of times it maybe had to do with the snap count or cadence wasn't done the way it should have been done or maybe alignment once or twice. Most of the time its just individual mistakes and we call those dumb penalties. Any time a penalty happens before the ball is snapped, that's a dumb penalty and if there's a penalty that happens after the whistle is blown, that's a dumb penalty. You can call it anything you want—that's just not being as smart and as sharp as you need to be and we have to work on that, but we are glad to be where we are. Ranked nationally. I mean how good is that? Boy, that's a biggie it really is.
Q4: We talked about special teams a lot last week. How happy were you with the how far they came in kick coverage and some of the other spots?
SPARKS: I was excited, I really was. Of course the first thing on the practice schedule last week was kickoff coverage. The second thing on the schedule was attacking blocks and getting off of them. So we got to see some benefits from our work and our guys are in college and know and they are determined. So, it was exciting to see how they responded.
Q5: Wide receiver is not the most glamorous position on this team by any stretch, but for Steven Isom to have come through so many injuries to get to the point to where he is now, how proud are you of what he has accomplished thus far into his career?
SPARKS: Well Steven has had more injuries than any one we have ever had here. He is really tough about getting back on the field and finding a way to get back on the field. We have to be careful with him and he has to be careful not to cave in by saying I can't do this or I can't do that. He hasn't as far as getting on the field but once you get on the field you have to get the job done. I'm really proud of Steven. He played Saturday and didn't catch a ball. I think he might have caught one but we got a penalty. He's a weapon being 6"4 matching up with the guys he's matching up with. We need to get the ball in his hands more—there's no question about that, but you do what the game plan calls for. You do what they give you. So, we threw the fade pattern to him in the end zone and over threw him. His day will come. It will come.
Q6: Defensively, you had some guys step up. Temoris Coats in the middle stepped up and you had some freshman along the defensive front step up. How proud are you about some of the things these new guys have done especially learning from week one to week two and how difficult that might be?
SPARKS: Well that's the plan. We hope at the end of the year that we will be a great football team because of how our young guys have grown up. Some of our young guys are standing over there watching because they are hurt and that hurts. We are going to get better because of plain old experience. Experience is a great teacher, it's a hard teacher sometimes but it's the best teacher. It works and we have to continue to believe and continue to get it done.
Q7: Speak of the maturation of Sha'Heem Stupart. Last season he comes in as a freshman and last week he had two turnover caused and was the leading tackler on the team.
SPARKS: Great individual performance. There's not many people that are the leading tackler, butts a fumble loose, and then gets a pick. That's three big points for him and of course we have a new award this year called the Talon Award. He has three points on the Talon Award and he's the only one this year that has two talons on his helmet. I am really proud of Sha'Heem. He is a quality guy and still makes a mistake a times that makes him mad at himself, but he is getting better.
Q8: You've talked a little bit the injuries. The defensive line has been banged up all season and you have another starting linebacker go down. How are you health wise on the defensive side of the ball?
SPARKS: Well, we are really thin. I don't know, unless we can get Eric Cain to come out of retirement at middle linebacker this week as far as a backup is concerned. We signed six linebackers that we though could play and three of them aren't playing now, for various reasons. We signed three defensive ends and three defensive tackles that we thought were players and four out of the six aren't playing for various reasons. The sad think about it is, some of them are out for the year. As a coach, I like to go to bed a night saying boy, when we get that guy back, you start to plan for the future to have hope and when guys are out for the year that eliminates hope for them for this year. It's sad for those guys that they aren't going to be able to play and it's sad for us as a team that we aren't as equipped as we could be.
Q9: You talked about play calling and how you were frustrated with yourself after the game Saturday. How do you handle that from one week to the next?
SPARKS: Well better preparation for one on my part and secondly, don't call what you think they are going to do versus what you know they are going to do. I rolled the dice quite a bit Saturday and I was one for six and any dice game you roll like that you are done dealing after that. I haven't played dice since I was 17 years old. But anyway, I was off. I was tremendously off and have to do better.
Q10: Catawba's starting quarterback Mike Sheehan seems like he has been there for ages. He hasn't thrown the ball as much this year as he has in the past, but what does he bring to the table?
SPARKS: He is their leader and he is the head of the clan. They will go probably like he goes a lot as far as the offense is concerned. Last year, he just ate us up either pulling it down and running it or finding some receiver who were in places they probably weren't supposed to be but he found them. We know he is a good player. He is a good operator and he will probably come in here with a lot of confidence.
Q11: Their linebackers are a little bit more veteran than your own—mostly sophomores. What sticks out to you about that youthful group?
SPARKS: They are big and strong and are really good against the run. They are probably going to put seven or eight in the box and will try to stop the run. They are the kind of bodies that you want to do that with and we are going to have to find a way to block them every once and a while.
Q12: Is it fun going up against a guy in Coach Walker who played against you in one point in his career?
SPARKS: We have had a lot of experiences together or against each other. He was a coordinator under David Bennett and there was some great battles when David Bennett was there. Then he went to Coastal Carolina and was a coordinator there and then he came back as a head coach. He is an outstanding coach and does it by the numbers. He is a great recruiter and so he is a good guy to have as the head coach of Catawba.