The following is a written transcript from the Ken Sparks press conference.
Ken Sparks Press Conference
Sparks: North Greenville is a very well coached football team and are the kind of teams that does the fundamental things, which means what you get is earned. They are good blockers and tacklers. They don't make any alignment mistakes and they are sound in their approach. For a team like us that are sometimes having nine players doing a great job and two not, that's going to be a challenge for us this week because they seem to have 11 people on the same page most of the time. We have to eliminate some of our little mistakes we have been making and some of the little fundamental mistakes we have been making like a missed tackle here and a missed block here, a missed execution here and a missed alignment here. Before you now it, you have put yourself in a serious hole.
Q1: Nelson Hughes is their quarterback. What makes him a stout player to go against?
Sparks: He's so heady by getting them in the right place. He has a lot of game experience and so he has been there and done that. When you look at him, he's not spectacular in any way, he just beats you and that's probably the best thing you can say about a quarterback.
Q2: How has he been able to rush the ball this season and how do you prevent him from running the ball against you this season?
Sparks: I think he would rather hand it off and I think he would rather throw it than run it, but he is certainly capable of running it and does a great job. He will do whatever it takes to win the ball game.
Q3: Their running back, Ashton Heard, has the third highest single-game rushing total this season in division II against Tusculum. What makes him a talented back?
Sparks: He is quick and tough. He is confident and believes that he can make something happen and he does.
Q4: How can you build on what you did last week against Limestone?
Sparks: Well I hope we can find something better than that to build on. There wasn't a whole lot of building material in that Limestone game. There was some high points and there was some spectacular plays, but there was not a consistent every play 11 people getting the job done—especially on defense. On kickoff again, we finally in the second half looked like we knew what we were doing covering kicks, and at times on defense it was just the same story we had all year. There's times where we are a pretty good football team and then there's some times when we aren't even a good high school team in the way we function. But we are getting better and last week we had some more progress in places. We have some individuals who are growing up, so we have to just get everyone to grow up and to bring it together. Let's go, it's time to go.
Q5: You've talked about taking those steps ever since the loss to L-R, what do you sense to be the next step to go from four to five?
Sparks: Fundamentally be sounder. Fundamentally, which means alignment and stance. Take offs and leverage. All of these things leads to better blocking and tackling. Those are the things that matter.
Q6: North Greenville has a lot of offensive weapons. I believe one of their receivers has nine touchdown catches and 27 total catches. How does their multitude of receiving options, as well as offensive options, affect what you want to do defensively?
Sparks: Well they have a lot of weapons. They have two running backs that are really good—about as good as we have seen all year. They have four or five receivers that are really good. They have depth in the offensive line. Defensively, it's amazing how many have played for a year or two and they have most of them back. I think we counted it up and they had either 18 or 19 starters on both sides of the ball coming back. And these are the ones that played against us out here last year. Experience is a great teacher and they are depth in some places. Like you said, that receiver is a great example. They go from 6-6 to 5-9 and every one of them has their own little gift package that they can do to hurt you.
Q7: You've seen offences similar to them over the past few weeks. What kind of similarities and differences do you see with the Crusaders offense that you have seen over the past few weeks?
Sparks: I think you have a veteran team that is running it. They have been there and done that and they believe that they can do it because they have done it before. They have beaten some pretty good football teams this year. For instance, they beat Wingate last week by a touchdown. They are the ones that started Lenoir-Rhyne on their down move. They were the first to beat them this year. They believe and they are not going to lay down for you. You have to go and get it.
Q8: In terms of the regional rankings, you dropped a spot this week but you get a team that is ranked higher than you in the region. I don't want to say that this game is more important than other games, but do you maybe see a sense of urgency from your team this week?
Sparks: Well we have had a sense of urgency since week four or five [laughs]. So, this one is not any different than that. There is not any game that is more important than any other game. It only takes one game to get you in or get you out of whatever it is that you want to get in and out of. So that don't matter. We don't need any added dimensions. We got all the dimension we need and that's to go and play a ballgame the way we are capable of playing and to not play against ourselves. That's who we are playing against, we are playing against Carson-Newman University and we have got to get the job done.
Q9: Sam Houston, their leading tackler and middle linebacker. Defensively, they are a little bit better than where they were last year. IS that just because of the veteran nature of a guy like Houston? Houston
Sparks: Yeah and they are not real complicated but are they sound. I think he made about 50 tackles against us last year and this year he is probably licking his chops thinking he will make 100. He is a good football player and we have never really blocked him the way we need to.
Q10: Two years ago, De'Andre Thomas passed the ball extremely effectively in having 230 some odd yards through the air. Last year, you were one for seven passing. Any rational logic for the change from two years ago to last year throwing the football?
Sparks: Well, I don't know. You can't ever say it's on this person or that person. There's always 11 of us. It's on the coaches and it's on me to get us in a right play and to let us make good decisions on what to do on certain down and distances. And what we do in certain formations, what we do on certain sides of the field on the hash marks, etc. etc. There are a whole lot of things involved in it, but it starts with me. I didn't call good plays that day.
Q11: Let's visit Dre and his process and maturation. How important is it to have a guy that you can take out of the game, like last week, early in the second quarter, and let him be a mentor to Noah Suber and let Noah get a good volume of reps in the game like that?
Sparks: Well it's critical. There's no teacher better than a game teacher. What was interesting about it was that Dre was over there in the middle of all the encouragement. That's not easy for a senior that doesn't have a lot of snaps left in his career to be taken out of the first quarter. That's Dre. He is a team player and he has been since he's been here. Noah did a pretty good job. He threw a couple into places that not many humans could throw them. He has a major league arm. No question.
Q12: In this point in the season, has there been a player that has really shocked you with what they have done?
Sparks: Justin Long is at the very top of the list. What an unbelievable story that is. I think Brian Bembry is also a good story because we have been hurting so much up front. He is really coming on and is starting to make some plays that we knew he is capable of making.
Q13: What does that say about defensive line that you are getting so much production from a Justin Long and a Brian Bembry?
Sparks: I didn't say we were getting a lot of production. I was just saying that they have improved and that they continue to give us good effort.