COLLEGE STATION - Coach Sumlin and members of the Texas A&M football team & staff met with the media on Tuesday in the Bright Complex to talk about this week's season opener against Rice.
Audio in mp3 format and selected quotes are available below.
Download audio of Tuesday's press conference here:
- Kevin Sumlin (mp3)
- Mark Snyder (mp3)
- Clarence McKinney (mp3)
- Toney Hurd Jr. (mp3)
- Ben Malena (mp3)
- Mike Matthews (mp3)
- Julien Obioha (mp3)
Texas A&M Football Weekly Press Conference
HEAD COACH KEVIN SUMLIN
"Good afternoon. Just like everyone else in the country, we're excited. Our kids are excited. Our fans are excited. Everyone's excited. This is a time of year where guys work extremely hard especially down here in this part of the country. It's a time for this team to come together. Coach Jackson did an excellent job with this team during the summer. He handed us a group of guys who are in great physical condition. He really developed some mental toughness for this team. That's important going into this year. We've got 31 newcomers on this roster which means more than a third of our football team is brand new. What Coach Jackson did for us during the summer is going to be critical success because a bunch of those guys are going to play critical minutes for us. Fans need to buy a program or get a flip card because there's going to be a bunch of new numbers and faces out there on the field. We didn't bring these guys here to stand next to me. Rice is a football team that returns 19 fifth-year seniors, 23 seniors total. They have all five starting linemen back. Taylor McHargue is their fifth year quarterback. They've got a lot of guys back on defense. I know they've had a few injuries, but they started with nine of 11 starters returning. They're a veteran football team. Coach Bailiff has an extremely prideful team and a proud program. They've won five in a row coming off last season with a bowl win. They're going to be a challenge as one of the better teams in Conference USA. They'll come in here ready to go. They're really just the opposite of our team. They have all the pieces in place. We're still trying to find out who we are with some of these young guys in positions. We have a very talented group of young guys.We're going to have more answers about our team after the game on Saturday night."
On the backup quarterback job
"If you go back through all of camp, you have Matt Joeckel who's taken 11 snaps in his career, Kenny Hill just got here and Matt Davis decided to leave. A decision had to be made. We couldn't give all those guys reps. That is still an ongoing competition in my mind. How we've done in the past, I think we've been successful training quarterbacks. Anyone who's been around has seen players take snaps and get reps with the first team to build camaraderie with that unit if something happened. I've been pleased with all the guys taking snaps this camp. The key to it has been the new guys on the perimeter. Our offensive line gives us an opportunity to rotate those guys and let them be comfortable."
On the game of football
"Football is the ultimate team sport. There's 11 guys on the field at one time. In every play, at least in our playbook, there's an arrow designed for someone to score, not just get one or two yards. If one of those guys doesn't do his job, you're probably not going to be successful. You have to balance that. There's nothing more important than the team. What we expect on the field. What we expect from them effort wise and being able to trust each other a lot of that never gets out. Just like a family, a lot of things that are said in this room don't get out like it would be in your own house. That gives us the opportunity to trust each other. It lets us maximize our team’s ability on the field because they know we don't have a hidden agenda. We don't play mind games with players. If you demonstrate the ability to perform at a high level and we can trust you on the field to do the things that you need to do, you're going to play. Whether you've been here five years or if you're a true freshman. That elimates a lot of bickering and things that happen in the locker room. The individual at that point understands what is important is his value to the team."
On the strength and conditioning program
"Everyone thought I was joking about the difference in our strength and conditioning program last year. You've got to have some luck, but you have to have a plan in place to build that physical toughness and endurance in the style that we play. After looking back on last year, that was critical considering how little depth we had. We wouldn't have 32 open roster spots at the end of the season if we had that kind of depth. I'm a firm believer that physical toughness and physical endurance also leads to mental toughness. It has a huge effect on our program and we're able to do some things during fall camp where we're in the teaching process and the getting better process rather than getting in shape. There's no question that Larry Jackson and his staff give us the ability to do that."
On the offensive line talent
"I hope that remains the case, forever. If we can do that across the board, then we're really heading somewhere. There's three parts to this: the recruiting phase which Coach Sherman did a great job of evaluating offensive line talent; the second phase to me is the developmental phase, which in this case with the offensive line gets back to strength and conditioning: What is your goal in your strength and conditioning program? The third thing is coaching. Being able to put the players in a position to be successful. Having a coach like BJ Anderson that can give them the technique to continue to get better. All three of those things work hand-in-hand and if you can do that, it gives you a real chance to be successful in any program."
On Ben Malena
"Ben has been a guy that has been a leader for us, even before this season. Last year he was on all the special teams. He's been a leader by example up until this offseason. We've had some discussions and talks about him becoming a vocal leader. He's already led the team by example, now he's a guy that people will follow based on what he's done on the field. We're just the opposite of Rice; we don't have a lot of seniors, but we do have some really talented young players. Leadership starts with the coaches, but real leadership starts in the locker room. That's where guys like Ben and Mike Evans to tell them 'here's how we win games; not just how we play the game.' That becomes very important."
On the increased exposure of Texas A&M
"The increase in attention, in many ways it's been great. I'm very fortunate to be the head football coach at Texas A&M and all the things that go along with that. I realize where we are, playing in the SEC brings out a lot of enthusiasm from our fan-base and everyone across the country. We've worked very hard over the last 18 months to try and make this program be relevant and playing relevant and meaningful games on the big stage. All that comes along with it. It's something that you want as a coach. Our focus right now is getting our team ready to play Rice. Our approach this year, and it might sound like coach-speak, but our goal is try to be 1-0 this week. Next week, we'll reset that and we'll try and be 1-0 next week. Our guys understand how we prepare and how we do things. Guys have to be prepared whether they are starting or not. We depend on each other for that. We've had to manage the excitement from the beginning. I'm very pleased with how our players and coaches are handling it. We're looking forward to getting the season underway on Saturday at noon."
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR MARK SNYDER
On freshman class
"At this point, I'm a lot more comfortable, at least until we know what we have with that first group going in to the ballgames. The unknown for us is all the rookies that might be playing. It’s a little bit like Julien last year. We didn’t know what we’d get out of him until the Florida game. It will be interesting to see when they get their feet wet, how they respond to the big stage with the lights on.
On new linebackers
"I like all three of them. Tommy Sanders can really run. I’m so pleased with Jordan Mastrogiovanni and Darian Claiborne is just a football player. Football makes sense to him. To be so young, he knows football and he understands what we do, which is quite a bit on defense. The same thing applies with Jordan. I've been pleased with all three of those guys."
On Clay Honeycutt
"We'll rotate several corners with Deshazor being out. I've been pleasantly surprised with Clay Honeycutt. To me, he is our “Howard Matthews” story. Sitting here at this time last year, Howard wasn’t much in our thoughts. He has come along and been a leader. He really played well under stress and he continued that through spring ball and two-a-days. I see Clay doing the exact same thing. He’s going to play very well for us and he deserves it. He's shown the staff, almost every day, flashes of things we haven't seen from him before. It’s part of the maturation process. That was a very pleasant surprise and we are counting on Clay a lot this fall.”
"This Rice team is a very veteran team. They have nine returning starters, two very good wide-outs, two very good runningbacks, two capable quarterbacks and an offensive line that does what Coach Bailiff wants them to do. They run what they run. Their center does a great job of identifying things. We will have our hands full but it is going to be fun. You get what your work has deserved and I think the guys have worked really hard. It is coming together for them now, to see them move it from the practice field to Kyle Field against an opponent. It’s going to be fun but it can also be scary. Rice is a veteran offensive football team. These kids have been playing together for a while. Their entire arsenal is at full disposal in game one while we may have to tailor ours back a bit because of our youthfulness and inexperience. I think they will make more adjustments than we will. The challenge for our kids has been to play fast and run to the ball.”
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR CLARENCE MCKINNEY
On Trey Williams
"Trey's biggest improvement is his pass protection. That’s one of the things that held him back last year. When Trey has the ball in his hands he’s just as dynamic this year, if not more, than last year. His biggest improvement has been his ability to pick up blitzes and protect the quarterback."
On playing young receivers
"I’m not really sure but a guy like Ricky Seals-Jones we are expecting to play some. LaQuvionte has the chance to play a bit. I think he is going to be on some special teams as well. The other guys have been coming along. There’s a chance you will see all six of them this year."
On promotion to offensive coordinator
"I've called plays before. The good thing about my position is that we've got a lot of weapons. You put those guys on the field and you give the ball to your weapons. I think it makes it easier when you have those guys who can do things with the ball."
On veteran wide receivers
"We definitely feel like Derel Walker is a much better receiver this year than he was last year. He got here that first spring, had some injuries and didn’t quite perform on offense as we thought he would. He's been doing a tremendous job this offseason and fall camp. We are looking forward to having him out there running around, as well as Sabian Holmes. He was a backup last year and we're expecting big things from him. He has accepted a position vacated by Kenric McNeal and we are expecting good things from Sabian. Malcome Kennedy made some big plays and had some good catches. We feel like he has made great strides and become one of the leaders of that group. Mike Evans is a better receiver this year than he was last year.”
SENIOR DEFENSIVE BACK TONEY HURD JR.
On Clay Honeycutt
"Over last spring and this fall he has shown a lot of consistency. He has become one of the leaders for the secondary. He has continually been consistent with playmaking. The coaches have had a lot of confidence in him as of late.”
On leadership in the back-field
"I feel like in the back-end, Howard Mathews and I will have the younger guys ready. We have been practicing and preparing ourselves to make plays. We want to get off the field on third down and be a consistent group not only on the back-end but on defense as a whole.”
On the increase in attention
"I feel like the team has embraced all the media. The positive issues bring more attention to our program. As for the major stuff, the coaches and all the right people are handling it in the right way. We love the attention and we love being No. 6 in preseason polls but we are fighting to be No. 1 in the country.”
SOPHOMORE CENTER MIKE MATTHEWS
On playing as a freshman last year and learning from Patrick Lewis
"I benefitted a lot. I got to travel and got to learn from Patrick Lewis. I was able to get in some of those games. All in all it was a good deal. I got a taste of what the SEC was going to be like."
On playing in front of the 12th Man
"I'd say the first time it really stuck with me with how loud the 12th Man gets was when they were playing Texas and A&M scored a touchdown. It still gives me chills. It's probably the loudest it's been before. Right then I knew this was where I wanted to be."
On setting the tempo as the center
"Keeping the speed of the game up and being able to call targets on the offensive line. The coaches keep telling me 'you've got to go fast.' It's kind of hard keeping up with who needs to go where, but when you're going so fast, it almost makes it easier because the d-line gets tired a lot faster."
SOPHOMORE DEFENSIVE END JULIEN OBIOHA
"Coach Price has an ESPN article on the door of the defensive linemen room that ranks defensive line. Ours was picked as the worst defensive line in the SEC. It's a spark that makes us work harder every day. Coach Price has a saying 'great teams starts with defense and great defense starts up front.' It's a reminder every single day that we need to come out and work hard to help our team win a championship."
On learning from Damontre Moore
"Damontre was a great playmaker. He stressed to me that you need to make a play and not just do your job. That's the main thing I learned from Damontre. I need to be able to come through and change the game like him. He was always trying to make a play. That's a role that I tried to develop this offseason."
On defensive leadership
"We attacked this as a group. There's no prominent leader on defense right now. There are multiple leaders like the sophomores who got playing time last year or a senior. There's not one prominent leader like there was last year."
On the versatility of the defensive line
"The four freshmen are going to have a tremendous impact. They're going to bring different talents. We're going to have some tall, slender guys coming off the edge. We're going to have some huge guys in the middle like Kirby and Alonzo. They all bring different pieces to the table."
On the defensive line talent that came before him
"Before Damontre, there was Von Miller. Both those guys were All-Americans. I'm not trying to replace All-Americans, I'm just trying to help my team win football games. If I earn All-America status on the way that's great, but I just want to win."
On going against the first string in practice
"Johnny Manziel is a very hard guy to tackle. Even getting within five yards of him is difficult because of how good the O-line is. It's a great luxury knowing I get to go against Jake Matthews and Cedric Ogbuehi."
SENIOR RUNNING BACK BEN MALENA
On the chemistry of the offense:
"I would say it's better than ever. We had a huge head start from where we were last year. The team chemistry on the offensive side of the ball is great and it starts with Mike Matthews at the center position. The offensive line has great chemistry. Our quarterbacks and wide receivers have great chemistry. I think with what we have on offense this season, we'll be very fun to watch."
On the expectations of this team:
"It's a little different, but when you have a great program with a great team, you expect things like this. We welcome it a lot. We're going to be faced with a new challenge every week."
On Mike Matthews playing center:
"Playing center in this offense, you have to be extremely smart. He sets up the protection for the offensive line and sets the tempo for the team. Starting in the spring, Mike's taken steps day by day to get better."
On preparing for Rice:
"This year we're just focused on getting prepared for them. They're riding a five game win streak and they had a pretty good bowl win against Air Force last season. It's going to be a tough task for our team, but we're going to have to do what our coaches tell us to do."
On protecting the quarterback:
"In this offense and the quarterback we have, we have to be able to protect the passer. That's one of the things Coach McKinney really harps on us about. Anybody can run the ball, but doing things when you don't have the ball in your hands is really important. I think Trey Williams and all the other guys are doing a really nice job of picking up on the schemes and concepts."
On preseason expectations:
"From the energy that the 12th Man gives us and the energy the alumni has, we feel that this can be a very special season for us, but we know if we have to take things one game at a time. If we let up one week, the entire 'special-season' aspect goes out of the window.”
On striving to become a leader:
"That's one of my main focus this year: to be a leader on this team. In this conference, you need to have a solid leader to have success."