JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn.—Carson-Newman coach Ken Sparks held his weekly press conference Tuesday morning in the Eagle Club Room ahead of Saturday's nonconference homecoming tilt against Limestone at 3 p.m.
The following is a written transcript from the Ken Sparks Press Conference.
Sparks opening: It's always good to have homecoming at Carson-Newman and to see all of our old buddies and pals. We get to see a big excited crowd. Hopefully we can play decent enough to keep them in the stands. It will be a great time in Mossy Creek. We have the 1996 team coming who played for a national championship. It's Parents Day and that's always special for the kids to play in front of their parents. All of those things make for an exciting day.
Q1: Can you take any of that in the day of or is that something you reflect on later?
Sparks: It's a reflection after the ballgame or maybe before the ballgame when you see some people you haven't seen in a while. I'm hoping I'll be able to spend some time with that '96 crowd because there were some really special people on that team. It could be a great day and we are hoping that one of these days we are going to play football like we are supposed to. I am predicting that will be Saturday. We have to play better and make some progress. This team has worked hard enough to have some progress that hasn't showed up yet. We keep thinking that one of these days it's going to show up. We are going to keep working in faith that it will.
Q2: On that '96 team, two of those players (Mike Clowney and Cedric Killings) will go into the Carson-Newman Hall of Fame Saturday as well. What do you remember about those two and their playing days at Carson-Newman?
Sparks: Those are two great players and guys that made a lot of things happen. Mike Clowney is in the group of the best-five linebackers that have been at Carson-Newman since I have been here. Maybe that's not even fair, maybe higher than that. Killings had an NFL career and made a lot of things happen for us. It was always fun to be around him because he was always wanting to get better and he was a guy you could turn your back on and could count on. Those two are great inductees into the Hall of Fame. That's for sure.
Q3: What has been the stop to the team trying to put together all three phases of the game?
Sparks: Again, the same old thing. We haven't had the same 11 people doing the same thing at the same time. There has always been a flaw in our execution by all 11 people. We keep thinking that it will end and hopefully it will.
Q4: Limestone has a first-year head coach. What has he done to kind of set that program stable with a 5-3 record so far?
Sparks: He's doing something right because they play hard. That maybe the No.1 compliment to a coach is seeing how hard the team has played. They play hard and they have a plan. If you remember last year, they scored a bunch of points on us with the athletes they had. He has taken some of the athletes that returned and put them into place.
Q5: Limestone's defense is one of the best in the nation in creating turnovers. What kind of challenges does that present?
Sparks: The some challenge every week- take care of the football. We haven't been doing a good job of that. You look at some of our disaster ballgames, it's been on turnovers. There are two things that bug me. No. 1 is the lack of execution on offense that resulted from turnovers and the other is failure on third down for our defense. It has been almost predictable for us. At some point or another, we have to get something done with that. I know we have struggling up front on both the offensive and defensive lines because we are not playing the people we want to play. We haven't been able to all year. There has not been a time where we have had our best-five offensive lineman in the ballgame, at least in our minds, and there has not been a time where we have had the best defensive line as well. We have had two defensive tackles that have been out all year that would have probably started for us.
Q6: Do you get the sense that the defense is starting to figure it out?
Sparks: I do. I just think when teams line up and want to hit us in the mouth we are vulnerable to that. For a football coach, especially one that believes in hand-to-hand combat, that one is frustrating. You never back down from a fight. So far, we haven't gotten that one sold yet. We are starting four or five freshman on both sides of the ball. We just have to continue to grow up.
Q7: What has this senior group meant to you?
Sparks: This is a special group down the line. None of them are bad characters. They are all good people. That has been something that is hurtful to me. We haven't been able to produce for them like we should have. We are not getting it done like we need to.
Q8: What kind of leadership does this group possess?
Sparks: That's a good question that I can't answer. We are lacking something in that area. Right now, I think it's because of the head coach not being a very good leader. We are not getting it done leadership-wise. No.
Q9: How does a Limestone defense that you will go up against Saturday compare to Catawba's that you faced earlier this season?
Sparks: They have some really flashy football players. They have some guys that are really going all over the place when the ball is snapped. They have a concept defensively that is somewhat unusual. They will line up in a 50-defense and slant like crazy. They have a moving defense and a moving defense has given us fits this year. We haven't blocked those very well. They are a good football team.
Q10: How has Jamal Jones progressed throughout his career?
Sparks: Jamal Jones is a great Carson-Newman story. He is one of those that we said, 'will he make it?' and then go to 'how far will he make it?' I really have a great regard for Jamal Jones. He is the real deal in the fact that what you see is what you get. When he is on the field and well, Jamal Jones is a good football player.
Q11: What would you say is Jones' best attribute?
Sparks: You are going to get all he has every play. How can a coach ask for anything more? Jamal Jones is wide open when he is a healthy. He is everything we look for in a running back.
Q12: You said that Limestone's defense was unique. Does that factor into all of the turnovers?
Sparks: They have some athletes making plays but their scheme has enabled them.
Q13: Limestone has utilized two quarterbacks this season. What is different about the two?
Sparks: I used to be able to tell a difference but I can see well enough anymore to see who is in the ballgame. I am looking for us to line up right and tackle like we are supposed to.
Q14: This year has obviously had some frustrations. How do you coach through those frustrations?
Sparks: You have to keep the faith. In life, you either trust the Lord or you don't. you either ave faith in what you are doing in life is right and know eventually that the results will come, or you start doing all of the things that the world says you are supposed to do. Yesterday, is an example of trusting the Lord. We had a football family time with our team yesterday. We watched remember the Titans and ate a chicken dinner. Is that weird? Probably. It cost me more money for the chicken dinner than I wanted to pay. But, we had a great time and I hope they enjoyed it. What normally coaching staffs do is to go out and scrimmage. We are going to coach from the inside out. You try to make it theirs that way. That's our whole approach. Always has been and always will be.