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2013 Pre-Game Press Conference With Both Teams
January 4, 2013 moderated press conference interviews with North Dakota State’s Craig Bohl, Marcus Williams, Joe Lund, Grant Olson and Garrett Bruhn; and Sam Houston State’s Willie Fritz, Darnell Taylor, Riley Smith, Chris Rogers and Darius Taylor.
THE MODERATOR: Welcome once again, Coach Bohl and the Bison, to your home away from home. Craig, give us an overview and then we’ll open it up for questions.
CRAIG BOHL: First of all, we’re really excited to be here in Frisco. It’s a great event. Many times when you go the first time, you think it’s phenomenal, and then you experience something the second time, and it’s not quite as exciting. That’s really not been the case. I know our players are excited and our coaching staff. It’s been a phenomenal experience the way this game has been staged. We’ve had a great year, certainly was a challenge to get here. It’s hard to repeat.
The road here this year, I think, was a little bit more difficult than last year. Nonetheless, we’re here, and we’re excited. We have a great deal of respect for Sam Houston State. Their head football coach and I have become close friends, and we’re really embracing the competition, and so I think you’re going to see a heck of a game tomorrow at kickoff.
Q. Craig, can you talk about the Izzy button?
CRAIG BOHL: You bet. Dr. Isrow I guess coined the phrase “once a Bison always a Bison,” and Bison pride, and Dr. Isrow gave so much to NDSU, he came with Darrell Mudra, who was part of the foundation on the football program. He was a trainer at the time and then transitioned to I think the exercise physiology department. He became a close friend of mine when I arrived. I had never been a head coach before, and he had an opportunity to work with every head football coach that had been there after Darrell Mudra, ending with Coach Mudra. So shed a lot of insight.
And then he also helped many of our players later on in the academic support area, encouraging guys, spending a lot of time with them as they matriculated through NDSU.
When he passed away, I had presented a game ball – talked to the players I think before our first South Dakota State game and went up to the hospital that night and gave it to him. I think there’s nobody, nobody out there that touched as many former players as what Izzy has, and as a result we wanted to honor that. The players have a sticker on the back of their helmets, and as coaches we have one on our shirt.
Q. (No microphone.)
MARCUS WILLIAMS: Yeah, Dr. Izzy, every time you see him come in, he always had a smile on his face every time. He always said, “once a Bison always a Bison,” and he’ll always have at least two or three stories for you that you can just go by, and he’ll make you laugh. Every time he came, if you were down or whatever, he’ll make your day that much better. He just had a bright smile on his face, and he wanted us to do the best, just like he said, before he passed. He was a great guy.
Q. We have two juniors and two seniors up there, maybe Joe and Grant can answer this. Can you talk about the legacy of this group, the seniors, what they’ve done, and it’s a small class, but then the juniors, here a second year, maybe even here a third year next year? Can you talk about the legacy of this group?
JOE LUND: Just learn to live with it, I guess. But it really doesn’t matter if you’re a senior, a fifth-year guy like me and Bruhn or a first-year starting like Zach Johnson on the O-line. It doesn’t matter the grade or the year. You’re plugged in, all the coaches got your back, to play everything, so…
GRANT OLSON: I don’t know about legacy. We’ve still got a little bit of football to play. But I do know that the recruiting class I came in with and then Garrett and Marcus’ recruiting class are a very close group of guys. Joe along with the older guys, when we first got here, were very demanding of us, and they pushed us very hard, but through that we’ve grown a lot as men, and they were then able to accept us, and that was something that allowed us to win the championship last year.
I think that’s one of the reasons this team is so close and we’ve come as far as we have. We’re a very close group of men. We care a lot about each other, we work hard for each other, and we play for each other.
Q. This is for Coach Bohl and any of the players to answer it, too. Have you guys yet stopped to think about what back-to-back FCS titles would mean for you guys, going off the legacy question here, what that would mean for you as a program, and if you have, what does if mean to you?
CRAIG BOHL: We talked about it a little bit before the beginning of the year. As the older players got together in my office we set out some goals, and the first goal we set about was to win the Missouri Valley Conference Championship, and once we able to accomplish that, the other goal we set about was to win the National Championship. I think it is very difficult, I don’t think, I know, it is very difficult to go back to back. It’s an unusual task. It’s possible. We talked about the things that could lead to back-to-back National Championships. For me personally, the experience that I had while at the University of Nebraska being part of back-to-back championships, I tried to recall a lot of the things that Coach Osborne had talked to me about as a younger coach and then saw those things, so we tried to instill a lot of those practices, points of emphasis and all those things that haven’t had an opportunity to accomplish that, we’re here. As Grant said, there’s a whole lot we have to do before we establish a legacy, but I think anytime a program goes back to back, you begin to elevate your program into a different realm.
Tomorrow is about a great opportunity to win a National Championship but another opportunity for us to potentially go back to back.
GARRETT BRUHN: It started last year after the season. Like Coach Bohl discussed, we talked about possibly going back to back, and we knew we had the talent to do it, but the thing is, like coaches, they talked to us about was there going to be a lack of motivation, would there be a dropoff from the year before. I mean, we had one week off and we were right back to work. Ever since then, we’ve got one close group of guys, and we haven’t let off the gas yet, so we’ve got one more game to finish out strong.
Q. Grant, this question is for you. You guys talk a lot about the opportunities that you’re fortunate enough to have each week and ultimately at the end of the season. Probably tough to put into words, but how would you describe this opportunity this weekend?
GRANT OLSON: Well, I think it’s a very rare opportunity, first off. There’s not too many times you get to come and play in a National Championship. So I know as a team we’re very thankful for that.
I think it goes to show that hard work does, in fact, pay off, and doing it the right way matters, and I think as a team, coaches, players, everybody involved, we’re very proud of how we’ve gotten here, not just the fact that we did get here but how we did it. I think we did it the right way with a great group of men, and I’m very proud to be one of them.
Q. This is for Joe and Coach Bohl. I just wanted to ask you guys, the holdovers from the class of 2008, Joe, you’re one of the few of them, to reflect on coming all the way from there to here, and also Coach Bohl, your thoughts on just the holdovers from 2008 that are still here.
CRAIG BOHL: I might talk about it first. Well, we appreciate the dedication of that crew, and certainly an interesting class and guys who stayed determined. We have painted on the doors before we go out that those who stay will be champions, and Joe and the other seniors who made that decision, and it’s a tough road to hoe sometimes, but they’ve chosen to stay, and they’ve won one championship, we’re working on our second. So appreciate their dedication to the program. Joe?
JOE LUND: Me, Ricky and Ty I think are the last ones left, Ricky Hagen and Ty Beckius. It’s been tough, but things have just come up along the road, for instance, life, change, team change. Things differ from person to person, whether it’s academic or it’s related off the field. Things happen for a reason, and we’re still here and we’re still a team.
Q. Grant, what did you think of all the players after practice today?
GRANT OLSON: I don’t know, I think I can speak for everybody and say it was really cool to see everybody out there like Coach Bohl already talked about with Dr. Isrow. Just the whole once a Bison always a Bison. It’s not somewhere you come and play four or five years and then you leave and you never go back. It’s a family, and once you’re a part of it, you’re always a part of it. I’m pretty sure everybody up here can say we’re very honored and blessed and privileged to be a part of it.
Q. Garrett, for you, can you talk about how gratifying it is after everything you’ve gone through this year to get back and be able to play in this game when I think on this side of things a lot of people might have counted you out or thought you might not get all the way back, and here you are?
GARRETT BRUHN: Well, it started real early this fall – not this fall, this summer, excuse me. It’s been a long road, and to be back here with my teammates, I couldn’t ask for anything more. For a senior season, a lot of guys want to go out and have their best years, do this, do that, maybe get an extra award at the end of the year, but for me this whole season has been about getting back on the field, and throughout the playoffs, there wasn’t a better time to come back, and I’m glad my teammates have had my back the whole way through, and I’m glad to be here.
Q. Marcus, when you remember this night last year, what was going through your mind, and do you think that’ll be any different this year?
MARCUS WILLIAMS: No, not exactly, but last year this night you really didn’t know what to expect because it’s my first National Championship game going in. I tried to stay just as calm as I can because a lot of things are going through your mind like don’t mess up on this play, don’t go back on that play, make sure you have your fits right and everything. Tonight we’re going to watch film, and I’m just going to kind of relax my mind and just get ready for the game as good as I can.
Q. This question is for Marcus: Have you heard anything about the Sam Houston offense, expanding its offense pass offense due to what you were able to do to them in the National Championship game last year, and if so, how much are you looking forward to possibly getting a chance to defend against an improved passing game?
MARCUS WILLIAMS: I really didn’t hear much about what they’ve changed, but I know their quarterback, No. 11, has improved a lot since last year in the passing game. It’s always a challenge every week. I mean, I pride myself on guarding the best receivers, and I’m going to guard No. 18, No. 6 and those guys. It’s going to be a fun deal come tomorrow, and I’m ready for it, can’t wait.
Q. This question is for Grant and Joe: With all the injuries that your teams that had to deal with this season, all the distractions and other things going on, I know this was the goal, but was there any point during the season where you looked up and thought you won’t be able to get here?
GRANT OLSON: Well, I don’t think that we were necessarily looking at, okay, can we still win the national title or not. I think we tried to take it as a week-by-week mentality, and I know that started with Coach Bohl and the leadership that he set forth, and I think these other captains here, Garrett and Joe and Marcus and the other guys on the team, did a phenomenal job of truly believing in that and working with that mentality.
JOE LUND: For me, Coach Fuchs every week started off the week, this would be our best opponent, whoever we’d play. We’d always get the best shot from conference people, South Dakota State, Illinois State, Southern Illinois. They’re going to give us everything. So he always reiterated the next biggest game is the next game. We don’t really look past anybody; why would we? We’ve only got one guaranteed game, and that’s tomorrow.
THE MODERATOR: Willie, why don’t you give us an overview first and then we’ll open it up for questions.
WILLIE FRITZ: We’re very excited about being here in Frisco. They really roll out the red carpet when you come to this event. Everyone does a fantastic job, Southland Conference hosting the event, as well, does a great job.
It’s a lot different road to get here this season than it was last year. We started the season off 1 and 2, and we really kind of had our backs against the wall. But our guys did a good job of focusing on each and every game, the task at hand and getting better and better throughout the season. So we’re just elated to be back here at the National Championship and very excited about competing against North Dakota State tomorrow.
Q. This is actually for the players. Darnell, if you wanted to answer, what is like for you guys to come in and to establish what you guys have established at Sam Houston and be a part of the most successful part of Sam Houston’s football history?
DARNELL TAYLOR: It’s been fun. I know when Coach Fritz came in, I think the season before, we were 5 and 6 or something like that, and he’s done a great job. He’s changed it around. It’s been fun. He’s a great coach, and I feel like this happened all because of him. He’s been good.
Q. I just was looking at your schedule, and Coach Fritz as you mentioned started off 1 and 2. I know the record may look a little bit different, but certainly you’re battle tested playing some of the teams you’ve played, in particular Baylor and Texas A & M, ironically who are playing tonight about 25 miles south. Can you talk about how maybe that prepared you for this playoff run and this game in particular? This is for the players and coach both.
RILEY SMITH: Yeah, Coach Fritz always tells us when we go on the road it’s kind of us against the world. It kind of brings us closer together as a team because you’re all staying in the same hotel, you have your meals together, you’re in your meetings together, in your rooms with your buddies, teammates, so it’s fun. You’ve got your backs against the wall, and we definitely are battle tested from Arkansas to Washington to Montana to just right down the road in College Station. It’s been a heck of a year; tough, but I think it’s definitely prepared us for what we have coming tomorrow.
CHRIS ROGERS: It’s been a great season so far, Texas A & M was one, 87,000 people there, can’t get much louder than that, can’t get much more hostile than that. Pretty much all of it along the way, playing in Arkansas on the purple and silver field on a 100-degree day, and all of it has been very beneficial for us to get to this point.
DARNELL TAYLOR: Yeah, I think they pretty much said it all. Like they said, we are a tested team. I think this is going to be our 10th game on the road, so I feel like this is going to help us just because we have played so many games on the road.
DARIUS TAYLOR: Yeah, like they said, this being our 10th game on the road and us winning and being able to produce on the road I think shows that we as seniors need to take over and kind of lead the young guys being on the road, being their first time, but I think it’s going to play a big role in tomorrow’s game. We’re used to being on the road, and I’m just ready for tomorrow’s game.
WILLIE FRITZ: Well, yeah, I do believe we’re battle tested, had a very tough schedule, and we knew that going into the year. I’m not into excuses and those kind of different things, and the players aren’t, either, this team. The guys just did a tremendous job delivering and playing hard each and every week. The credit goes to the players and the coaches and the great preparation that they did each and every week. It’s hard to do week after week after week after week. Sooner or later somebody bends or just doesn’t give it their best that upcoming week, but our guys really did a good job of stepping up to the challenge.
Q. Darius, can you just talk about finally getting this last practice behind you here in a little bit and being back here, another chance to play for a National Championship?
DARIUS TAYLOR: It feels good. You know, to go out our senior year, us and my teammates, and to be able to get back for the second time is something special. We’re just taking it one day at a time, this last practice, it’ll be a lot mental, but we’re just going to enjoy soaking it all in, and we’ve just been preparing for the game tomorrow.
Q. (No microphone.)
WILLIE FRITZ: He’s the all-time leading interceptor in school history, really a great ball hawk. They put a lot of pressure on our secondary, play a lot of man-to-man coverage, plus (inaudible) our safeties and our corners. The backs definitely had a great season, great career.
Q. This is a two-part question. Could you speak about the legacy of your senior class, and then maybe a player or two, just talk about being here the second time and the difference between getting a National Championship title once as opposed to being there twice?
WILLIE FRITZ: Well, I really think these seniors, they’ve won a lot of ballgames. A lot of these guys have been three- and four-year starters at Sam Houston. Very talented group, a bunch of really good students in that group, a bunch of guys who really evolved with the University. I’ve said this before, I think there’s a big difference between FBS and FCS is the accessibility of our student athletes, with the community and with the University, and these guys are darned near all, not just two, three, four guys, but the majority of our team probably know their classmates better than most college athletes know their classmates, so they’ve been very easy to work with, and I really think do things right on and off the football field. I’m very demanding as far as what they accomplish in the classroom and how I want them to behave off the field and then also how we practice. I’m very consistent in making sure they do those things right day in and day out. We’ve had very, very few problems with these guys. That’s a credit, I think, to the senior leadership and that these guys can provide it for us.
CHRIS ROGERS: I would just say that this is a special opportunity, especially to get the same team twice. That doesn’t happen very often. A lot of us are very lucky to be in the situation that we’re in. We’ll never get a chance to put pads on again after this day, so we’re going to leave it all out there and see what happens.
Q. I’ll ask you, Riley, can you just talk a little bit about what it was like to play in this thing last year, what you learned from that ballgame that you can carry into this ballgame on Saturday?
RILEY SMITH: Yeah, it’s been almost an entire year. I know myself, I struggled a little bit last year in the game. I had injuries, and I know I’ve gotten better as a player, but I think we also have gotten better as a team. We learned that we need to be able to be more than just a run offense, and I think we’ve bettered ourselves in the passing game. The new offense that we’re running, no huddle, it’s been a huge change, but then again, it’s not really that different because a lot of our offense is the same, we just pass the ball a little bit more, which as an offensive lineman I know it’s a little more fun to pass block than it is to run block. But it’s been a heck of an experience, and like Chris said, it’s been a wonderful opportunity. We get to do what everybody is calling a rematch with the same team, and I think we’re a lot better team than we were last year. We know what we have to work on and we’ve done that, and like one of the questions earlier, we’ve been battle tested with our new offense, and we’re excited to see how it turns out tomorrow.
Q. Can you talk about the differences between this year and last year between both Sam Houston State and North Dakota State and also what is it that your team has to do to be successful tomorrow?
WILLIE FRITZ: Well, offensively throwing the ball better. Last year I was on the sidelines trying to keep (inaudible) game. I knew then that we had to improve that area of our offense, and we had to be able to throw the ball when everybody knew we were going to throw the ball. So we really made a conscious effort to work on that in the off-season, hired a coordinator, and we blended what we did well with the option attack and the run game, the play action pass, which are some of the things he does very well. Doug Ruse, our offensive coordinator, he does an excellent job, and also, we took a chance, I’ve never been a no-huddle team before. I’ve used it in a game but I’ve never done it for the whole game before. He convinced me that would be something that would help us.
Early in the season I wasn’t quite sure about it after the first few ballgames, but we stuck with it, and I think it’s been great for us. Got a lot of veteran players that are back. They by and large have a lot of similarities between what we are doing this year and what North Dakota State did last year, but I think in games, championship games, it’s going to be very important to start fast. It’s going to be important to – turnover and takeaway is always very, very critical.
Our motto this season is finish. I believe it’s going to come down to the fourth quarter. Whoever plays better in the fourth quarter is going to win the National Championship.
Q. This is for everybody who can answer it. What is the toughest part about getting back here?
DARIUS TAYLOR: Well, playing on the road. Last year we came in 14 and 0, being able to play all our games at home. And this year being on the road in the cold, not really being used to it.
DARNELL TAYLOR: I would say the pressure. I feel like this year people, they knew we had a good thing, so it was like, we had to win. I feel like this year it was more pressure on us as a team because we knew we had (inaudible).
RILEY SMITH: Kind of like what Darnell said. We’re not sneaking up on anybody anymore. We’re not just that lonely team out in the wind. But like he said, it’s all about being the hunted or being the hunter, and we’re better as hunters, and tomorrow we need to be hunters.
CHRIS ROGERS: Coach Fritz told us at the beginning of the season that now that we have been recognized and played in the National Championship game, there’s a target on our back. I think like what everybody else said, we’ve had to kind of dig deep and prepare ourselves for the tough year ahead. We knew we had a tough schedule and we also struggled with some injuries, but everybody is pretty tough on the team. Coach Fritz said he likes tough guys and that’s what he’s got playing for him. We’re all pretty pumped up and ready to roll.
WILLIE FRITZ: Like these guys said, staying after this week after week, had high expectations coming into the season, and our guys have done a good job of kind of putting that on the back burner and focusing on the task at hand each and every week. We don’t look back too often at past successes and failures. If you do you’re going to be unsuccessful. We really worry about just getting ready to play that upcoming week. As soon as we get done with the game, we review the videotape, flush that down the toilet, we’re on to the next one.
Q. As you look back at last year’s game, it was just a couple of big plays that really made the difference, the interception return and the screen pass. Do you take confidence knowing that there were just one or two big plays that could have won the game?
WILLIE FRITZ: Well, you kind of have to be very disciplined and sound in what you’re doing with the offense, the kicking game. We’ve got a lot of respect for North Dakota State. We’re going to run a lot of the same things we’ve been running all year and they’re going to do the same things they’ve done. There’s going to be a wrinkle here or there or a trick play here or there, but for the most part I think both teams have a pretty good idea about what to expect.
Q. Chris, what will you do tonight, just kind of relax, think? What will you do this evening to get ready for this game? Do you get away from it or do you really get into it more?
CHRIS ROGERS: I guess that everybody does it their own way, prepares for a game a little bit differently. But we’re about to go to a walk through here in a couple hours and eat dinner. We’ve got a team meeting tonight, same schedule as we always have, just go to sleep with a smile on your face, wake up and (inaudible).
Q. I have a question for Darius and Darnell. Darius, can you talk about stopping the run, what the defense has been doing strong all year against a team like this, 1st down, time of possession going to be crucial? And question for Darnell, if you can talk about the amount of turnovers you guys have been able to produce in the playoffs.
DARIUS TAYLOR: We’ve got to get sound. We’ve got to look after our responsibilities, and they’ve got to count on you to do that. We’ve got to get sound and everybody do their job, and if you do that, everything takes care of itself.
DARNELL TAYLOR: As far as takeaways, I feel like that’s something that coach preached. He preached that every day. I feel like our team now is a team that we feel like we know if we need to stop, we can do that.
Q. The health of the team, is there anyone coming back that may not have played in the semifinals or in a playoff game? What’s your injury report?
WILLIE FRITZ: We’re in pretty good shape right now. The time off was good for guys that were beat up a little bit. I was a little worried about our offensive line after the eastern Washington game. At this point in the season we’re in pretty good shape.
By NCAA COMMUNICATIONS