Louisiana Tech Weekly Football Press Conference Transcript: Aug. 31

Aug. 31, 2015

RUSTON, La. - Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz and select student-athletes spoke with the media Monday in advance of the team’s season-opening game against Southern.

Head coach Skip Holtz

Opening comments:
“It has been a very productive eight months for us as a football program. We were very successful this summer academically. We had two young men graduate in Jens Danielsen and Andy McAlindon. Thomas Graham is our fourth academic advisor in two years and he has stepped into a very difficult situation. For the situation he stepped into, he has done a fantastic job. He grabbed the bull by the horns. We have gone from four hours to six hours to be eligible. He has done a nice job making the most of this situation. He has been involved in our recruiting the last few years. He has really embraced the academic situation. He is making a huge difference for our future.”

“We have had the opportunity to break camp and move into the new building. This has been a home run. Being able to move into the building has brought a real breath of fresh air. The Davison Athletics Complex is really something special. It has been a long time coming. The players are really appreciative and excited to have the opportunity to be in it. We are going to continue to move in gradually. We are trying to get the players into it as soon as we can. As coaches, we may not be able to fully move in for another week or two. The first and third floors are what really needed to be done. We needed to get the players in and the fan base in. I figured since we sold those tickets, it would be pretty important to have seats for them. It is a big time building.”


 

 

“Getting into camp, I said there were three things we were trying to do. One was to build depth; two was to build a cohesive offense and defense; and last was leadership. I think it has been a really productive camp. I cannot say enough positives about the way this team has worked. I praised Kurt Hester a lot. The job he did gave us the ability to push these players a lot further than they probably thought they could go. Not breaking down or having injuries is a direct result of the job Kurt Hester and his staff did in the weight room this summer.”

“The leadership over the last three weeks has really started to develop. We have the entire team together for the first time. We did pick captains this week. I have never had a captain vote as close as this one. We even had to do a re-vote on defense. It just shows the type of leadership we have outside of the four captains. There are some names not on that list that will be incredible leaders for us. The four captains are Kenneth Dixon, Jeff Driskel, Vernon Butler and Kentrell Brice. Those are four excellent choices. The leadership goes a lot further than that. Ryan Higgins has been a great leader and guys like Beau Fitte, Xavier Woods and Vontarrius Dora. Kirby Wixson and Darrell Brown are a couple of other guys who have stepped up. It has been really encouraging to see as a head football coach. I really like the leadership and that is going to come into play when adversity hits this football team. You are going to need leadership.”

“The second thing I talked about was trying to come up with depth. I think there are some guys who may not have played a lot in the past, but will take on a much more prominent role. I think there is more depth on our offensive line than we have had in the past. The running back depth has been noted. On the offensive line, Shane Carpenter is really growing up as just a redshirt freshman. Everyone else on the offensive line has gotten better. We are starting to create depth with some of the guys who have stepped up. At wide receiver, Marlon Watts and Marcus Gaines have had to play more of a prominent role because Paul Turner and Carlos Henderson were nicked up. Both of them should be back for the first game. Grant Childress, Kameron McKnight, Alex Woodall have all really developed. I have talked about Ryan Higgins and I feel good that we have not only one quarterback that is good enough to play, but right now I really like Ryan Higgins. I think if given the opportunity, he is going to show a lot of people the improvement he has made since he had to play as a freshman.”

“On the defensive side of the ball, there are a lot of unknowns. It has been really encouraging to see the way guys are improving. A big part of it is that they have changed their bodies physically. They feel more confident and have been in the same system for two years. I think we are really starting to see some growth and consistency.”

“Then you add a very talented freshman class. I think there are seven freshmen that will play. There are probably another two or three more that have a great shot to get into the two-deep before the season is over. I have always said that I am not going to burn a young man’s redshirt year unless he can help this football team win. Not in a mop-up role. Deontae McCrady and O’Shea Dugas have shown they are good enough on the offensive line to be in the two-deep. I think both of them are going to be very talented players and do a good job. Both of those freshmen will play.”

“Jaqwis Dancy as a running back will play. He can be a return specialist and help us in limited roles on offense. On the defensive side of the ball, Immanuel Turner will play at defensive end. There are two defensive linemen in Jordan Bradford and Courtney Wallace. There are three defensive linemen who are true freshmen and have shown through practice they are talented enough to make a difference on this team. They may play a backup role as we start the season, but I could see those three getting into a regular rotation by the middle of the season. Ephraim Kitchen at corner is a guy who has really shown his talent and ability to make a difference as a freshman. Right now, I see those seven players contributing.”

“I think camp was very productive with what we were trying to get done. The team is definitely starting to take shape. We will find out how a lot of these young guys will respond under the lights.”

On kicking off the season at home vs. Southern:
“Southern is a very successful program. We are looking forward to the opportunity to play an in-state game. I think the stands will show the interest and excitement in the state and a geographical rivalry. I have great respect for the program. I have known Coach (Dawson) Odums for a long time. I think he is a fantastic football coach and brings a lot things to that program. He has brought discipline, toughness and athleticism and it is showing on the field. We are talking about a team that has been very successful. They won seven of their last eight last year. They score a lot of points. They are very explosive offensively. They are tough and physical. I think it will be a great challenge for us in the opener. They have played for a couple of SWAC Championships over the past few years. I think coach Odums is building something special down there.”

“Offensively, they are very balanced. They return nine starters on the offensive side of the ball. They have the freshman conference player of the year at quarterback. He threw 17 touchdowns to just eight interceptions last year. He showed an awful lot of maturity. They return four out of five offensive linemen. They have a lot of experience. They have a 1,000-yard rusher coming back. They have an explosive wide receiver that had over 60 catches and around 800 yards. You will be able to see the difference he also makes on special teams.”

“On the defensive side of the ball, they are very pressure oriented. They are very similar to us. That is one reason they led the conference in sacks and turnovers. They are not a defense that sits back and lets things happen. They are very pressure oriented. They create a lot of turnovers. Their middle linebacker is very active and had over 100 tackles last season. Their two safeties really flash.”

"One area that concerns me is their special teams because it is very hard to simulate. They have a kick returner in Willie Quinn. He averaged 22 yards per punt return, which is absolutely unheard of. Those are video game numbers. He is not very big but is very explosive and elusive. It is very hard to simulate that open space. That will be a great challenge for us. They have a senior kicker who handled field goals, kickoffs and may even take over punting duties. I think they are very talented. They have led the FCS in touchdown scores and blocked kicks. They are very talented. I would use the word respect. The respect I have for the athletes they have and Coach Odums cannot be understated. It is going to create a challenge for us, one we are looking forward to and will give us a good evaluation of where we are as a football team.”

On special teams:
“We cannot rely on creating the amount of turnovers we had last year. We have to replace a lot of productivity. The one place we can make huge strides and was our Achilles heel last year was special teams. We have a couple of big plays. Our kickoff return did a good job with Carlos Henderson back there. I think our punt coverage and kickoff coverage has to improve tremendously. I worry about our punting duties. When I look at our specialists, Jonathan Barnes has done a nice job kicking the ball. I think he has earned the starting field goal spot. He has kicked well and is kicking with confidence. I think Kyle Fischer will be our kickoff guy. Right now, I am still worried about the consistency at punter. I think our coverage teams are going to have to do a good job of getting down the field. That is where we will have to make huge strides.”

“It is the opening game so there is always going to be excitement. They are tired of seeing each other and hitting each other. They are ready to play somebody else. The expectation for this season with the team, our fan base, the new facility and the buzz, helps create that energy. The football team can definitely feel the energy with our fan base. You are also playing a team that is really good when you look at the success they have had. I do not expect a letdown. You watch the film and see that they are very productive. I think they will get our best shot. Last year we were up and down. We had some games where we played really well against better opponents. Then games where we thought we should win, we did not go out and play as well. I do not know if it was just losing the edge. I do not think they did not play hard or not care. You just lose that edge. You have to play every week on edge. This is not the game to just refer back to Northwestern State last year. This is a game we have talked to our team about playing with that edge. We want to eliminate those games this year. We talked about the maturity it is going to take and the depth it is going to take. It is also going to take focus for us as a football team. I do not think this is about an FCS opponent. We have great respect for that program and the job Odums has done there. This is about Louisiana Tech and us getting to the point where we are only guaranteed 12 of them.”

On kicking away from Willie Quinn:
“Right now, I would love to be able to say that, but when we kick and punt, I do not know where it is going. I cannot say we are going to kick it away from him. We may kick it to the guy in the first row. We are going to kick to him and punt to him. We are going to try to punt to him. It may go out of bounds. We have to see where we are as a football team. He is one of those guys that bigger schools probably looked at him and said he was not tall enough. Yet, when you put on his film, he is definitely good enough. He is their leading receiver with 62 catches. We have to challenge our team to get down the field. I am worried about it, because it is difficult to face space in special teams.”

On Marlon Watts starting over Carlos Henderson:
“Carlos has missed the last 10 days with a finger injury. He should be fine, but I think in fairness to Marlon Watts in the way he has worked, he has earned the opportunity to start. Carlos is back and should practice this week. I do not anticipate an injury stopping him from playing. I think Carlos will play a significant amount. I would think in the long run, it will be a great competition.”

On Aaron Brown:
“He had academic issues in the fall. He has a two game academic suspension.”

On no spring practice for Southern:
“I am not expecting any rust. I am looking at the fact we are playing a SWAC champion caliber team. Those are their expectations going in. Those players have worked extremely hard throughout the summer and fall camp to get ready for this. I am not going in expect rust. I am sure Coach Odums has his issues on his side like I have mine on ours. Right now, I am more concerned with us. We are going to get Southern’s best shot. They are going to come in here ready to play. They are going to be excited to play. It is going to be a full house and a great environment.”

On LA Tech’s defensive line:
“I think Cedric (Johnson), Tyler (Porter) and Hakim Gray are all three guys we are using to build depth. Cedric has shown flashes of being a very special player. I have also been impressed with Jordan Bradford and Courtney Wallace. If you looked at our depth chart it would have Vernon Butler and then seven names at the other position. We are trying to figure out who that is going to be. There are a lot of names there and guys who have shown some promise. They may just be young right now. Hakim Gray is going to be a redshirt sophomore and is the oldest out of all of them. Everyone else is a redshirt freshman or true freshman.”

“We will play a lot of them against Southern. I would anticipate us playing a lot of them at Western Kentucky as well. Once you get past Vernon Butler a lot of those guys have plusses and minuses. We just have to get a little more consistent. I do not see the freshmen maturing to be juniors in a week. You will see a lot of freshmen on the defensive line.”

On not redshirting Jaqwis Dancy:
“Here is the question you have to ask; can the young man help us win this year? If the answer is yes, you play him. If the answer is no, then you do not. Right now, the answer is yes with his explosive abilities. I do not think it is fair to look at Kenneth Dixon, Blake Martin, Vernon Butler and all the other seniors and say, ‘Another couple of years, we are going to be really good.’ They do not want to hear that. They want to win now. Sometimes you have to play freshman. That is also why guys want to come. They want an opportunity to play early and to get on the field. A guy like Jaqwis Dancy can help this football team. It is going to be a long season. I do not want to pull his redshirt to put him on special teams week five. He can help this team in a lot of ways.”

Running backs coach Jabbar Juluke

On facing his alma mater:
“I am excited. I have a lot of friends who I played ball with, students and females I went to school with, that are very excited about the opportunity to come up north because they have never played up north before. It is going to be a great time. I know that the Jaguar nation travels extremely well. I remember when I was a ball player, we would drive over to Jackson and to the Bayou Classic and we knew we would always have our faithful fans who were going to be there. It is just an exciting time.”

On Kenneth Dixon handling preseason hype:
“I think he is handling it extremely well. I do not think it bothers him in anyway. I think it is more of a motivation because I am constantly telling him that ‘to whom much is given, much is required.’ You are only as good as your last game. Not what you did last year or the year before. You have to go out and prove yourself on a daily basis that you can compete at a high level all of the time. I am excited for the young man and he is excited for the team. It is always team first, then me. There is a big T, small me. Kenneth really embraces that and he wants the team to be successful. You think a person of his stature will want the ball on every single down, but he knows that this is a team sport. He is excited about being a part of this team and the high expectations we do have.”

On the running backs:
“I think our group is doing pretty well. I think Kenneth leads the group. He has been a great mentor to Jarred Craft. You can see the transformation in a year with that young man, not only with his performance on the field, but with his body, his work ethic of going out and performing at a high level on a daily basis. I think Kenneth has taken him under his wing in trying to mold him into a great player. We had a talk the other day and Kenneth talked about how Quinton Patton molded him and he is taking on that leadership role and embracing it extremely well to put that young man in the position to be successful. He is helping him with the little things to make him a better back. I think Jarred is setup to have a great season for us and looking forward to it. Blake Martin is doing a really good job as well. Blake is very solid in the backfield. He is kind of like the glue. We can plug him in when needed and he embraces his position he has for us. I am very excited about what he is going to be able to do for us also. And you cannot help but get excited about Jaqwis Dancy. The young man rushed for over 5,000 yards in his high school career. He won three state championships in a row. He is a winner. He knows how to work hard. He came in, and he is very humble. He understands that he has to find a role on this team, and he is excited about the role that he is going to play. I think he is going to do extremely well. I am very excited about the young man. His future is bright.”

On deciding not to redshirt Jaqwis Dancy:
“Maybe the one that he ran like 50 yards and nobody touched him. He is very talented. You can see on his film that he can come in and be able to do some things. Also, you look at the stable of running backs that we have and you say okay, how can this young man help the team. Kick return and punt return is a phase of the game that some people overlook. He is such a dynamic individual that we want to put him on the field and be able to give us an opportunity to win. Jaqwis has embraced it. He is excited about it. He wants to make a contribution to the team. We are going to find ways to get him on the football field as best as we can even with the crowded room that we have.”

On the Northwestern State loss last season providing more focus for Southern:
“I would say yes. When you play football, you play for the next game. I do not believe in good losses. A loss is a loss. I think that it focused our young men to play better the rest of the season. I believe our young men are focused. Expectations are high and our young men are up to the challenge to reach those expectations. We want to go out and play, respect every one, fear no one. We are going to give those guys the respect that they deserve and go out there and play because you have to play the game. That is why it is on the schedule and that is why we are going to be [at Joe Aillet Stadium] on Saturday evening and get ready to play some football. We are excited about the opportunity to play Southern University.”

On seeing the players move into the Davison Athletics Complex:
“It was big time. It has been a long time coming. I know a lot of guys that came out here on their recruiting visits and it was talked about being a building built by the time they finished their careers here at Louisiana Tech and it never manifested itself. Now to see that it has manifested, for the young men to go out and have the opportunity to be in such a remarkable building, it is very exciting. It gives them a right of passage from those guys that passed the team on to them. It is big time. I do not have any adjectives to express how wonderful that building is going to be, not only for those kids that are in it, but the future of Louisiana Tech Football. It is headed in the right direction.”

On Southern’s skill players:
“I do not look at too much of their offense. We are looking at mainly defense, but looking at their numbers, they have some pretty good skill guys. That was kind of the thing that we hung out hat on. We always had good skill guys. I played with a lot of guys that played in the NFL that were very talented young men. It is not surprising, but I am not as familiar with them.”

On Southern’s fan base:

“It is going to be a packed house. One of the things when I was a player, we used to always look forward to going to the RVs the night before the game and go say hello to some of the fans. It is a very strong fan base. They are excited about the University and what the University has to offer. Being a former player, I appreciate what Southern University did for me, helping me become the man I am today with some of the life lessons and experiences that I learned while I was there. The fans were unbelievable and very excited about what we were doing on the football field.”

QB Jeff Driskel

On staying focused on game week:
“I do not think it is hard to do. From last year and losing to an FCS opponent, a lot of the guys still have that bad taste in their mouth. Especially with this being the first game, if you have difficulty getting excited for a first game, there is something wrong with you. With the new building and all the excitement around it, I do not think that will be an issue. We are really excited and looking forward to really digging in to game prep this week.”

On touring the Davison Athletics Complex:
“It was awesome. We all got in there at the same time. We were all taking pictures and touring it. I still get lost in there. I was over there earlier and got a little lost. I had to ask for directions a few times. It really is great and it turned out awesome. We are fired up about it. It is a great building.”

On the team’s reaction to the Northwestern State game in 2014:
“Obviously, I was not here for that game, but that is something that you don’t forget. Going into a game you are supposed to win and should win because you are more talented than the other team, but that is why you play the game. We are not going to go out and roll a helmet out there and win. We understand that. Coach Holtz has put that in our minds from the get go. We are aware we have to play well to win the game and that is why we are going to prepare like any other week, go out and do what we can to execute and win the game.”

On making his first start at LA Tech:
“I have been here for a few months now. I went through spring ball, the summer and then fall camp, but this is why I am here. This is why all of us are here, for the season. All the preparation is great, but it is about making plays on Saturday. We have put in the time. We have put in the work. It is just time to go out and do it now. That is what I am looking forward to most. Seeing the crowd come out on Saturday, they say it is supposed to be a sellout, so I am excited to see that. And just getting out there and playing the game I am here to play. I am really excited to get back out there with these guys and finally go through a game day experience with them.”

On Trent Taylor:
“I have had a lot of time to work with him during spring ball. I think spring was more of learning the offense than learning the guys, but I think this summer with getting out and throwing with them and working on individual routes each and every day was something that really helped out. I got a feeling for who is going to break when and where. I really do feel like I have a good chemistry going with those guys. I think it will just continue to get better each and every week.”

DE Vontarrius Dora

On being named to the Rotary Lombardi Watch List:
“It is very nice. I am thankful for the chance to be on that list. It is a wonderful feeling.”

On coming back after fighting injuries in 2014:
“This year, I am very determined. I am just putting the past in the past, leaving it behind me. I am focused on this year.”

On Southern’s offense:
“They like to run the ball. They have the two tight ends that like to run. They have some very good backs.”

On facing an FCS opponent after Northwestern State in 2014:
“That game is something for us to learn from and for us to know that we can be beat at any time. Everyone is going to give us their best shot, so we have to go out there and just play ball.”

On the Davison Athletics Complex:
“It is awesome. I love it. It is great.”

For complete coverage of Bulldog Football, please follow Louisiana Tech on social media at @LATechFB (Twitter), /LATechFootball (Facebook) and @LATechFB (Instagram) or visit the official home of Louisiana Tech Athletics at LATechSports.com.

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