Kirk Ferentz News Conference Transcript | Sept. 12

KIRK FERENTZ: Good Afternoon. I want to start out by congratulating Sebastian Castro for his first pick and pick-six, being named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week. Certainly a great honor for him. A big play in the game. Real spark play for us.

Happy for him. He’s improved every time in the program. Did a nice job in the bowl game last year. Off to a great start this year. Great to see him in his senior year playing so well. I am happy for him, personally.

Certainly good to get the victory. It was hard-fought, like we expected. To bring the trophy back here and have it in our facility for a year is a great thing. Really pleased about that.

Also beyond that, our team made some strides. I saw some improvement in a lot of different areas. Always going into a tough environment, which we’ll have more of those to deal with during the year, come out with a victory, really happy. It was hard-fought. We certainly expected that. Pleased with that. Now we move on.

Before I get to Western Michigan, unfortunately we received some disappointing news, regarding Noah’s appeal to the NCAA. It was denied. That puts it to rest. I’m not quite sure what went into the decision, but what I can tell you is that Noah is a tremendous young man. He came back to his sixth year. A highly respected leader in our locker room and certainly with our coaching staff.

Our goal is to keep him with the program, keep him close, have him remain as a part of the team. Obviously he can’t play, but he’s run a heck of a race, and we are really disappointed with the whole thing.

He’s been honest throughout this whole process, very transparent. About as honest as you can be. I want to emphasize he did not break any laws. My wife made that point a couple weeks ago, just in emphasis. He is guilty of an NCAA violation. Very up front about that.

Basically I don’t agree or understand, quite frankly, the decision, especially when it comes to the severity of the punishment. To me, it’s really disappointing, especially considering our current environment right now, which believe me, the last couple months I’m a lot more in tune to that than previously.

Probably the most disappointing thing, the panel that heard the appeal had an opportunity to do something, make a decision that to me would reflect reason and also reflect the changing environment. They failed to do so. We’ll move on. Just disappointed on that front, certainly.

As we move on to Western Michigan this week. Our captains are the same four guys: Joe Evans, Jay Higgins, Luke Lachey and Cade McNamara.

Playing a 1-1 Western Michigan football team. They’ve had a good program quite some time. Made a coaching change this past offseason. They have a new head coach, who has an offensive background. Kind of interesting. They have a lot of new faces on the offensive staff. Defensively, they’ve retained the coordinator. Coach Esposito has been there quite some time. Basically it’s the same defensive staff, pretty much a new offensive staff. Then they brought a special teams team coach who was the (indiscernible) coach at Louisville last year. He’s running the special teams.

Basically in a nutshell, offensively it’s a little bit of a mix from what we’ve seen from the last two weeks. Some carryover in terms of preparation. Certainly, one of our goals is to try to get off the field a little bit quicker, if we can moving forward.

Then defensively, would describe as a very aggressive and multiple defense. Very active. We have our hands full there in terms of preparation.

It’s kind of interesting, they got hit by the transfer portal, lost some good football players in the portal. They’ve also brought some new guys in that added to the personality of their football team. Specifically they got a couple guys on defense that are big-time players doing a great job. We’re going to need to account for those guys if we plan to move the ball.

Moving forward, it’s very similar to every game week: we’re going to try to match up against the opponent. At least we have two games to work off of, helpful, to see this year’s team, get a little bit of a feel for what they do, just like they’re doing with us. Try to match up with what we’re getting ready for.

The other component is we’re trying to grow and improve as a football team. That’s all year long. Certainly in the early season it’s critical. In any football game, the mental approach you have to have right.

Got a little help from the media recently. I saw a headline about the two-week countdown to our first Big Ten game. It kind of reflects the world that our players are living in. It’s good for us as coaches to have that perspective. Just remind our guys that every game is important, every day is important. They all count the same. The bottom line is we have to worry about this week. I think our guys understand that.

Top that off a little bit. A lot of talk about 200 the last couple days. I could throw out a number, too, that would be two in losses to Western Michigan since I’ve been here. Kind of get a little perspective about what our chore is this week. That’s kind of that right now.

Our Kid Captain this week is Maggie Larson who is a young six-year-old from Urbandale. She’ll be with us. Has a genetic condition that they’re working on at the University Hospital. I haven’t looked at it yet, but her story is on the Children’s Hospital website. She’ll be here with her two brothers, mom and dad. Great to have her with us.

With that I’ll open it up to questions.

Q. When it comes to Noah, I think he was an NFL guy, could have gone to the NFL after last season. Not going to play this season. What would you tell an NFL team about him, maybe why they should take a chance on him or take him?

KIRK FERENTZ: I think they do their evaluations. The good news he has a lot of good film, played a lot of good football for us. As I just said, he’s a tremendous young man. He made a mistake, like a lot of guys do.

This is an interesting study on so many levels, but I’ve talked about that enough.

I was hoping the panel, the committee, whoever it is, it’s all faceless and nameless, whoever it was might be dig a little deeper and take a little bigger picture on this whole thing. It’s unfortunate.

Doesn’t change how I feel about Noah, the kind of person he is. There’s no law broken here. It’s a mistake I’m guessing a lot of athletes have made. He happened to, for whatever reason, turn up in this investigation. It’s unfortunate. I think it is a missed opportunity by the NCAA.

Q. Do you think they made an example of him?

KIRK FERENTZ: I can’t speak for that. I’ve learned a lot in the last three months. I’m telling you now that the season started, the NFL season started, I can’t get in the car without hearing whoever the companies are they have. Of course, if you have a gambling problem, call 1-800. It’s a different world we live in right now. We seem to be a little slow to react to it, ‘we’ being the governing body.

Q. What kind of role will he fill with the team this year?

KIRK FERENTZ: We’ll put him to work in a lot of ways. To have his experience, expertise with us on a daily basis, mentor some younger guys. Every year we have the young guys that are going through a really tough transition, just like he did six years ago. That could be invaluable.

We’ll keep him busy. I think it’s good for him to be busy. He didn’t have to come back for his sixth year. All are very appreciative. Joe, Nico chose to come back.

It is unfortunate, an unfortunate turn of events. We’ll put him to work, that’s for sure.

Q. What can you say about what his emotions are? How is he dealing with it?

KIRK FERENTZ: I think that’s probably the saddest part about this whole thing. As coaches and as parents, you deal with the humanistic part of things. You work with these guys as people. You see all the hardships that they go through, especially student-athletes. Nobody is complaining.

It’s not for everybody, what they have to do, whether it’s the football part of things, the academic, the character, all the stuff, the expectations they have.

When guys work hard, have an opportunity taken away from them, whether it’s an injury, or in this case maybe a severe, over-severe, penalty, it’s hard.

His parents have lived through this with him. Just as have his teammates and coaching staff. It’s too bad. ‘Devastating’ is a strong word, but it’s a real blow.

Q. One player you’re getting back this week, Jemari Harris. How did he stay involved the last couple weeks? What does he bring?

KIRK FERENTZ: We have a policy, if a guy has some kind of conduct issue, have a suspension, they go to the scout team. I kind of feel different about this whole topic, really been interesting.

But, yeah, he’s been active. He’s been great. He’s had a great camp. Basically he’s been with our team. Was with us Saturday. Just didn’t play the last two weeks.

He’s fully engaged, ready to roll. It will be good to get him back.

Q. What does he bring?

KIRK FERENTZ: Experience. He did a great job in tough circumstances two years ago. All of a sudden he was in there, maybe not necessarily ready. Stepped up and did a good job.

The fun part, talk about the human side of things, just to watch the growth we’ve seen with him over his career, it’s been unbelievable.

Two years ago, he developed into not only a good player, but a really strong leader on our team. He’s taken a lot of ownership. Talk about mentoring young guys, he’s been active helping younger guys try to get better.

Q. Deshaun Lee got experience —

KIRK FERENTZ: Good news there, kind of like Jemari’s situation a couple years ago. He earned his way to the field. We had an opening, he earned his way. Did a good job. He’s played well for two games now.

The good news for him is he’s gained a lot of confidence from his teammates and the coaching staff. We come into the season with depth at that position, the corner position being an area of interest for us. Now we have a lot more confidence in him, just like we did when Jemari stepped in and did the same thing.

Q. (Question about Jaziun Patterson)

KIRK FERENTZ: Jazz performed the way he’s practiced. He runs the same way. He’s blocked well in camp. That’s a big part of being a back, a running back. That keeps guys off the field sometimes. That was really impressive. He did a nice job. Again, we’re not surprised because we see him do it in practice.

It’s critical to any play’s success. If they bring somebody a back is responsible for, we’re going to throw the ball hot to the guy or he’s got to block the guy. It is good to see that.

Q. Maybe especially earlier last year, before he got into the bowl game, were there indications you saw him being able to do that?

KIRK FERENTZ: We get to watch guys improve during the course of a year and during practice. He’s done that. But he’s been pretty steady. That was the first live action we really saw him hit. It was down in the bowl game.

But since then he’s done a good job in the spring session, did a good job during camp. Hopefully he’s got a lot of good football in front of him right now.

Q. (Question about Jaziun Patterson)

KIRK FERENTZ: He’s interesting to that point. To me, he plays bigger than he is. Physically he’s a physical player, blocking and running. But I wouldn’t describe him as a big back, but he plays big, if that makes sense. Some big backs don’t play so big.

A good trait. He has a real hardness to him, whether it’s blocking, running, having the ability to make the yards you need. That’s a critical thing.

Q. And his character, how would you describe it?

KIRK FERENTZ: Really easy to get along with. I don’t know how to describe it other than he’s very pleasant. Just a good young guy. Comes from a big family. A young kid in a big family.

His dad’s a diver, fun trivia for me, which surprised me. Jazz doesn’t dive, as far as I know (smiling).

Q. Cade came in here and said it’s the best he felt in a month to practice. First time he had game week practice in a year. Does that open up the playbook more? How does that help your offense?

KIRK FERENTZ: Time will tell in terms of opening up the playbook. That’s encouraging. He said something to me Thursday, I bumped into him. He and Erick were actually leaving, they were watching film, they were leaving the building. He indicated that he was feeling like he was gaining ground at that point. That was encouraging.

We’re in a lot better position today than two weeks ago, which is encouraging, too. With injures, you never know how they’re going to go, everybody heals differently.

With all that being said, you have to keep your fingers crossed, hope he keeps climbing. The fact that he can practice now is huge because he’s missed a lot of time, and the timing component is so important. It’s important because it’s not like he’s played with our guys a lot. This was the first time he has done any team stuff was in August.

There’s a lot of work to do right now. That’s encouraging for me. I talk about the potential of our team. I think that’s a big part of it. If we can keep him out there, keep him practicing, common sense would say we’ll probably play better with him getting more work. If he’s more physically able to move around a little bit, that’s a good thing, too.

Q. How quickly do you think he can catch up?

KIRK FERENTZ: I don’t know if I can predict it. The good news is he’s played. It’s not like a guy who has never played. That’s a big difference sometimes.

When older guys get hurt, miss time for whatever reason, their road back is a little quicker, a little smoother because they have experience, as opposed to a guy who is just doing it for the first time. It’s a little different.

Q. With the offense, do you feel like it took another step?

KIRK FERENTZ: I do. I saw a lot of things that were more encouraging. We’re still not there yet. We’re a more mature group certainly than we’ve been the last two years overall.

Yeah, you have to keep going. Last week was a unique challenge, the kind of defense they play. I said a week ago at this time, they’ve done a great job since 2018 on defense. Saturday was no different. We expected that.

This is a different preparation. It has taken me a little while to make sense in my mind a little bit because of how multiple they are. They throw a lot of looks at you. So trying to make it make sense and make it make sense to our players, that’s a challenge. Then you got to go out and try to execute against it.

Q. The offense, it seems like you guys have started hot these last two games. Cooled off the start of the second half. How do you address that?

KIRK FERENTZ: I don’t know the answer. We haven’t started well either side of the ball second half. In the first game they just took it right down the field on us. Last week we were out.

I don’t know. We have to figure something out there.

Q. With Noah for sure out for the rest of the year, what do you see from Yahya and Aaron filling in in that spot?

KIRK FERENTZ: I guess the good news is Yahya missed spring, but he looked good in August. He’s playing his best football right now, which is what you expect. He has been here a while. He’s continuing to do a good job.

I thought Pittman was one of our most improved guys last spring. He has been a good guy all the way. Last spring looked like he gained a little bit of traction as a player. That continued throughout August. Building that base, learning how to play a little bit.

I think we’re in a decent situation with four guys there. You want to rotate, so hopefully everybody will just keep working and improving.

Q. Nick DeJong said your teams tend to get better toward the back halftime of the season on the offensive line. How important is it to get things going this week?

KIRK FERENTZ: Every week’s important for us. For the whole team really. I think it’s a fair statement by Nick. Our best teams have gotten better progressively during the season. Our not-so-best teams maybe haven’t done as good a job of that. That’s really the challenge.

As I said earlier, it’s a twofold thing: you’re trying to match up for what you think your opponent is going to do, how they might approach you, the other part is what can you do yourself to make yourself better.

A lot of that’s experience. But experience isn’t any good unless you put it to use. That’s the key. It’s a mental process there.

Q. How important was it to hit the 100-yard mark against a really good defense? To get to that mark and look successful, is that an important part for this offense to have success, feel good about itself?

KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, it is. Connor, we talked about it after the game. The trap block he had on the counter play. It’s just part of the process, maturity. He’s a much better player today than he was two years ago. But he was playing two years ago probably before he was ready, as part of our circumstance.

I think that’s what we’re seeing with the whole group really overall, at least the guys that have been here. They’re more mature now, practicing better, seeing some success out there on the field. I think if we keep our foot on the gas, hopefully we’ll see it in a bigger scale.

Q. DeJong has been the one from the 2019 offensive line recruiting class who has shined. What was it he was able to do from walk-on to being reliable?

KIRK FERENTZ: Run the race. I told him I think three years ago now coming off the field one day on the far end of the indoor, I thought I saw something. I’m not sure he saw it. Again, it’s a process guys have to go through. That doesn’t always come to reality for everybody. At some point I think he figured out maybe he can do this, and do it successfully, with his skill set.

There’s something about him. He just kind of stood out early. It was just a matter of him working through it, finding his path there. He’s dealt with a lot of injuries, too, like a lot of guys. But last thing was the first time he ran the whole race 15 days every practice, really you could see the confidence growing. He was more consistent with his techniques. You could just see it growing.

Again, I wish we could get there faster. I don’t know a way to do that other than it’s hard work, dedication, a guy sticking with it. He’s certainly done that. Credit goes to him on that. I think he’s starting to maybe enjoy the game a little bit more because it’s more fun when you’re a good player.

Q. You mentioned Beau Stephens might be back this week. Will he back this week in the rotation?

KIRK FERENTZ: Not in the rotation. Well, he might be in the rotation right now. We’ll see. He’s just kind of getting back. He missed a significant time. He was on the field the last two days, getting him in there working. I don’t know if it will be this week, next week. He’s hopefully going to be able to stay healthy and get back into the picture here a little bit.

Q. Daijon Parker, still not there yet?

KIRK FERENTZ: He’s missed a huge amount of time. It’s unfortunate.

Q. When Kaleb Brown announced his commitment to you guys, there was a lot of excitement. He’s been in the wide receiver rotation. The wide receivers got off to a slower start with Iowa State. How would you assess the wide receiver room and Kaleb?

KIRK FERENTZ: I like what I see with the room. Again, Nico and Diante, our most experienced guys, are both practicing well. Seth made a great catch, to me a huge play. Those are the kind of plays you have to make if we’re going to have an offensive team. For a first down right in front of our bench.

It’s not always going to be the wild plays. You got to make some routine plays, maybe a little bit beyond routine.

I really think Seth and Kaleb are similar. They’re both guys, we didn’t see anything of them in the spring. One wasn’t here and the other was hurt. Both of them have done a nice job since August.

Probably the only difference is Seth played a little bit more receiver, whereas this is new for Kaleb. Great guy, great attitude. He has a good ability.

I think if everybody is just patient, lets this thing go as it goes, all four of them I see being active in the rotation.

Q. Pass-rush, only one sack so far. Is that a function of what you’re facing versus production?

KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, a little bit of each I think. Little bit of each. How we’re playing defense, too, sometimes we’re more geared to stop the run at least or play both run and pass as opposed to just taking off, going after the guy. Third-and-long obviously you’re chasing.

Sometimes the ball comes out. There are different factors that go into it. I’m not worried about it. The guys are working hard. We have guys that can get there.

Q. Talk about Sebastian Castro during his time as a practice team player?

KIRK FERENTZ: He was a missile out there. He went hard, fast. I shouldn’t talk about basketball, I know nothing about it, other than like what you hear. The analogy I can give you. A remember a guy named Dee Rowe, legendary coach at UConn. UConn was good in basketball, even when I was in school.

A couple things he would talk about. This whole diet stuff. He said the best athletes are playing on the playground in New York City, D.C., and what are they doing when they get hungry? They go to 7-Eleven, grab a dog, a couple Cokes, back to the courts and play all day. We’re worried about where our pregame is going to be for our team. Thought that was a pretty good point.

Sometimes I guess guys can play freelance, but maybe when they get into a system that’s a little bit different… I think that’s a challenge defensively.

Sebastian, you can go there’s no repercussions for making a mistake. Then you get into a system where you have reactions and different responsibilities. Bob Sanders went through the same thing. Bob is an awesome special teams guy, but had to learn within the offense. Obviously he did, did a good job. It happens for different guys at different stages.

Sebastian has it figured out. I thought he did a really nice job for us last year. I am excited to watch him play all season long. He’s an aggressive guy, totally committed, 100% onboard. He’s an aggressive, tough guy.

Q. Have you seen him work through those growing pains?

KIRK FERENTZ: It’s part of the process. Again, some guys make the transition really quickly, then other guys it takes a little bit longer.

The credit goes for a guy sticking it out and keep banging away. That’s a fun part about Saturday. You think about all the time he was on the scout team or the times he was playing special teams, not really out there defensively for us. Now for him, I don’t want to call it a bonus or reward, but it’s a nice play. I never scored a touchdown, I know that. Pretty cool for a defensive guy to score a touchdown.

Q. About Sebastian, you said you thought he wouldn’t have made that play last year. Is that a by-product of him finding his spot?

KIRK FERENTZ: It’s finding the spot, but also the reaction time. That ball came out, boom, he was on it. That’s experience. You can’t hand that play to a player. That’s a result of his hard work over several years, not just a couple weeks.

Q. I’m sure when Nick Jackson came here, he thought he was going to be playing down the line football. Last two weeks he’s been playing as a safety. What has been your assessment of him?

KIRK FERENTZ: Sounds like our team. Yes and no. He’s different in that he’s a veteran player. He’s played a lot of football, a lot of really good football. It’s a totally different scheme that he was in.

This has been a transition for him. He’d probably be the first to tell you. A lot of language things that he has to learn. It’s like switching any team. He’s had to go through that.

Again, to the point about an older guy. I think the transition is a lot easier. Highly intelligent player. Just really 100% invested, too. I thought he’s a perfect fit in the recruitment process. Then once he’s been here, he’s been great. He’s just a fantastic young man.

He’s going to see it all before the end of the season. He’ll see all kinds of offenses. But I’m really confident with each week he’ll keep growing, too, like a lot of other guys on our team. That’s the part that gets you excited because it’s just common sense with each rep, practice, everything he’s doing right now, it’s really going to add to a successful year for him.

Q. Is he the type of player where you recruit him in the transfer portal, he’s older, he knows what he wants, you just basically here is the game plan? Does it make it almost easier?

KIRK FERENTZ: I don’t mean this in a negative way. The difference between talking to a guy in 10th grade currently, the talking to a guy with a commerce degree from Virginia, it’s such a different discussion.

The thing we enjoyed about our recruitment of him, he specifically knew what he was looking for. He had a couple schools targeted. We had a need, not only graduating two guys in the box with Benson and Campbell, that were really good players, what we were looking at is I was really concerned about the leadership void. You lose two guys of that magnitude.

All of us thought great about Jay Higgins, about his growth. Felt really good about that. The chance to bring another guy in, a captain, really mature, understands what it takes to be successful. You lose two guys like we just lost, then Jay coming up. Homegrown. Then you have a guy, he last two years, he’s that kind of guy. It was so seamless.

So not only are you getting a guy who has production as a football player, but you have that leadership, too. I look at last year, you lose those two guys, you lose Moss, Merriweather the back end, four guys that have a lot of leadership in the bank. I think it was a big part of it, just addressing that part. Not only get good players, but guys that could help fill that void a little bit.

Q. Do you remember when you talked to Logan Jones about making the move to the offensive line?

KIRK FERENTZ: In retrospect, I wish I had done it earlier. I wish I had that thought probably in December, just to give him another couple weeks of practice at it.

He was receptive about it. He’s first class in every way. He’s done amazingly well, transition to a new spot. You’d never know right now the shortness of duration, how long he’s been doing it ’cause he makes it look pretty easy.

He’s still got a lot of room for improvement. That will come with that maturity. Every rep is going to help him because he does it the right way, works hard. He’s so invested, conscientious. He’s a strong leader, too, a very strong leader. Not overly vocal, but just through who he is and how he is, how he does things, really powerful. If you’re going to have a good football team, you have to have guys like that in the center of things, linebacker, up the middle, center, quarterback, and safeties obviously. That’s a big part of being a successful team and we’re really thrilled he’s playing there, doing a great job.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

Q. You mentioned on Saturday that Nwankpa and Williams both had heat related things that sort of took them out of the game. Are they both better?

KIRK FERENTZ: They’re fine. Big point of emphasis afterwards, if you play a game like that, it starts right away. You have to get on top of it. It sounds like it’s going to be decent this week, but there’s no guarantee there. That’s a day-to-day thing. We started talking about that actually back in May. It’s just something guys have to be cognitive of.

Q. Donald Trump is going to be at the game on Saturday. I just got the e-mail for it.

KIRK FERENTZ: There will be about 60,000 other people too, so that’s great.

Q. Is that random?

KIRK FERENTZ: I think he was there during the longest game, the longest yard, the longest day, whatever the movie was. Those are both movies, I think. I think he was there then, too. A lot of people came and went after that one. It’s election year in Iowa.

Q. Outside of that, have you ever played in front of any current or former presidents?

KIRK FERENTZ: I have no idea.

Q. Cade McNamara — what’s the workload been like this week? Is it full go? Did you try to manage it?

KIRK FERENTZ: He has an injury, so we’re managing it all season long. That’s my guess, or at least until it heals. We’ll manage it and try to be smart about it.

Q. How has he been looking so far?

KIRK FERENTZ: He’s looking okay. He’s sore, I can tell you that. Predictably, he’s sore.

Q. What about backup quarterback? We saw Deacon out there. Is Joe maybe ascending? Is there a competition there at number 2?

KIRK FERENTZ: Deacon benefited from Cade being out, and Cade was out like all of two weeks. That gave Deacon a chance to get a lot of quality work, like Joe did in December. Unfortunately Joe was out, and now Joe is back. Both of them are moving forward. If one of them is in the game, we’ll be ready to roll.

We’re practicing with those guys right now, and hopefully they’ll both be amply prepared.

Q. A number of your players volunteered at an animal shelter not too far away. How much do you preach the importance of volunteer work in your program?

KIRK FERENTZ: It’s part of our curriculum, if you will. We try to encourage that. They actually made the newsletter. I can’t remember now, but I took it into a team meeting back in August. It was pretty impressive actually how many guys got involved. I think it’s a half hour, 45-minute drive from here.

For college guys to do something like that, it’s just something we’ve tried to encourage, I guess, maybe dictate a little bit from January to August. I think two things, the benefit of doing something for somebody else is always a good thing. Typically you learn more than the person who’s benefiting from it does. The other thing, I always like to remind our guys that we all choose to do this, which is a great choice, but also we’re able to do this and not everybody is so lucky.

It’s a little bit different when we’re talking about animals, but with people that aren’t as fortunate, we’re a pretty fortunate population to be able to play here, coach, be part of something like college football. It’s a pretty good deal.

Q. Quarterback sneak has been a huge play for you guys the last three or four years, I mean really big. Is it off the table?

KIRK FERENTZ: I don’t think I’m sharing too much about our playbook. I guess anybody who saw it Saturday, we probably would have done it on fourth and one and quick gone out there and snapped the ball, but yeah, it’s really not on the menu right now.

You’re benefiting from experience, but you’re not benefiting from that play for sure. We’re not going to have him bootleg and the Chuck Long play from 85, probably won’t pull that one.

Q. Maybe replace the QB sneak then?

KIRK FERENTZ: We’ll have to take that one to the drawing board. I’m not sure about that one. We’ll see.

Q. Have you and Matt Campbell talked at all this summer about your frustrations with the gambling investigation?

KIRK FERENTZ: No. I’ve got a lot of respect for Coach Campbell. Saw him at the state clinic back in February, early March, like March 2. We see each other there, typically bump into each other in recruiting, but otherwise we’re both in our worlds. A lot of respect for him certainly in their program.

Q. What have you seen from Joe Evans over the years from a leadership standpoint and on the field standpoint?

KIRK FERENTZ: When he first showed up, I wasn’t quite sure what we were going to do with him, as I said before, a high school quarterback. Once you saw him on the field, you just knew he had a motor. He’s really a high charging guy. I don’t know if I would have predicted his career would have been this successful, but it’s a real tribute to him.

He’s worked extremely hard, but he’s totally invested. He’s a great leader for our guys. Probably would have been a captain last year except you have guys like Campbell, we had such a good group of guys last year at the senior end. So appreciative he’s back for his sixth year. He’s a good football player, but just adds a real dimension to our football team, which is healthy.

Q. I was told, when you guys were recruiting Deshaun Lee, he had come on a visit here, and the night before you offered, someone told his mom that you guys were going to offer him but he didn’t know. Then he got the offer the next day officially. What all do you remember about this?

KIRK FERENTZ: You have to understand, when Phil’s involved in recruiting a guy, it’s really hard to follow the timeline or the logic line. He’s got his ways. I can’t explain it to you. But he’s right a lot more than he’s wrong.

Instead of just offering a guy, it’s usually very cryptic. You have to go 43 steps. I guess that’s because he doesn’t want other people to jump in if we jump in on somebody, which happens a lot in recruiting. I’m not sure I fully understand his path to getting there, but at least we get there. That’s a good thing. Deshaun is a great young guy.

Q. What do you remember about watching him in high school?

KIRK FERENTZ: Just he’s a great young guy. He’s got a high level of energy. I think he’s done a great job in two years of really learning, working at it. I don’t mind telling you, any time you start a first time corner out there, it’s a little bit concerning. You just worry about it.

I thought he did a good job of playing smart football, which is where it all starts. Secondly, I thought he played well fundamentally. He came up and tackled too, which was good to see. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he’s tough minded and cares about being part of a good defense.

Q. How is it to have the crazy streaks and ups and downs that you were part of in the ’80s? When you came back, you lost your first four. What is it about this series that makes it so unique in the fact that anything can happen? Also, I don’t want to say how committed you were in 2003 to breaking that streak, but was it on your mind?

KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, sure. One of the great ironies of the whole thing, it really fell apart in ’83. I don’t think anybody saw it coming. I know we didn’t. We ended up on the right side of a lopsided score over there. I remember that distinctly. I think it was an ABC game. That’s when we started with the auspicious — quarterback fell down going backwards. It was a terrible start.

Anyway, in ’83 it ended up being a pretty wide gap, and nobody saw that coming. For whatever reason, the series wasn’t all that competitive. But I do know this, it all changed in 1998, the year before I got here. I remember seeing on film the punt that got dropped in the near end zone here. That opened the door for them. I think they were 25-point underdogs, and they won by 25 or something like that. Ever since then, it’s been a series.

Quite frankly, outside of maybe ’02, they were the better team those first couple years. They were. It just is what it is. It’s really been pretty even since then. Just a lot of really tough, hard fought games. Not always predictable, but it’s a tough, tough series. Just expect more of that on Saturday.

Q. Did you feel any pressure internally or just talking to people after you lost four in a row?

KIRK FERENTZ: That’s one thing about intrastate — I guess that’s the correct grammar — intrastate rivals. You don’t want to lose, just like in high school, that team next door, you don’t want to lose to those guys. Bear Bryant used to say it, you talk about guys going home, go to the pharmacy, and they’ve got to answer why they lost to Auburn, and Alabama would have to answer that.

I think that’s just part of sports, but it makes it fun. It’s part of the fun of sports too, having those kinds of rivalries.

Q. How is Sebastian Castro impacting this year?

KIRK FERENTZ: I think that was his real game where he played with confidence. Ever since then, he’s been a different player. I’m not saying like here to there, but he just ties in with the earlier question about just experience. Sometimes you have to do it on the field. At some point you have to get out there and do something good, and he did that in the bowl game a couple times.

I think he has a well grounded sense of confidence now, so he’s playing faster, more decisively. Again, he’s an older guy. He’s a senior. So I think all that stuff kind of at some point comes together for you. You never know when that’s going to be.

That’s the fun part about watching all this. You just never know when a guy is going to start hitting his stride. When they do, it’s fun. It’s fun for them. It’s fun to watch them feel like they’re starting to get it.

Q. Cade had mentioned part of the reason you guys are stretching the field a little bit more than maybe you had last year is some of the isolation looks and how he has confidence in the receivers to go up and make a play. How important is it going to be to continue to get the perimeter guys more involved to potentially open up some more running lanes and help you guys move the ball?

KIRK FERENTZ: That’s just good offense, in my opinion. Again, just going back to last year, we had one scholarship receiver in the first game. With all due respect to the guys we had, but there’s a difference. We have a little healthier group right now and a little bit more group that has more potential maybe to be productive.

A lot of those guys had to earn their way up. Nico’s certainly a better player than he was four years ago, so that’s a good thing. Diante has had some hardships with injuries and crazy things. To have him out there healthy is good. Then you pick up Seth and Kaleb, those are good additions. Alec Wick, I think, is a much better player than he was a year ago.

Now you have some guys out there. You have a couple of tight ends that are capable of playing well. Think we’ve got a line, and we have good backs. So it’s just a matter of piecing things together. Hopefully it all complements each other, and then whatever they choose to take away, hopefully we can find some success in those other areas.

Q. Beau Stephens was out injured. What’s his status?

KIRK FERENTZ: He was at practice today. We’re keeping our fingers crossed. We thought it might be worse initially, but he had a bone bruise. He should be good.

Q. He was a starter last year. Is he potentially in the rotation?

KIRK FERENTZ: He’s in the mix. We’re not sure who the starters are, but he’s in the mix certainly. I think he’s missed two weeks. It was two Saturdays ago he got hurt.

Q. You’re now coming up on 200 career wins. What got you into coaching?

KIRK FERENTZ: Like a lot of guys that get into coaching, I suspect, a lot of people get into coaching, somebody probably had an impact on them, and there were a couple of coaches in high school, in tenth grade. I remember distinctly the day — I can’t tell you what day it was or what month, I just remember going home saying I wanted to teach or coach high school. That’s how I started out.

The irony is the head coach at that time ended up getting fired after my junior year, and then the guy that came in and replaced him, who I was convinced I was going to hate and not want to be part of it, probably ended up being the most influential person in my life, my professional life. Outside of my family, the most influential person in my life.

So that’s one of the lessons you learn in life in general, you just never know who’s going to walk in and impact you. Long story short, I had a couple of coaches in my life. My dad was my baseball coach up until Legion ball, through Legion ball. Not that he was an official coach, but if he could do it over again, he probably would have done that instead of what he did. That’s just how it ended up happening.

Q. What do you find the most rewarding about coaching?

KIRK FERENTZ: It’s easily the people, the interactions with people. That’s easy. Not to diss anybody else, but the players especially. I get to work with great people. 34 years here, that’s been the commonality, great people day after day — in the office, on the field. And the best part is being on the field with the players, still is. That’s not going to change.

I don’t golf, so that’s my two hours to get away. No phones. There’s no phones out there and all that stuff. I can’t say no recruiting anymore because that’s not true, but in season that’s true. From August until the end of the season, we’re just coaching football. It’s great. It’s awesome.

Q. Have players changed much since you’ve been coaching?

KIRK FERENTZ: I don’t think players have changed much. The world has and influences have. There were distractions 100 years ago. There’s always been distractions in life. That hasn’t changed. I’ve never been around a good player that didn’t want to be coached.

Sometimes they’re a little tough — it’s tough to find that path, but most — not most, every good player I’ve been around, it was a good player, doesn’t mean he was All-Pro or All-Big Ten, but a football player, they want to be coached, they want to be helped, and they want to learn, and they want to be cared for.

Q. The coach you said took over your senior year of high school, how did he influence you?

KIRK FERENTZ: He was even as good as the last coach, I guess, and he was always very respectful to the former coach, which I always appreciated. But he was an outstanding coach. It was Joe Moore who was my high school coach, and then I got to work for him in 1980.

I think everybody, pretty much everybody who’s had any success in life is anybody who’s gone out of their way to help you help them. I know that’s true. This is a world I’ve lived in for a long time. In the coaching fraternity, there’s a lot of that that goes on, and that’s really what makes it gratifying.

Q. In all sports, the grind is the grind, but football, the physical toll that it takes on players, especially as you get closer to the end of the season, is pretty evident for everybody. Is that what in some ways makes some of these moments so rewarding for you? Everybody is overtired. Everybody is hurt. Then they suck it up, and they go play, and if they win, you feel like that togetherness.

KIRK FERENTZ: I think football’s so unique. I could go on an hour lecture on that one, but just it was 90, whatever it was on the field the other day, but we’ll be playing in 20, 18, somewhere along the way. You win, whatever it may be, all the different factors you deal with and then the injury factor, it’s a physical, hard game. It’s a hard game physically. It’s a hard game mentally.

So you’ve got all those things that go into it, so to be good at it and persevere and go through the ups and downs, I have a lot of respect for the people that do it. Again, it circles back to the players. The players are the ones who are really — this is kind of our job. Most of us do it because we love it.

But for the players to do it and all the things they have to do besides play football, an awful lot of respect for them at this level of college to be a college student-athlete. It’s not an easy road. Most of them do it because they love it.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports
136492-2-1077 2023-09-05 20:35:00 GMT