JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – The Carson-Newman football team held its annual Media Day following the team's scrimmage on Wednesday afternoon in the Eagle Club room.
Eagles' head coach Mike Turner and Defensive Coordinator Larry Slade gave opening remarks about the team and also answered questions from local media members.
Mike Turner- Carson-Newman Head Coach
Opening Statement: We're very excited about our football team and the state that they are in right now. Today was practice number eight and we've got in some great days. Those kids have really responded to what we are asking them to do. We are asking them to go wide open, go full speed, have great excitement, have great enthusiasm, and enjoy the game. It really upsets me when I see kids try and play football where they don't act like they are enjoying the game. The game is played to be enjoyed and right now we have kids that are playing that way. We have kids that are playing lights out, they are getting after each other, but they are having a good time while they are doing it. When they have a good time and I have a good time, then we're going to have a good football team, I believe. Right now we have fought the rain like everyone else has in this area, gone years here and it has never rained in August in my life. It has rained every day that we've had practice. We are very blessed to have that turf and our practice field is probably in the best shape it's been in 20 years and we haven't been there yet. We look forward to getting them on the regular grass and cool them down a little bit, but our kids have responded. That heat that comes off that turf, and the heat that is in the humidity right now, coach Slade and I were talking the other day, that's another blessing, there's conditioning right there. They have responded to the new rules by the NCAA of how you practice in camp. Their intensity in meetings has been impressive because meeting time is now a whole different animal. You are limited in time, limited in practice, and you have to max out a time period in practice, a time period in a walk through, a time period in meetings, and looking at video and getting better. They understand that 14 days from today we play football at Carson-Newman. We are at the stage right now where I like to be. We've been in camp that long, we had our first scrimmage this morning, we are two weeks out, we got a week to iron some things out and get better, then it will be game week, and then it will be on.
Question One: Talk about your new quarterback in Derrick Evans (Macon, Ga.).
Turner: Derrick is a very very talented young man and I tell you what I like about him. He doesn't feel the pressure, he's relaxed, he's got a smile on his face, he can make a mistake and be smiling at you. You're going don't smile when you make a mistake, but he's so excited about playing. He's a leader, the most important thing that he has done this summer and fall camp is he has stepped up his leadership. Those kids don't look at him as a quarterback anymore, they look at him as a leader and that's what you want in that huddle, a leader. He's taken care of the football on the field, he's directing traffic, he's just a sophomore and he's got a long way to go in learning defenses, and learning checks. We've got almost a whole offense installed and he's handled that great and he's done a great job of handling the offense, running the football team, been leading them in meetings, and walk through.
Question Two: How important was it to get him (Evans) into game action last season and to develop him?
Turner: Well we didn't get either one of our other quarterbacks enough reps last year. We did not. That was due to us scrambling to try and win, we were in a survival mode. We should have gotten him (Evans) more reps, Tyson Herron (Bogart, Ga.) more reps, we red-shirted Tyler Thackerson (Clinton, Tenn.), which is a good thing we did. The reps that Derrick got in spring practice was critical on his behalf and at that point in spring practice the quarterback position was up for grabs. When we came in this fall we felt like the quarterback's that came in as well as a couple of freshman we recruited, really for the first time in a long time we had competition at quarterback. I'm telling you any position we have competition at it's going to make somebody be on top of their game. They do see that there could be somebody else standing in their place.
Question Three: He looks like he (Evans) is a bigger kid coming into this season.
Turner: That goes back to Johnny Long and that strength program, what a great blessing he's been to our football program and this athletic department. What he's done with those kids strength wise over the summer, and during spring practice, and what he's done with those kids during conditioning has been phenomenal. They've gone up major poundage, their bodies are different and they know that. So I'm really pleased and thankful to have Johnny Long with us.
Question Four: Carson-Newman football has a little bit different look this year without coach (Ken) Sparks, what does it mean to you to follow in his foot-steps?
Turner: I could never follow in those foot-steps. I stood beside him (Sparks) for 34 years. The foundation of this program that coach Sparks has established, is that this program is founded on honoring God in all we do. It is founded on giving God the glory for all that we have accomplished. That will never change, that is the foundation of this program. The influence of coach Sparks will be here forever, for what he has done, for what he has meant to the kids that have played here and the kids that are here now, the coaches, and the community. You don't replace that, it'll never happen. I think that he would be very pleased with the attitude of these kids right now, I think that he would be honored by that, the way they work.
Question Five: You've been a player here, you've been a coach here, what does it mean for you to be the head guy on top?
Turner: Most of the days, I don't worry about being the head coach. I'm not going to be a CEO, I'm just a football coach. What we are doing right now is really not a whole different than what I've been doing the last few years as the coordinator. It's just a lot more paperwork and headaches, but I'm excited about it. I'm more excited about coaching than I have been in probably 15 years. I got more energy. I think that our kids see that also, and our coaching staff is reacting that way. So when you got coaches that come on that field everyday and they're starting at that high level, high intensity, high expectations, then that's catching with those kids.
Question Six: How much has the smooth coaching transition helped, especially with naming a quarterback?
Turner: It will help in a lot of a ways the continuity is always good. I think that the renewed excitement and the renew vigor of this football team and the renewed expectations of this football team. The way that they have responded to our theme, the way they have responded to what our coaches are trying to get them to do. I do think the continuity part of that is critical, but will know by December.
Question Seven: What is the message or slogan of this year's team?
Turner: Our theme this year is believe. It's one word and very simple theme, we're asking them to lineup and believe. A derivative of believe is trust, if you believe in something you got to trust something. We're asking them to trust in themselves, to trust in their teammates, to trust in their coaches, trust in the program, but more importantly, if they haven't already find a way to trust in the God that created them. I think they understand what believe is, it's hard to miss it in that building right now, it's everywhere and it's going to be that way. Believing is a great lead-in to faith, and I know you can't be a great teammate unless you believe and got faith. Where telling our kids it's not about me, it's about us, and we got to believe that way.
Question Eight: What do you take away from last season moving forward?
Turner: Last season was last season. This is 2017 it's believe, it's a new season, it's new expectations, we told our football team in November that there is a difference between good and great. We wanted to close that gap and we're trying to get that gap closed by August 31st. They're working at it.
Question Nine: How are the freshman offensive lineman coming together now after a year of playing together?
Turner: They have grown up, anytime you play four freshman in the offensive line it turns red hair, white. That is not a healthy situation, it's not healthy for those kids to play that many freshman. Lord, they got all the reps in the world, they are tougher, in their mind and heart. They have rededicated themselves, Johnny Long has done a great job with them in that weight room and flexibility. He has gone after areas in certain parts of each kid and found the individual strengths and weaknesses. What a great guy I got called Johnny Long and he's done some things with those kids. Now, they look like offensive linemen, some of them have lost 20 or 30 pounds of baby fat and that's what it was, they just now got permanent teeth.
Question Ten: There seems to be a lot less of you then last year?
Turner: I'm about down 30 pounds. My wife was telling me the other day in church that my pants were sagging, my sport coat was sagging, and that will have to buy new clothes. I hate buying new clothes. I hate spending money on clothes, but that's part of that feeling more excited than I have, more energy than I've have had in a long time.
Question Eleven: The lack of starts your offensive linemen had last year?
Turner: Last year we played eleven ball games, and at no time did we ever start the same five guys. How about that for consistency? Eleven games you never started the same five guys, that's one position you better know what the other person knows, and it has got to be the offensive line. The great thing about this year, we finally got them a couple of offensive line coaches that know how to coach offensive line. We got Kevin Day and Josh Turner as coaches and those kids are going to benefit from that.
Question Twelve: There appear to be four or five new defenders in the defensive backfield.
Turner: Those guys all got reps. We got a transfer that came in Mario Mezier (Miami, Fla.), most of those guys were backups and started a few games, but they did get plenty of playing time. We are playing like a defense that is lights out, we are playing like a defense. We've got some depth at defense that we have not had in years, we've got some guys that are not going to have to play 70 snaps a game. I watch them out on that field and it is night and day difference. Our coaches are coaching that way and the kids have competition and they are pushing, pushing, and like I said, it's excitement, it's believe, and it's expectations.
Question Thirteen: Tell us about the stripe on the helmet this season?
Turner: That's a throwback, there are times to get new ones, but sometimes you have to put these on and lineup and go get them. Our kids are excited about this. Had a donor say something about them, if you get them I'll pay for them. I said, yes sir. So we got two sets of them.
Larry Slade-Carson-Newman Defensive Coordinator
Opening Statement: Let's talk about the team first, this is as competitive and as tough a team that I have been around. We have gotten after each other, offense and defense, we've had a lot of fun. I just want to emphasis it again it is about team. We are going to go out there and bloody each-others noses, but we're going to take the best guys to the game and we understand that. On both sides it is competitive. The other day I saw a tight end going full speed across the field to make a block and I got excited for that. I'm defensive guy, but I got excited for his effort. So as a team our guys are playing with a great effort. On defense, you can't play great defense, and you basically can't play football without great effort. That's what's going on right now. Our guys are playing with great effort that's what we can guarantee you. Sometimes they ask how many are you going to win? We can guarantee you that we're going to play hard, that they're going to disciplined, and that they are going to do the right thing.
Slade on the Defensive Line: We do have some depth, we have two guys inside when you look at Brian Bembry (Parrish, Fla.) and Montel Presley (Bushnell, Fla.), those are two good guys, but we are fortunate to have two guys behind them that are pretty good also. There is an old expression that Chuck Knox made while I was talking with him. He would tell those guys if you leave your glove on the mound, somebody is going to take it. That is that competition, if you don't want to show up to practice and practice hard, that's alright the guy behind them is trying to take there spot. All across our board on defense we got guys that are trying to compete to be starters. That defensive line you got Javon Barnes (Stone Mountain, Ga.) a transfer in the middle. You got another guy Jimarco Witherow (Powder Springs, Ga.) is a freshman who is in there competing. Those are the four inside guy's competing, when you think about last year at times we had one. When you look outside and look at those defensive ends. Jordan Pryce (Spartanburg, S.C.) is playing really hard and lights out and then Ross Pryor (Kingwood, Texas), is on the other side and is an outstanding football player. Jaysen Cook-Calhoun (Hoover, Ala.), I consider all these guys starters. There is a young guy named Wycleff Phanor (Naples, Fla.), all of these guys are competing hard. You get to knock those guys back, you get the great pass rushers, and you make everything easy from that point on. Stop the run and you'll play great defense. I think that we are in great shape.
Question One: You mention Brian (Bembry) and (Jaysen) Cook-Calhoun and they didn't play for you last season, but they were forces two years ago. What is it like to have those two back?
Slade: I sleep better. It's fun going out there seeing those guys and thing is there out there competing hard because they're guys all around them competing hard. They are eager to go to practice and it is a fun thing.
Slade on the Linebackers: We have some guys that will play Sha'heem Stupart (Taylors, S.C.) has played he is a MIKE linebacker. A guy that is playing lights out right now is Jarvis Green (Oviedo, Fla.). Our SAM linebacker Antonio Henderson (Palmetto, Fla.) wow, and those three guys are really good football players. Our WILL linebacker Ervin Nard (Waycross, Ga.) is playing real good. Thomas Brown (Macon, Ga.) is another MIKE linebacker in the competition for the backup role. That is one area as far as linebackers that we have got to get a guy ready to play.
Question Two: Sha'heem has started about 30 games in his career. What is it like to have a guy like that in the middle of your defense?
Slade: It's comforting. To have a guy that knows how to get them lined up and knows how to play the game. The thing of keeping guy's calm and together with the good times, we play against some good offenses' and hopefully they don't make very many plays. So it's good to have a calming affect guy that can keep them together.
Slade on the Secondary: We have some new guys that have played some. Desmond Fairell (Miami, Fla.) played as a freshman last year and I thought he did a heck of a job. He's a playmaker. He made a play today and scored a touchdown. That was a thing that was sorely missing last year, having guys that could go make plays. I feel a lot better about that this year. The other cornerback is Mario Mezier and he is an outstanding cover guy, you guys will really like him, he is a good football player. Our starting strong safety will be Darius Williams (St. Petersburg, Fla.), the starting free safety is up in the air it could be Chris Lyles (Flowery Branch, Ga.), or Ray Artybridge (Iva, S.C.) those two guys are really competing to play. Then you got a couple of other corners that will play out there. Chris Williams (Miami, Fla.) he can play out there, he is constantly making plays and doing a great job out there. On the other side of him you got Noah Hill who is a backup playing really well. You got to keep working to get that second safety, but there is a lot of competition out there.
Question Three: Jason Williams and Jerry Miclisse have been penciled in as starters for the majority of their career. How big of shoes are those two to fill?
Slade: They were outstanding players and we feel really good about what we have. We have guys that can flat out make plays.