Video: Ken Sparks
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn.— The Carson-Newman football team held its annual Media Day following the squad's first scrimmage of the 2016 fall camp Wednesday afternoon in the Eagle Club room.
Eagles' Head Coach Ken Sparks, along with Offensive Coordinator Mike Turner and Defensive Coordinator Larry Slade, gave opening remarks about the state of the team as well as answered questions from local and regional media members in attendance.
The following is a written transcript from remarks made by Sparks and his coordinators.
Q1: Coach, a 1:30 p.m. opener on a Thursday. A nationally televised game against a pretty tough opponent. I thought it was a pretty interesting way to start a season.
Sparks: They [Humboldt State] are preseason ranked in just about every poll I have season, especially the one that just came out, the America Football Coaches Poll. They have 16 or 17 starters back and the runner-up for the Harlon Hill Trophy, which is the Heisman Trophy for Division II, from a year ago. The one that got it graduated, so I guess he is the best player in the country coming into the season. They are a good football team, there is no questions about it. Of course the reason we are kicking off at 1:30 p.m. is because we wanted to create some excitement. We wanted to be one of the first games in the country to be kicked off and we wanted to tag-team with the University of Tennessee as they are kicking off at 7:30 that night. Hopefully we can get people in East Tennessee excited about two football teams playing that day. On campus, classes are going to be over with at 1:00 p.m. and we are going to have a tailgate party for the whole campus out here on the practice field. We know all of you guys will be here and we are excited about the crowd. We think it will be a great way to kick off the year.
Q2: Heard a little bit about [wide receiver] Kevin Snead and especially with the Olympics going on, you know what he can do on the track. You talked about what all he can do with the ball. Talk a little bit about him and talk about seeing him take off with the ball in today's scrimmage.
Sparks: He is faster than I am. If he is faster than I am, we need to get the ball in his hands. He really can, of course, run and he has proven that he can run. He is a good athlete and he is a strong athlete. It's amazing how good of a blocker he is and that's a reason he will have a chance to play. Our wide receivers have to be split tackles because they have to block some. He has been giving us great effort and I think he is excited about being a good football player. With that kind of speed, a lot of people are wondering what else he can do. He is not the only one. Darvia Dabose and Aaron Seward can run. They may be a step behind him, but they can run and are both in the 4.4 [40-yard dash] range. We got some speed and skill at wide receiver and we need to utilize it.
Q3: You hear about a kid like that who had opportunities to go on and pursue his track career, but he decided to come back to school and play football. What does that mean to you as a coach that he is coming back here to be with you guys this year?
Sparks: In reality, professionally, that's where he probably has a better chance. There is not an NFL for track athletes. I'm not putting that down, I'm just saying a guy that can run has a chance in his future. I'm not sitting here saying that he is an NFL prospect right now. He's not, but he could be. The key to Kevin [Snead] will be how good that quarterback is laying and how well that line is blocking. It's still 11. It is not all about him.
Q4: Talk about your offensive line a little bit. You have three new guys coming in and two veterans to kind of lead the way. That's a lot of new guys that will be competing in probably the most important position on the team.
Sparks: There's no question. It starts up front on both sides of the ball. We have two or three guys who played some and two guys who started all year. We have o get Dan Gallman well. His rehab is progressing. He might be ready to play the first ball game and he might not. Austin Lewis is having a great fall camp so far. That's two, three hundred pounders that can move and have played a lot of football for us at Carson-Newman. We are excited for both of them. We have two or three freshman who have a chance. Of course, one of them has a concussion and one might have torn an ACL yesterday—we aren't sure yet. We are struggling a little bit right now getting guys ready to play because they are not out there and it makes it tough. We have a good-looking group of kids and I think they will be a special group before the year is over.
Q5: What is the biggest change on the team from last year to this year?
Sparks: We pass the eye-test a whole lot better this year than we did last year. You come out there and look at us now and we are bigger and uglier than we were this time last year. That is a good start and I think we have some guys who can run. We are a pretty skilled football team in places. We are young-skilled, which means we aren't there yet and have some growing to do, but we got some work to do. We still have a whole lot of work to do. Going back to Kevin [Snead], I see his track coach [David Needs] back there. Here is what has happened with Kevin. Kevin got an unbelievable amount of confidence in track season because David [Needs] did a good job in making Kevin [Snead] believe in himself. I don't care how talented we are, but if we don't believe, we probably aren't going to get it done. Every time Kevin [Snead] lined up, he believed that he was going to out-run everybody. On the football field right now, he believed he is going to out-run everyone. I credit David Needs, our track coach for that. That is out whole football team and it's no difference. If we believe, we will have a chance. Earlier today, I was talking to them [team] and I said, the only team that will beat Carson-Newman is Carson-Newman—and I believe that. Any time you get beat, most of the time it's from within. Whether it's from bad thinking, a lack of heart, or something missing that you weren't willing to give. I believe this team will do its best not to beat themselves. I'm excited about that and again, I'm talking after seeing three days of practice.
Q6: Coach, about your theme. Is that something generated from your team, coaches or you?
Sparks: That actually came from me. After chemo treatments, I don't sleep well. I get up in the middle of the night and start writing stuff down. That is what I came up with. It just felt like it was something that could be applicable because we are always thinking about how we can bring a big group together. Whether it be in a marriage, a church, a football team—we have to come together. We know we are all created special and we all know that the Lord has a plan. We have to come together to be a whole. We know where our power source is, who called us. That's the reason for the theme. It's based on Philippians 1:27 and we always try to base everything we do on scripture. We hope that everything we do is based on God's truth so that it will be stern. Philippians 1:27 is where it comes from and says, 'this one thing, live your life in a matter worthy of the gospel of Christ. Whether I see or hear that you are standing with one spirit with one heart, side-by-side, in the sake of the gospel.' Isn't that good? Amen.
Q7: Can you talk about bringing in coach [Larry] Slade and his experience? What does he mean to this program having been ride down the road for years at the University of Tennessee?
Sparks: He is been there and done that. He has been at the University of Washington when they won the national championship and was at Texas A&M where they still hold the NCAA record for the best defense. He was at the University of Tennessee during their prime time in the 90's when they were getting ready to play for a national championship. He also did an unbelievable job at the University of Louisville. He did a great job at Central High School last year. It don't matter what level he has been at, he does a great job. He is fundamentally sound and has been there and done that. He is a little like me in being a little hard-headed sometimes, but he does a great job. He loves the Lord and loves kids and that is what we are about around here.
Q8: Between yourself and your offensive and defensive coordinators, I don't think you are going to find that much experienced combined on one staff. How do you use that to your advantage?
Sparks: First of all, we have to talk real loud to each other [laughs]. Both of these guys have about 40 years of expirence. Where can you find that nowadays? You can't. Most of the time coaches just fade away or get tired of getting fired. Those two guys are very, very special. There is no question about it.
Turner Opening Statement: Good afternoon, everybody. We've had an early morning here at Carson-Newman. I'm here to talk to you a little about our offense. We're very excited about the possibilities on offense this year. When I was going down the depth chart a little while ago, I was wondering why I was excited about it. I think there are four or five starters back on offense. We've got some young men who were backups last year that are going to play. We are very fortunate we have some outstanding freshman that we signed to come in and we hope are going to fill some spots. They haven't proved that yet. They still have to work and earn that part, but that's the direction we're going in. This offense starts at the quarterback position. We've been very fortunate to have DeAndre there with us for the past four years. Noah Suber is now the quarterback from Asheville, North Carolina. He's been waiting for his opportunity. He's done some tremendous things getting his body ready. When he first got here, you would've thought he was a linebacker. He's developed himself now. He looks like a quarterback and looks like an athlete. We've got Antonio Wimbush. We've got Jamal Jones and Montavious Taylor back at running back. We've got some other guys back with them who played some last year, but those three were the feature backs last fall, so we're excited in that area. Offensive line, we return two out of the five starters, so we have to pick it up at that position. We've got some guys filling in, We've got some freshman vying for positions. We've got some things we need to get fixed in a hurry. I told those kids this morning before we went out that two weeks from today we'd be going through a walkthrough a day before the game. It's getting urgent right now. At wide receiver, we've got as good a group of talent as we've ever had there. We've got some playmakers and we are excited about those people. Noah Suber is very capable of getting the ball to those people. We've been working hard in that area. Last season we were able to throw the ball for about 2,000 yards and rush it for 3,900. We hope to stay balanced, especially when we have playmakers like we do at receiver. When they touch the ball, something good is going to happen.
Q1: Coach, you played Suber a lot last year. Talk about how important it is develop him to be ready to play?
Turner: We tell all of the kids here, they were entitled to play in high school. It's a privilege to play here and he's a guy that had his struggles like a lot of kids have when they first come to college. He earned the playing time he got last year. He produced when he got playing time. That's invaluable to a guy, even with spring practice. He's had time under center when it counted.
Q2: When's the last time you had this much turnover on offense?
Turner: It's been a while. It's pretty sad. I think we got some guys that are really hungry. Those young running backs like Antonio Wimbush and Jamal, who's going to be a senior, and Montavious. Those guys were starters last year. We've got Aaron Seward and Lonnie and some guys at those positions that can be playmakers for us. We've got to keep coming together like Coach Sparks says and keep working. Right now, their attitude is great. They work hard. They are coming together and it's a pretty special group.
Q3: Carson-Newman scored 60-plus points in three games last season. Talk about this offense and how much of a threat they can be to opposing teams.
Turner: We've been very, very blessed. We've had running backs and receivers and quarterbacks and had offensive lineman. I guess the thing I like about the option the most is that it's not about one guy. It's takes 11 people to play this. One guys isn't going to be the star without the other ten. The more that we can stay balanced, the more we can attack downhill with the option, then the more balanced we can be and the bigger threat we can be.
Q4: You talked about balance, but it's no secret running the football is something Carson-Newman does really well.
Turner: We're going to run the football, I promise you.
Q5: How important is that?
Turner: I think that's critical in football 20 years ago, 30 years ago and today and tomorrow and the next five years and the next ten years. I think you have to run the football to win when it comes down the road. There are certain conditions that you get into that you need to be able to run the football, but it's a lot about possession, how long can you possess the ball, how much time can you run off the clock. If you take of the football, we have a chance to score. If we don't have it, we can't score.
Q6: Wimbush came out nowhere last year. Talk about his development from last year to this year.
Turner: He's like a streak. He came back this year and he's wearing a lot of neon. I was trying to get him to put me in touch with his shoe producer so I can get some. He's a young man who's got that lightning in a bottle ability. He is quick as a cat. When you can really tell something about a player is when you know he's talented is when he's worked to become strong enough to become a better blocker. That's a very unselfish part in this offense.
Turner: Well this morning we kept those three with one group and we told them that group shouldn't miss a beat with those three. It doesn't matter who else is in there. And they feel good about that. They are pulling for each other. They're coaching each other on the sideline. It's a good thing to watch.
Turner: They are. We've got Dan recovering right now from knee surgery in the spring and hopefully in another week we're bringing him back. He's out there working hard right now, just not in pads. Austin and he are two of the appointed leaders. But they also know we got guys like Cooper Davis and some guys like that who are just as qualified to be a leader.
Q9: Kevin Snead, we saw him make a huge play today. He's a big weapon at wide receiver.
Turner: Yes sir, he is. That's what I was talking about at wide receiver. We've got some guys who, when they get the football in their hands, they can be dangerous. He can be dangerous if he doesn't catch it. He can scare somebody if he can get behind them. He's going to be a threat. I'll tell you what's different about him right now. Right now he's in a football mode. Last year he was in a survival mode. He's involved in it now and he's learning all parts of it. That man [Coach Sparks] has been hollering at me all summer to get him the ball.
Q10: When you've got a guys with that kind of world class speed, is it difficult to start the basics of football and get him into that mode?
Turner: It hasn't been. You just have to know he's a threat and let the threat keep getting better. The biggest thing is there's guy who's got world class speed, but he's not any different from any kid. He's got to have confidence and he's got to have reinforcement and he builds his own identity that way.
Slade Opening Comments: "Good afternoon, I'm really excited about being here. I guess I'm talking about defensive. Just to piggyback what coach [Turner] talked about the run, this is critical that we stop the run and that we stop the run and the big plays that go. We're just excited about this group of guys they have worked hard this spring and have continued that. If you ask about what we're going to be like we'll play with unbelievable effort. We're going to get after people, we're going to be aggressive, we're going to attack, and other teams are going to worry about what we're going to do. It's a fun style of defensive and our kids are excited about it.
When you look up front, that's where it all starts and will stop the run. We got a freshman who will probably start at Nose Guard and that is Montel Presley. Then you go inside Brian Bembry who did a good job last year and a great job so far this year. Jordan Price at Defensive End has had a heck of a camp and on the other side of him you have Brandon Staten and Phallen Booker those guys are really playing hard and our biggest challenge is develop depth and to not have to worry about injury. We got some guys that are really working hard and we expect them to come along.
When you go to the linebacker spot we have a chance to be really, really special there again it's about depth. When you look at our outside linebacker at our SAM position, Lane Bloom man he's really working hard and he's going to be outstanding and he's backed up by Antonio Henderson. Inside at the MIKE position we're developing that. Sha'heem Stupart is the started but he is being challenged by Freshman Ervin Nard who is having a heck of a camp, he's out right now but he'll be a phenomenal player for us. Then when you look over at our WILL position and you look over at Jarvis Green and he's playing well and Nard could play MIKE is we're developing depth back there. The thing about this defensive is about speed, in today's football it's almost basketball on grass. So the day of having those big kind of plug guys out there, it's about being able to run.
In the secondary, we are really young and challenged. We have a veteran back in Jason Williams at cornerback and Jerry Miclisse out at strong safety. There is great competition Jerry is being backed up by freshman Darius Williams and he is challenging where he will be on the field, not certain, but he will play a lot. Then at the free safety it's sort of hard to get in on who that guy is going to be right now but Jamar [Johnson] was here last year and then he's backed up by a couple of freshman guy's [Chris] Lyle's and Ja'Quan Smith. Those guy's are all competing and someone will come along.
Our goal is to get our best eleven guys on the field. We're going to be outstanding on defensive. I know that you look back and will get some questions about last year, but I want to talk about now. Sometimes you get into this is the way it was but these guys are excited about right now.
Desmond Pharell is another freshman who will start at corner for us. So you keep hearing a lot of freshman, freshman, freshman kind of guy's, but they're in the mix. It's our challenge to get them ready to play. We're they ready to play today? No, but we'll be ready to play on the 1st.
Q1: Coach are you surprised that so many Freshman are going to be a factor or are even in the conversation with so many players coming back?
Slade: No, I mean it's about getting the best eleven and in the secondary it's about skill and our challenge is to really hammer the fundamentals for those guys, but as far as talent and skill wise they are pretty good. But it's that fundamental thing that is our approach, we got some things to do to get better fundamentally all across the board defensively.
Q2: Do you think it made it easier for you to have everybody come in on a clean slate with the new defensive scheme?
Slade: Yeah, as we started and the coach's we developed this Carson-Newman defensive that is not about guys. If I don't hear defensive coordinator ever again, it's truly about 'We' and we've really taken approach to that with our scheme and our guys are really responding to it. We have a simple way of getting them lined up, our thing is to get them lined up so that they can play fast. We're not going to go out there and try and trick anybody and we're not going to go out there and think we can blitz our way out of everything or stunt our way out of everything. We've got to be fundamentally sound, to knock people back, to get after people that way. It's about lining up with eleven guys, that are just dying to get to that football and to get it back for our offense. The best defense, is that defense that is sitting over on the sideline and watching that offense keep it for eight minuets. That's one thing about us we're excited about our offense and what they can do in that regard.
Q3: Has your mindset on defense changed at all since you were at Tennessee?
Slade: Maybe, in this regard is to put our guys in a situation that they can play fast. We had that same attitude at Tennessee, but the big thing here is to put them in situations, where they get the call, get lined up, and can play. In that regard we have a better understanding of that. It's great having those experiences at the University of Washington and saying I can have the best of this, I was at [Texas] A&M and we could have the best of this, and Tennessee, but merge it all together and not make it so complicated that the guy's can't go out and play.
Q4: What was it about Carson-Newman that made you leave Central and come here?
Slade: Well, Coach Sparks and I have been friends for a long time and we share that why, that purpose. This theme this year is a shared belief. In that Jesus is a savior and that is the foundation. It's fun coming to work everyday being able to build on that with kids, to see them motivated, to see them getting drawn closer to Christ cause of this program. It's fun being able to do that. We share that purpose together and that's a big attraction to me.
Q5: What do you want this defense to be known for?
Slade: That you can say they are fundamentally sound, that they run full speed, they're excited about playing, and that they play with unbelievable effort. The magic is not in the scheme, the magic is in the effort. I want people to leave the stadium saying 'man they played hard, they played together as this football team,' that's what we want to be known as.