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Championship Pregame Quotes, January 6
Press conference quotes from Friday, January 6, 2012 in Frisco, TX prior to the NCAA Division I Football Championship Game on January 7. See a gallery of photos here from Kent Schmidt, CSN West columnist.
An Interview With North Dakota State:
Coach Craig Bohl
THE MODERATOR: Craig Bohl, the head coach of the North Dakota State. Craig is the Coach of the Year in the region, plus in the Missouri Valley Conference. Our players are D.J. McNorton, senior runningback, Preston Evans, senior linebacker. Paul Cornick, a senior All-America offensive tackle, and Coulter Boyer All-Valley defensive end.
COACH BOHL: We’re certainly excited about being here. I think the staging of the NCAA Team Frisco, the Southland Conference, and then the facility here at FCS Dallas is truly a great venue.
And I think all those entities came together and came up with a great game plan to highlight what we think as FCS as a great emerging product, and we’re excited about that.
Want to congratulate Sam Houston State without question as we’ve broken down all their games we’re duly impressed. Quality football team that’s well-coached. And we’re excited about the challenge. We’re also excited about our football team, too.
I think our football team came into the year with high expectations and making it to the quarterfinals last year and lost to the eventual national champions, Eastern Washington. So we got our first taste of playoffs. It was a great experience but our players and coaches certainly wanted to go farther.
We’ve got a full, healthy football team, as we’re coming into this ballgame, and we know we’re going to be challenged, but we feel great about the opportunity. We feel really good about our football team.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. Preston, this question’s for you and the rest of you guys can answer it as well. Talk about the modest approach you and your team have taken toward your goals this season?
PRESTON EVANS: Modesty is a big thing for our team. We kind of played the underdog role, I think, I feel, throughout the season. Big games like the Minnesota game and the UNI game, just getting over that hump and whatnot.
But the big thing, a part of our team, we spread it out with not individual efforts, it’s been a big team effort, offensively and defensively, and special teams throughout the year.
So plays a big role in our team and we dish out everything throughout the team, though.
Q. Coulter, in the playoffs you faced Georgia Southern with their triple option. Lehigh, I believe an offense that passes the ball a lot. How is facing those kind of teams maybe helped you all prepare to try to defend Sam Houston’s spread option?
COULTER BOYER: Georgia Southern, like you said, mainly option and Lehigh was mostly a passing team. Sam Houston is very talented in both of those aspects.
Hopefully by getting prepared for both these teams we got a leg up and didn’t have to start from scratch with Sam Houston this week. But they’re a very talented football team and we’ll have to go out and execute our game plan as best we can.
Q. What do you do on the eve of a championship game? Do you try to forget about it? Can you sleep? What goes through your mind the night before and you’re kind of anticipating the next day?
D.J. McNORTON: Me personally, it’s been a wonderful experience to kind of just reflect alongside these guys here and some of the other players, we’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, and that’s one thing that we really look back on, and it felt like we really – things have paid off, and we have one more task at hand. And we’re trying to accomplish that. But everything else has been very exciting, the whole opportunity we’ve had here.
But we’re just trying to stay focused as a team and understand that we still are trying to reach our overriding goal, which is winning the national championship what we all came here for.
PRESTON EVANS: Same here. D.J. talked about reflecting, a lot of reflection has gone into this process. It’s great being down here with the whole team. We’ve got the whole team down here, throughout the freshmen and whatnot.
But everything that we’ve been through through the years I’ve been here, 6 and 5 first year for me, and then a 3 and 8 season, to where it is now, and all that hard work and dedication that the coaches and the players have put in, it’s all coming together now. And it’s the pinnacle right now. We’ve reached the peak and it’s not over yet. So it’s really focusing – it’s been that slow build throughout the week, that slow build of anticipation and anxiousness and getting ready to play this game.
PAUL CORNICK: As I said, I’ll have a better answer for you tomorrow, after tonight. But once you get to this point, I’ll just talk about the night before. Like I already feel it starting to build and build and you get that feeling, under 24 hours till game time. But we’ve prepared hard and we worked hard for the last three weeks. So I think we’re confident. And we’re ready to go.
COULTER BOYER: Night before a game, especially a game like this, just going to try to relax. Pretty exciting. I mean, the game doesn’t start until tomorrow at noon. So to get overly excited right now probably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. So probably try to relax and every few minutes maybe go back to my notes, try to picture something in high head, hopefully it plays out like I want it to.
But tonight I’m just going to try to get some sleep.
COACH BOHL: Well, you know what, just looking at this great opportunity, I think it’s important for our football team to recognize that we’ve got a great opportunity. It’s going to come down to playing a football game.
And when you get in championship games, it’s really important to execute, stay focused and play our style of football and recognize that while it’s a championship game, it really comes down to doing the things that have brought us here. And so these guys have done a remarkable job in the preparation the last three weeks, we’ve taken a pretty long-term approach. They’ve stayed very focused with their lifting and their practice sessions, and for me as a head football coach, to lay my head down on a pillow tonight knowing that our guys are well prepared when we tee it up, it’s going to be a great experience and go out and we’ll find out who the best team is.
Q. Coach, you told me back in Fargo that you wanted to have the team rounding into form, have a good eye on to Saturday. Do you feel you did that? You planned it out pretty well that you guys are going to be sharp come noon tomorrow?
COACH BOHL: I feel really good about our plan. It’s a great challenge we have. The different elements of Sam Houston present a great challenge. But our guys have practiced well and coaches have worked extremely hard, and so I know from a preparation standpoint we feel really good about our preparation. And it will be fun to see that preparation and plan come into play tomorrow at noon.
Q. Preston and Paul, hearing a lot of ex-players who weren’t eligible for the playoffs. I think you probably played a few of those guys. Heard a lot of them are making an effort to come back to this game. Just give me your thoughts on that.
PRESTON EVANS: It’s big for those guys to come back, and they all have led us to this opportunity and this place. It’s traditions and whatnot, all the guys before, their blood and their sweat and tears that have gone into this is really big, and it’s really nice to see that they’re coming back and experiencing this with us. Because it’s not just for us, it’s for those guys, those past Bisons that have come before us.
PAUL CORNICK: Like Preston said, you learn right away when you get to North Dakota State that the tradition is large and you’re playing for anybody whoever put the uniform on. Everything you do, everything that we accomplish can all be looked back and seen the efforts from everybody before us. And we’re all family. Once a Bison always a Bison. So we’re doing it for them, too.
Q. Preston, after having three weeks to really dissect the video and have the game plan implemented, how do you feel about being able to slow down and stop Sam Houston’s running back Tim Flanders, and Wildcat quarterback Richard Sincere?
PRESTON EVANS: I’m feeling pretty good about it. Our coaches are tremendous. They did a tremendous job there. They spent a ton of time in meeting rooms together between the coaches and whatnot studying the film and getting game plans together and whatnot.
And then translating it to us as players. So I feel really good. I’m sure Coulter feels really good about the game plan going into it. They spent a lot of time on it and we have full trust in what they have planned for us and we’re just going to go out there and execute.
Q. Coach, first of all, you mentioned the different elements of Sam Houston that you guys have obviously studied in the past few weeks. As a team, do you think you’ll have to do anything differently to sort of defend the speed of Sam Houston, and have you guys at all looked at it as sort of – not to say you don’t have speed – but as sort of a speed versus power matchup, have you guys thought about it like that?
COACH BOHL: Well, certainly you want to answer to who brung ya. We’re a strong, physical team. And our conference that we play in is kind of noted that way. So we play to that as well.
Speed is a critical component in any college football team. We’re well aware of Sam Houston State’s speed. You see time and time again big plays. We’ve done our very best with our scout team on offense and defense to replicate that speed. Now, without question it’s going to be a challenge to do that.
But I want to thank our players’ efforts, and we feel confident about the plan to do things to neutralize that speed. As far as the speed and explosion on both sides of the football, not only offense, but defense, you’re looking at a really, really fast football team. And the best indicator I know is our preparation, our focus and how practices have gone. But I’ve coached long enough to know that you get out in the middle of the first quarter then you’re really going to see how you match up.
Q. Coach, can you talk about what the win tomorrow would mean for your program?
COACH BOHL: Well, you know, as Preston has mentioned, our program has enjoyed a proud tradition. We’ve won eight national championships in the past. And our administration made the move into Division I several years ago, and a lot of people were nay sayers, thought that North Dakota State did not have the ability to compete at a higher level.
So for us it’s a great opportunity for us to be here. And we certainly are looking for seizing the opportunity to win a championship. I think it will reestablish and bring Bison football back to national prominence but more so than that on a larger stage. So we’re certainly excited about that and without question it’s a great opportunity for us and our guys have worked really hard to seize that moment.
Q. Coach, talked a lot this week and I’m sure in the past couple of weeks about the defenses, playmakers on offense, haven’t heard much on special teams. How big is that going to be in the game tomorrow, and is there one area that you guys are looking to exploit more?
COACH BOHL: Anytime – I think we were probably, in oversight, certainly haven’t been as our behalf as a coaching staff. I think when you look at big games, scoring, I know a lot of people want to talk about scoring. Scoring has everything to do with field position. And there’s nothing that has a bigger impact on field position than special teams.
And so all components, whether it be returning punts, trying to block punts, preventing that, kickoffs, field goals and extra points are really critical. Where we’ve taken this three-week approach and intertwined special teams emphasis in all three components, it will be a challenge. It’s a wide open portion of the game.
We feel like Sam Houston has got great weapons but we feel we’ve got great weapons also.
Q. Paul, I wanted to ask you about the offensive line. You guys wore down Georgia Southern in the last game. Looking at Sam Houston State’s defense line, do you feel like you can do that again tomorrow?
PAUL CORNICK: Well, we hope that we can do that to anybody. But Sam Houston they’ve got a lot of talent on their defensive line. They’re definitely a different front that we’ve seen.
It’s not as much penetration, as far as they use their speed and quickness against an offense. So hopefully we can just stick with our plan that we’ve had all year, pound away, pound away, and hopefully when it comes to the fourth quarter, all the offseason work we’ve done will pay off and we’ll be able to have our way.
Q. D.J., this question’s for you. You told me yesterday that when you step on the field, it’s just going to be another football game for you. How important is it for your entire offense to remember that and not make costly mistakes early in this game?
D.J. McNORTON: Like Coach Bohl mentioned earlier, I think it’s essential for us to come back to that and speaking on the fact that we need to come back to what we’ve been doing all season, and having each other’s backs and having the chemistry that we’ve had as a team and with the coaches. I think it’s really big to kind of not lose sight of that.
And the offense, you know, just go out there and do what we’ve been doing and the defense has been playing spectacular all year, and just feeding off of each other.
Special teams, like coach said also, will have a big factor in the game. So we just gotta go out there and do what we’ve been doing all season. And just Bison pride. Just playing out there with the pride that we’ve all gained from being up here and it’s just another game minus all the events and the excitement, you’ve just got to come back and play a football game at the end of the day.
Q. Coach and players, Sam Houston has put a lot of teams away in the third quarter this season. In this game tomorrow, how important are your halftime adjustments going to be?
COACH BOHL: It’s a very insightful question because without question Coach Fritz and that staff, without question they have a seasoned staff, and it isn’t by chance that they’ve come out and exploded in the third quarter.
We also think that during our season, the body of work that we’ve done, we’ve been a very good second half football team. Football teams change during the course of the game. And I’ve always believed that the most important series of the whole football game is the first series of the second half. The team that maintains and establishes momentum or changes momentum. It will be critical for us tomorrow to meet their challenge.
Q. Players, and Coach Bohl I’ll have you comment on the seniors. Tomorrow will be the last time you ever take your NDSU uniform off. Think about that for a second and what are the emotions as you prepare to wear the green and gold for the last time?
D.J. McNORTON: Man, just the fact that I’ve loved every second of being here, being a part of this team, tackling all the tests that we had with the senior class I have and the guys next to me, Coach Bohl, the whole coaching staff.
It’s just been a great experience. And for us to be in this position to play for a national championship, you know, and what we all came here for, that’s all we could ask for. It’s like a dream come true.
So for us to be in the position we are is an honor, and we’re just trying to finish it off strong.
PRESTON EVANS: D.J. said a lot of the points. NDSU has been an opportunity for me to continue my football career and allowing me to mature as a young man. It’s been great. Coach Bohl has taken me under his wing, and just allowed me to mature. There’s a lot of ups and downs in my career here, but I fought through those things, fought through with these guys through a lot of different things in my career here.
But I really haven’t thought about the emotions of that yet because we haven’t finished what we’ve set out to do. But there’s a slogan in our locker room that says those who stay will be champions. I really believe that those who stay in our program will be champions. I think I’m one of four left in my class that I came in with out of like 22 guys.
So it’s been some tough times and whatnot, but it’s going to be a great feeling for going out there the last time and playing with these guys and ending it on a high note, hopefully.
PAUL CORNICK: Yeah, it’s just been a blessing with the guys we’ve had in this program. You couldn’t ask for better people to spend five years with and the people that have come in along the way. We love and trust each other, and that’s what’s gotten us this far.
About taking the uniform off for the last time, try not to think about that, considering we’ve got a task at hand. And we would just like to leave something before we go I guess is all I’ve got to say.
COULTER BOYER: I don’t know how I’m going to feel when I take it off for the last time. I agree with all these guys, I love my teammates to death. And I know they feel the same about me. And we’ve gone through the ups and the downs, and emotional roller coaster ride. I don’t really know how I’m going to feel. I’m going to be sad, I’m sure. But what else is there, national championship in my senior year, been here five years. Lost one game this year so far. It’s exciting.
COACH BOHL: If that question was for me, so hopefully I’ll continue to coach. One thing that is unique, though, in college football, football is so unique compared to any other sport. You play basketball and you can go down to the Y and keep on playing basketball. If you’re a golfer, baseball, and things like that. Football, and some of these fellows will have an opportunity to continue their career in the NFL.
But as you know, and I think it was a great question, that the last time you take off the pads, that’s it. And so those pads come off. And there’s probably going to be tears, tears of joy or tears of sadness or tears of saying: Hey, this is our last go-around. What these players don’t quite understand – I’m sure Coach Fritz would echo this – how important they are in our lives. That’s why we’ve chosen to be a coach and have influence and have bonds like this.
So something special, a college locker room after a game is always something special.
Q. D.J., seeing the way your defense has played in the playoffs and especially during practice this last three weeks, does that help you at all as far as getting an idea of how Sam Houston is going to play and try to stop you from running the ball?
D.J. McNORTON: I mean, up front I know they’re going to come out there to win the game. Just like we worked really hard to get to this position, they’ve done the same thing. So I’m sure their coaching staff is getting them in the best situation as possible, too, and they’re going to try to go out there and make plays.
At the end of the day, it’s up to us to go out there and execute and trust in our coaches and the position that they’re putting us in. And just believing in each other. We know they’re going to play hard. We just gotta go out there. And on our end we have to limit mistakes, protect the ball and do what we’ve been doing all year.
Q. After that loss to Youngstown State you said this could be a good thing. What has motivated you and what’s pushed you throughout the loss, and the rest of you can answer if you have anything.
PRESTON EVANS: I think throughout the season it kind of grounded us, brought us back down to earth. I guess that’s the cliche of what was going on or whatnot and we can say that now. But, yeah, really grounded us, refocused our team and rededicated ourselves to what was the goal.
The goal was in sight, to be conference champions, and just to finish the season out strong and getting to a national championship. So I think just really rededicated us, refocused us on our path and got us to this point right here.
Q. Preston, can you talk about the excitement or challenge of your top scoring defense going up against Sam Houston’s top scoring offense?
PRESTON EVANS: Yes, it’s an exciting task. We love the challenge of playing against great offenses and whatnot. But also we get the look all year of playing against our offense in practice. There’s great running backs in Sam and D.J. McNorton. Just playing against those guys, practicing against all year long helps us against great running backs. We’ve seen great running backs in the valley all year long and great passing in Lehigh and running passes by Georgia Southern. A lot of things we’ve done we’ll see out here. They have a lot of speed. But I think we’re pretty well prepared.
Q. Preston and Paul, I talked to both of you guys after the Eastern Washington game, saying you know what we go back to winter workouts in two weeks to get ready for this season. Have you thought about that at all how you thought then and now you’re one win away from winning the championship. And also for Coach Bohl?
PRESTON EVANS: I haven’t really thought about last year and that team. Kind of festered a little in the off season there. Just thinking about it and just thinking about where we needed to go and how hard we needed to work and what we had put the time in that we had put into that season to go that extra mile and do those extra things. What really challenged us in that game kind of just at the beginning of the season. And this is a whole new thing. And somewhere we’ve never been.
So we’ve put in the time and effort that we think we need to win this game.
PAUL CORNICK: Yeah, I’d say that that game just, it gave us a hunger for the offseason, and it really drove us and we knew we needed to work harder than we ever had. Everybody bought in after that. We got a taste of the postseason, the experience of the games. There was nothing like it. And we knew what we wanted to do and we knew what we had to do. And up until this season that was our motivation. Once we got going we just took off from there.
COACH BOHL: I think last year was our first experience in the playoffs, and the taste of it, and it gave us a sense of confidence knowing that we were able to go in and compete with a team that eventually won the national championship but also gave us a hunger as the players had mentioned that it’s hard to get here. It’s really hard to get here. And it’s hard to advance.
And to win a championship, it’s even harder. So we’ve appreciated the efforts and the diligence of all people that have been involved, our players, the training staff, the strength and conditioning staff and the coaches.
And now our time is here. And it’s going to be fun to go out there and attempt to seize the opportunity.
Q. D.J., could you just talk about getting to play your last senior game here in Texas, especially since you went to high school here, or in Galveston?
D.J. McNORTON: Like I said, the whole experience has just been the time of my life, especially being here back in Texas, to get family and friends to the game. That’s really big for me.
There’s a few out there, but not as many as a lot of people from up there. So it’s really good. It’s really exciting to see those family members and friends and going out in my last game in Texas among my family members, I think that’s real big and something that I’m really appreciative for.
Q. Have you thought at all about the last time North Dakota state and Sam Houston played and it came down to the wire down there in Huntsville and now you have another shot at them?
PAUL CORNICK: It’s definitely brought to our attention how that game went: Lots of points in that game. I mean, yeah, I thought about it some. Hopefully the outcome’s a little different. And hopefully our defense can play a little bit better. But other than that I think it hasn’t really been anything on my mind. I use it for motivation, I guess. But other than that, that’s about it.
Q. Coulter, talk about the mindset on the defensive line about it doesn’t matter who makes the play or who doesn’t or does make the stop but you play together as a whole unit?
COULTER BOYER: I think you can say it about the whole team, doesn’t matter who makes a play or makes a touchdown or whatnot. But as far as the “D” line goes it’s amazing to see such amazing play as long as we get the job done and do what Coach Hazelton and Coach Cooper tell us to do. It’s all that matters. It’s a great feeling that we all trust each other like that and there’s no tempers or anything like that flaring out there. And, I mean, it just feels good, I guess.
An Interview With Sam Houston State:
Coach Willie Fritz
THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by Coach Willie Fritz, Coach of the Year in the region, in the Southland. Give us an overview of the Bearkats coming into the championship.
COACH FRITZ: We’re very, very excited about this great challenge that we have with North Dakota State tomorrow. We had a fantastic season. This journey started a couple of springs ago in 2010.
The team had lost quite a few seniors and starters, didn’t have a lot coming back, especially on the offensive side of the ball. We were able to have the kids who were there already embrace what we were putting in as far as the coaching staff was concerned.
And then we were able to go out and recruit some outstanding student-athletes both from high school and some transfer kids to really make this thing gel much more quickly than maybe some people had anticipated.
I’ve only got 33 guys who were actually in our program in the spring of 2010, and those guys are really the foundation of our football program.
So we’re very pleased to be here in Frisco and playing in the national championship.
THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by Travis Watson, Chris Crockett, Eddie Decambre and Tim Flanders.
Q. Travis and Chris, kind of to piggyback off from Coach, when he came in 2010, can you take us through before that what you went through with a couple of losing seasons and tell us how far the program has come since then?
TRAVIS WATSON: Me and Chris, being our fifth year here, we’ve gone through a few different coaches, especially offensive line. We’re on our third coach in five years.
We went through some changes. We both got to get in and play as redshirt freshmen. Came off that year being 6 and 5, and then coming in our sophomore years with the last year as, the last year of that coaching staff, we actually both suffered season-ending injuries. So we’re going through a lot at that time.
And then the coaching staff got fired and we didn’t really know where it was going to go. But once Coach Fritz and his staff came on, really turned things around and really brought some really good energy to the program, and got everyone really behind everything he was doing. And it’s been working pretty well.
CHRIS CROCKETT: I would just say that the main thing that Coach Fritz brought in here was discipline. We had the talent and we had the guys. He just completely flipped our mentality around, and it’s really showed this season.
Q. Tim and Eddie, what do you do before a night – the night before a game like this? What’s the anticipation like? Do you sleep? I mean, what do you think is going to be going through your mind tonight as you prepare for this?
TIM FLANDERS: I mean, we’ve been doing the same thing all season. We always have a team meeting. I’m able to get a good night’s rest every time. I mean, really, I just go in, read a book, read a couple of verses out of the bible. Just listen to some music basically to relax my mind, get me ready for the next game.
EDDIE DECAMBRE: And me, I don’t know, it’s kind of difficult to sleep, especially me being a senior. I kind of have to reflect over the years in the past and experiences that I’ve had and where we’ve come to at this day and I’m just thankful and blessed to be in this position and happy, you know what I mean like we’re ready to get this thing going.
Q. Eddie, what’s gone through your mind right now that you’re less than a day away from playing for a national championship?
EDDIE DECAMBRE: I mean, basically like what I was saying. It’s just crazy. From where we’ve come from to where we are now, it truly is a blessing. We’re blessed to have Coach Fritz and everyone on this team, because it’s really like the stars have aligned, everything has aligned perfectly for us to be here right now. And the same with North Dakota State. But I feel like this is our destiny and we’re going to come through and do what we need to do to win the game.
Q. Coach, you mentioned that there’s 33 guys with you from spring of 2010 or whatever. What were some of the growing pains and specific challenges you really had to go through these last two years in order to kind of reach this level?
COACH FRITZ: I think Travis touched on it a little bit. Instilling discipline. I’m a hard charger. I’m kind of going 24/7. I think the guys were a little surprised by that. They kept waiting for me to slow down, and we got people to come up to the level they needed to.
We had some great leaders. These guys up here are as good of leaders that I’ve had in 30 years of coaching. That’s probably one of the big differences between the first year and the second years.
These guys, coaching on the field and giving the message that the coaches are saying and now it’s a team message rather than a coach message. That’s really helped us incredibly.
Had some really tough off season programs. I kind of do old-fashioned off season programs where we do map drills and we wrestle and we do things that a lot of people don’t do any more. I was kind of raised on that myself.
And I think that gave a little edge to our guys. And this summer, we had an outstanding summer program. We had a big hill over there by our stadium and at 5:30 every morning these guys run the hill. It’s something we put in and kind of set us apart, I think, from other people.
Definitely put in the work and when you have the combination of good coaches and great team chemistry but most importantly great players, you got a chance to be really good. And we’ve gone from being an average team to a great team.
And it’s almost incredible. I’ve laid out some specific plans that we headed to in order to become a great team. And then the guys that follow that plan to a “T".
One thing we had to do offensively we had to become a better passing team. We ran the ball very effectively in 2010. Didn’t throw the ball very well. And I believe we’re about third in the nation in pass offensive efficiency. We’ll never lead the nation in passing offense, but we throw the ball very efficiently now.
And the same thing defensively. We were a good defense in 2010, we had to become a much better pass defense in order to become a great defense. And we did that. I think we’re second in the nation in pass defense efficiency.
And then we had to get more takeaways defensively. Did a great job in 2010 securing the football, not turning it over. But didn’t have very many takeaways defensively. I believe we went from having 16 in 2010 to having 40 this year.
And we worked it. We drilled it. And it’s not by accident. Those are things we have to size as we got better in those areas.
Q. This is directed to the fifth-year seniors, what does it mean to be playing in this national championship game.
CHRIS CROCKETT: This means everything to me. This is the best football season that I’ve ever had in my life. This has been really special. I know – I think I can speak for all the fifth-year seniors – that we’re very blessed and very proud to be the first football team at Sam Houston history to go to the national championship.
And we’ve just been trying to savor every moment. It’s been a fun ride this year. Even though we’re 14-0 it wasn’t always pretty. We went through some tough times, too. But this has been the most fun I’ve ever had in my life playing football.
TRAVIS WATSON: To add to what Chris said, it’s awesome coming to the national championship and getting to play in a game like this. But being a fifth-year senior, getting to experience this, especially with all we’ve been through and all the coaching changes, but really the fact that there’s only five original guys from our recruiting class of something like 25 left that made it through everything.
So it kind of makes it that much more special to us to be here after everything we went through and obviously you can’t ask for a better way to go out as a senior to play your last game in the national championship.
EDDIE DECAMBRE: Can’t put it in better words than what they did. We went through humble years. Now it’s time for us to pretty much shine, come out here and expose ourselves, let’s go.
Q. Travis, kind of sum up your year, because I know previously or before the season before school started you went to Jordan, you had a big summer. Then you come back to school and you all have the best season ever. Just kind of sum up personally what the year’s been like for you?
TRAVIS WATSON: It’s been pretty exciting. It kind of all started with last spring, you know, kind of – it started with when we got back from winter break. I remember the first thing Coach Fritz talked about was the plan for the next year and going from an average team to a great team. And then starting to get into training and starting with that.
Along with that came, with the football side came the academic side, which led me to be fortunate enough to be given a scholarship, a state department scholarship to go study overseas which was a tough choice because I never missed summer workouts since I was here. It was hard for me to decide. But it was something I got a month-long scholarship to study Arabic in Amman, Jordan. And it was something that I really couldn’t pass up.
The coaches really supported me and realized it was a great opportunity. So we got through the semester, and we had a great spring ball, and once I left on June 1st and came back July 1st, that was a great experience for me.
And the whole time I was over there I couldn’t – I was having a great time and it was awesome studying in the area, but I couldn’t wait to get back with my teammates and start practicing again.
And then once July hit, we hit the ground running but we knew we had potential to do something great this season and it’s really shown and it’s been really exciting.
Q. Travis, with everything that you’ve seen in this program, you probably know as well as anything what would a win mean tomorrow for the program?
TRAVIS WATSON: It would be huge. It’s really been amazing to see the transformation. Not just the program, but the university in general since I’ve been here. Just kind of first three years real lackadaisical not too much excitement around the game. People would get excited for the SFA game, but that was really about it.
Everything else, not a big deal. Win/loss, nobody really carried. But coming in, last year was excited because Coach Fritz came around. But this year it really just sparked something that I’ve never seen before. And it’s been really amazing to see at Sam Houston State. It’s changing the atmosphere. And people are really getting behind it and really supporting the school.
So a win tomorrow would be huge. Not just for the football team, but for the whole university in general to really get everyone behind the school.
Q. Coach, can you talk about the challenges that North Dakota State presents for you guys?
COACH FRITZ: An overall good ball club. We visited, before we played Stoneybrook, before we played Montana State and Montana, I kept telling these guys, that’s the best team we’ve played this season. And nobody’s in the playoffs who is not a quality football team.
I really believe the NCAA did get it right; these are the two best teams in Division I football. No apparent weaknesses. They really do a nice job at both running and throwing the ball effectively.
Defensively, play with great leverage. Good tacklers, stay in their gaps. Fundamentally very sound and very good in the kicking game.
And I think they watch our tape and they say the same thing. It’s going to be a whale of a game tomorrow.
Q. Tim and Chris, obviously coming into every year a team’s goal is to win the championship, but I was curious coming off a 6 and 5 year, when did you guys – when was that moment during the season where you guys felt like this could be the year we could make a run and then kind of the piggyback off what coach mentioned with the drills you did. What’s it like or what do you guys build off of or take from doing those drills like the hill and stuff like that?
TIM FLANDERS: I think it first started when we came back from winter break when Coach Fritz told us he went to the national championship game, and he told us that next year we’re going to be there, no matter what it takes we’re going to work hard and get there.
From all the drills we’ve done through the spring and summer, it helped everybody get stronger and faster. That’s one thing we worked on all season long, I mean all summer, all spring, everything like that.
But it’s been a good year for us, very good year. We came out here. We’ve been playing hard the whole season. I mean without our guys up front – because I believe all those games we won so far has been handled between our defensive line and our offensive line. They’ve done a real good job of making good blocks and getting to the quarterback.
CHRIS CROCKETT: We always knew we could win the Southland Conference. We talked a lot about it. But whenever we went undefeated throughout the conference and won it the way we did and we finished off in San Marcos with a win against Texas State, and we were 11-0, I knew we could really make a run at the national championship. I felt that ever since I’ve been here, we’ve always had the talent to do something great. We just didn’t have the X factor, which is Coach Fritz.
And as far as off season and summer drills, that hill kind of separates us from other ball clubs. Something that just we can stand out and say that, you know, we’ve got this edge on you, what do you have on us.
So all that said, I knew we could always do it but we just needed Coach Fritz, and that’s what we got.
Q. Eddie, how much of an advantage do you think that the speed of the defensive line is going to have against the big, the size and strength of North Dakota State’s offensive line?
EDDIE DECAMBRE: I mean, all year we’ve gone against taller, bigger offensive linemen. And all year we’ve come to the challenge and we’ve faced it. I don’t feel like it will be anything different, because we are a strong “D” line and we’re a strong defense in general.
We’re going to come to play. It’s never been an issue for us. We’ve never been intimidated by anyone we played, we just come out to play.
That’s the foundation that Coach Fritz has instilled in us, that there’s no fear when you play football, you just gotta go out and be a man. And that’s what we’re going to go out and do. Because I know they’re going to be ready to play, but we’re also ready to play. We’ve been practicing for weeks now for this moment and nothing’s going to hold us back from hoisting that trophy up.
Q. Chris, obviously want to get that running game going early tomorrow. But what are the challenges of North Dakota State’s physical defensive line?
CHRIS CROCKETT: Their “D” line is very well coached. They don’t get out of position a lot. They’re always where they’re supposed to be, as well as their linebackers, and their secondary. They all swarm to the ball very good. They tackle well.
And they’re a fast defense than a lot of people give them credit for. A lot of people underestimate their speed. So we’re just going to have to be on our game. But every week we’ve just got to come out and do what we do up front and we’ll be able to make the plays.
Q. Coach, just health-wise where are you at heading into the championship game, full strength in all spots?
COACH FRITZ: Great shape. We’re in really great shape. And had a few guys that has some bumps and bruises. We took ten days off and had the guys work out a little bit. And we’ve had as good of workouts we’ve had all year. So we’re in fantastic shape for the ballgame.
Q. Coach, I just read that the Governor Perry has wagered a box of grapefruit, box of Texas grapefruit on this game. Do you have a comment on this that the governor’s backing you up making a side bet with the governor of North Dakota?
COACH FRITZ: I’m not going to touch that one. (Laughter).
Q. For you and for any of the players, with a lot of the FBS Texas teams having semi down years, no one is in a BCS Bowl. Baylor really stood out with their Heisman trophy win, but have you got any support from any of these other Texas schools being up there in the running for maybe one of the best college programs in Texas this year?
COACH FRITZ: I really don’t think there’s that big of a difference between FBS and FCS football. I really – one of the times that I knew we were going to have a really good squad was when we went out to New Mexico and won, and we didn’t play very good. We didn’t play very well on defense. Played pretty darned good on offense. Didn’t play very good in the kicking game.
We were able to win at their place not playing a real good game. So I don’t think there’s as big a difference as people might think. And we are in the hotbed of football where we’re at in Huntsville. We drive a little three-hour circle out in Huntsville and we just go out in those different areas. There’s all sorts of good players. Something that’s lucky for us at the FCS level, we get guys who go out of state to some FBS schools, Texas kids, Oklahoma kids, I think they want to be close to home and they may go someplace and find out it’s not what it’s cracked up to be. We get calls night and day from people as well.
So I don’t think FCS football gets the credit that it’s due.
Q. Coach, this is a neutral site game, but is this as close to a home game as you could ask for?
COACH FRITZ: I don’t know. I sure like taking a bus here. That was enjoyable. Didn’t take us very long. Took us about a movie and a half and we were up here. That was good. And I know we’ll have a lot of people here at the ballgame. But it’s the national championship game. One of the things I stress to these guys, this isn’t a Bowl game. And the only Bowl game I remember from a year ago was that Auburn won the game. All those games, I couldn’t tell you who played in any other game. And we’re treating this like a national championship game. So we’re glad it’s here in Texas, but we would have gone to Alaska to play in a game, too.
Q. For the offensive players, Travis, Tim, Chris, just talk a little bit about Coach DeBesse and Coach Warehime and the impact they’ve had on the team and just what – I know, Tim, you’ve got a special relationship with Coach Warehime and I would imagine you two do as well. But talk about what they’ve meant to the program.
TIM FLANDERS: Both coaches coming in brought really good energy. Coach Warehime was my third “O” line coach in four years of playing. You don’t really know what to expect. But he came in. He’s a younger coach. He’s got a lot of energy. He’s very intense. He loves football. You can tell.
The passion that he brings to the game makes – it makes you want to play harder. And he knows what he’s doing. He’s a great coach. The same with Coach DeBesse. He’s a great play caller and knows the offense inside and out. It was great to have them here for this time. And I know they’re going to do great in the future. They deserve everything that they get.
TIM FLANDERS: It’s been a great two years we’ve had with them. Coach Warehime, he’s the one that got me here in the first place. I mean, I really enjoyed the time I’ve spent with him. My relationship with Coach DeBesse has grown from last season to this season. They’ll both be missed. Can’t take anything away from them. We’re all in this for business. Things happen for a reason. It’s going to be a wonderful game for both of them. It’s going to be their last game but we hope to send them off with a nice little present.
CHRIS CROCKETT: What I like about both of them is they’re both very smart, especially to touch on Coach Warehime, he knows – he was an offensive coordinator at the school he was before us. And so he knows defenses in and out. Coach DeBesse was actually coached with my defensive coordinator at high school. So he brought some of the same things I’m used to from high school up here. So we developed a special relationship there. And we had that in common.
Coach Warehime has been great for us. Holds us to a very high standard on the offensive line. We have a grading system for each game. And he grades us very hard. He’s very critical of us. But in at the end we’re really appreciative for him because we wouldn’t have got to this point without him.
Q. Tim, throughout the season and especially in the playoffs, it’s kind of been either you or Richard kind of having a pretty good day running the ball. Describe what that dynamic is with both of you guys back there, the team finds a way to shut one of you guys down, the other one picks up the slack?
TIM FLANDERS: We have a lot of playmakers on the offense. But I think our main playmakers is our offensive linemen. Without them guys up front, none of this would be possible.
I mean, every team has to play the same, they have to stop – have to slow one of us down. Richard is very good at what he does. We have Torrance. Bell’s a very smart quarterback. All of our receivers, really don’t throw the ball a lot, but once we do throw it, something happens every time.
But without these offensive linemen none of this would be possible.
Q. Tim, can you talk about the excitement and the challenge of your high-scoring offense going against their defense that doesn’t give up a lot of points?
TIM FLANDERS: It will be a very exciting game. I think everybody will be watching. I know I have a lot of people back at home ready for the game. It will be good for both teams. We finally get to go head to head. Offensive line will do a good job, their defensive line will do a good job. I think it’s all going to come down to who all has the less turnovers, I think that will be the game deciding factor.
Q. Travis and Chris, have you all talked about it at all? I know you told us about how you all had those season-ending injuries, and how far you all have come since you got to the program in ‘07 have you looked back on ‘07 since you all knew you were playing in the championship and just thought about it and put it into context?
TRAVIS WATSON: You kind of think back on it a little bit just to think how far you’ve come and everything you’ve gone through, and it seems like, I don’t know, so long ago that we were freshmen and redshirt and now we’re seniors about to play our last game in the national championship.
We both went through a real tough year our redshirt sophomore years having season-ending injuries. It was tough to come back from. But it’s been great to look back on it. But we’re just really excited on what’s happening this year. And once Coach Fritz came in and changed the program around, it was kind of like those first three years. It’s not like they never happened, but it’s kind of like it’s the distant past. It’s a completely different time period.
So much has changed for the better. And just excited for the future of this program.
CHRIS CROCKETT: I don’t reminisce about it a whole lot, but I do know that our freshman year was very tough being young guys and having to redshirt and go and be a scout team player. We paid our dues, and we worked hard. We went through some very tough injuries. And just to see it all change and just be with the guys here today, it’s very special.
Q. Coach, just listening to the guys and talking with them yesterday can you talk about the level – you didn’t recruit some of these guys, but the level of respect that they have for you in terms of how they give you the credit for helping turn things around? And then secondly could you address the university’s commitment to you and the fact that you were the first coach to ever have a contract at the school and they’ve also reworked it since then and just that commitment that they’ve had towards you?
COACH FRITZ: No one’s told me anything about contracts. I don’t know where that came from – 20 people texted me today. Hopefully it’s true. Hope it is true. From the AD, all right. That sounds real good.
You know, these guys give me way too much credit. I really believe that. I have the ability to take something really simple and pound it into people’s head. And I do that over and over and over and over again. I don’t get tired of giving a simple message to them, whether it’s taking the ball away or securing the ball or telling them what’s important, those kind of different things.
I really did most of my work the first spring and fall and spring that I was here and I’ve really done less coaching this year. I don’t want to say that too loud, but probably less than I’ve done in my entire career. Some years I screw up the offense, defense and the kicking game.
And this year I’ve been able to – what we’ve gotten in place is really good. And we’ve got very, very good coaches. Very lucky we’ve got great coordinators and great position coaches and great leadership from these guys and so it’s just been an awful lot of fun. I’ve told these guys many times, the most enjoyable part of this season has been winning a bunch of games with great people. That didn’t always happen. And these guys are really fun to work with.
And I’ve had very few problems. I’m not perfect. They’re not perfect. And we don’t do everything exactly perfect every day, but our problems are few and far between. And as a head coach, especially, that’s very rewarding. You can coach football and life rather than having to pound common sense into somebody every day.
Q. How important has embracing the concept of the turnover-take away or the focus on turnover-take away, how important has it been in your success this season and how important will it be tomorrow?
TRAVIS WATSON: Like we said, Coach has done a good job drilling it into everybody’s head. The defense this year has done an incredible job getting us the ball back. It’s amazing the amount of turnovers. Seems like once we score and go three and out, we sit down, everybody says get back up, they just got a turnover; you’re back on the field.
It happens quite a bit. And it’s huge for us. Offensively it gets the momentum going, especially when we sometimes struggle, the defense holds in there, gets us the ball back, gets us the momentum we need offensively.
We’ve done a good job as well of holding onto the ball, not turning it over very much. And it’s been huge, I think – like Tim said, tomorrow it’s a great possibility that’s what it’s going to come down to.
TIM FLANDERS: Each practice, all of our guys, special teams, nobody throws the ball back to any of the coaches. Everybody is running the ball back to them. This game is not run on Saturday. It’s won through all the practices Monday through Friday.
It’s going to be a big part of the game. I know they’re good at getting the ball. We’re good at getting the ball. We’re good at holding the ball. They’re the exact same way. But this will be a very exciting game for both teams.
EDDIE DECAMBRE: Coach just really turned it into more of a culture, like you have to hold the ball if you have the ball, hold it high and tight and on the pressure points, the five pressure points that he taught us.
And that’s really what it is. If you have the football, that’s his life and our life and the school’s life in that ball right there. And like that’s really what he taught us. And he told us that this ball is more than just a football. It’s like a life. It’s our culture.
So if you have something like that in your hands, you don’t want to lose it. So that’s basically what he taught us, and that’s how we take care of the ball.
CHRIS CROCKETT: Winning the turnover/takeaway margin is actually in our plan to win, five-step plan. Coach takes it very serious.
I’ll give another shout-out to our defense. They’ve been phenomenal year at creating turnovers. It creates momentum for the whole team. And then like Eddie said, Coach Fritz always says you are holding that ball, you’ve got our life in your hands. The receivers, quarterbacks, running backs do a good job of being conscious where the ball is at all times and that’s why we’ve been very successful at it this year.
COACH FRITZ: I use a quote from John Heisman, named the Heisman trophy named after him. “Better to die a young boy than fumble the ball.” I tell the guys that all the time. And so we – if there’s one thing that I emphasize, that’s that and we talk about it every single day. And my career as a head coach, 19 years, we’ve been plus one turnover/takeaway margin.
We’ve won over 93 percent of our games. So I tell them all the time, it’s a comforting factor to know, if you’re plus one, you’re going to win. You can only emphasize so many things. That’s the number one thing we emphasize.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
By NCAA Media Relations