Nov. 29, 2011
RUSTON, La. -
Louisiana Tech head coach Sonny Dykes, along with select players, spoke to the media Monday following Tech’s win over New Mexico State, WAC Championship and Poinsettia Bowl bid acceptance.
Head Coach Sonny Dykes
“It’s nice to be able to finally talk about things we are excited about in terms of playing in a bowl game and winning a championship. In a lot of ways, last week was a really tough week for us because we were on the cusp of achieving some really good things but felt the need to focus on the things we focused on which were going out and playing hard and improving on a daily basis.”
“It was a rewarding experience waking up Sunday morning knowing that you are the outright WAC champions. It was a tremendous feeling of excitement and relief for me. It was hard to imagine the way this season went down. Being 1-4 and feeling down and disappointed was a great lesson for our players and coaching staff. That’s why you play things out and continue to do the right things even when it’s difficult to do so. We spoke about doing those things when we were losing and said to ourselves that now we’ll find out the character of this team and what we are all about as a program.”
“I’m proud of what our players and coaching staff have done and appreciate the support from everybody, including Dr. Reneau (President of Louisiana Tech) and Bruce Van De Velde (Athletic Director). They’ve really given us a chance to be successful and that’s really all you can ask for as a coach and as a player. It’s been a fun year. We’re excited about the bowl game.”
“I hope this team will continue to have the same type of attitude as we prepare for whoever our opponent may be. That’s what I like about this team. They’ve shown up worrying about things that matter and not things that they cannot control. They’ve shown up hungry to improve every day and we’re going to have 14 practices, which is almost as long as spring practices are. It gives us an opportunity to continue growing as a program and allows us to develop our program. It’s important because it gives us a chance to develop our young players and that’s why it’s crucial to consistently compete in bowl games. It gives you an opportunity to get better and better and gives you extra practice days to develop your team now and in the future.”
Q: Every team wants to create an identity. After seven straight wins, what do you think the identity of this team is?
“We’re a blue-collar team. I appreciate that more than anything. Two of our players were named WAC players of the week (Craig Johnson was named the special teams player of the week and Hunter Lee was named the offensive player of the week). Both of those guys are walk-ons. That’s kind of the make-up of our team. We’re kind of like the ugly fat kid that sits alone at lunch. It’s who we are but we enjoy that role and have relished it. That has to be our approach as we keep improving.”
Q: Do you have a preference of who you would like to face?
“Not really, because whoever we play is going to have a national reputation. We’re going to get a mountain west team (Boise St., TCU, etc…) that has played on the national stage and has respect nationally. It’ll be a real challenge for us but it also gives us a chance to earn some of that respect. I don’t have a preference but whoever it’s going to be will be a good team.”
Q: You mentioned you might have four practices before finding out your opponent. Is it going back to square one?
“It’ll be back to basics. That’s the great thing about bowl games. We’ll have six or seven practices and it’ll be similar to spring practice. It’ll be heavy fundamentals and lots of developmental type work. Those are the kinds of practices I love, whether they are running, catching, throwing, etc… It’s not about improving schemes, but about improving fundamentals. That’s why we’ve been successful. If you look at us defensively, we’re pretty basic. We’re not blitzing much but our fundamentals have allowed us to be successful. It’s the same thing offensively. We’ve simplified our offense. We’ve made it simpler and focused on getting play makers the ball. We’ve had a remarkable amount of injuries and to be able to win as many games as we have and play the way we have is a real credit to our players.”
Q: Do you guy’s kind of relish being the underdog this year?
“That kind of always has to be our mentality this year. Getting picked to finish fourth or fifth in our conference this year gave us extra motivation but these guys really did so much work in the summer and up to right before fall camp. If you look at it, that has really been the difference in this team and has been one of the main reasons as to why we have been successful. Our attitude changed sometime this spring. We became a much more unified team and a lot less selfish and became a team that didn’t play for accolades, but rather for the guy next to us.”
Q: At what point of the season did you simplify your offense?
“Probably going into the Idaho game. We had a really simplistic game plan and we’ve built on that. Our thing has been to do a good job at scheming touches and let’s get certain players the ball. We continue to give the players that make plays the ball and see what they do with it. We try to create good situations for them. What happens is that anytime you start off the way we did, it forces you to start re-evaluate everything. We changed the way we’ve traveled and our routines. All of those things have allowed us to become a more focused football team. Our guys started focusing in and paying attention to the things that mattered. As a coaching staff, we should have probably done a better job at defining what those things were earlier on in the season, starting with me. We did a better job explaining to the players what we expect and what we want from team meals to what we wear on the road. Just the mindset we had to have on a day-to-day basis. Our players have always worked hard but it was just those extra things.”
Q: Is that when you moved Taulib Ikharo back outside?
“We moved him back to the outside where he was more comfortable. Part of that was because of all of the injuries. We were constantly changing guys because of injuries. The next week after Ikharo was moved back, we had to replace inside receiver because Guillot, Ray Holley and Lyle Fitte all went down. Myles White was also dinged up for a few games so it was kind of like musical chairs for a while. David Gru saw an opportunity and stepped up just like Craig Johnson did defensively.”
Q: Any superstitions that developed during the winning streak?
“We used to take the guys to the movies before a game and once we stopped that we went on this winning streak. I may never go to another movie. I used to be a movie junkie but now I’m afraid to even look at what’s coming.”
Q: What was the state of the team after the Hawai’i loss?
“When your 1-4 it’s good in a lot of ways because it forces you to look at everything. Sometimes, the worst thing that can happen to you is that you have success too early because you tend to let things slide. For us, it made us evaluate everything. We felt like we were doing the right things and practicing the right way. Our players were doing the right things and bought into our philosophy which is always step one. We felt like we had to make a couple screwdriver adjustments here and there. It wasn’t anything too major and it wasn’t an overhaul. It was just tightening things. We focused on fundamentals in practice and didn’t take things for granted. We focused more on two minute offenses and defenses, especially because there was such a small margin between winning and losing. We had to figure out a way to cross over that line and I think we did. The credit goes to our players for doing what we ask them to do.”
Q: Does it make it more special for you that it’s not the four-star recruits going out there winning, but rather a walk-on here and there?
“That’s what’s great about college football. When I was in Arizona, we were recruiting Cam Newton and nobody wanted him. It goes to show that there are a lot of football players out there that just need an opportunity. We want to be a program that gives players opportunities. Our players know we don’t put up with junk and we’ve said if you don’t like it, you can leave. We do not want any malcontents here and we don’t have any. We have guys that want to be here and it has changed the culture of this team. The guys like being here and like playing for Tech. They know and expect to work hard and know that working hard gives you a pay-off at the end. Those are the kinds of football teams that are great to coach. We have guys who are fun to be around and the malcontents are gone from this program. It’s a great experience coaching these kids.”
Q: How do you way the bowl trip as a reward or as preparation for next season?
“It’s tough because for us, we haven’t proven anything. We’ve hit a stride and have a winning streak but we are not satisfied with just that. Our players want more. They want national exposure and national championships and this is a great opportunity to stride towards the right direction. We’re definitely not there yet, but it’s great motivation for our players and me. I read these national newspaper reporters and I’m not really sure they know we play football but I’d like to let them know.”
Q: Are you where you expected to be in your second season as coach? Nobody really had you winning the WAC championship this season.
“We felt we had the kind of team that was capable of doing so. Before the season began, we knew that winning the WAC was a goal that was attainable. We knew it was going to tough playing some of the better teams on the road like Utah St, Nevada and Fresno St. We went out and played and tried to improve. We didn’t worry about what others thought about our program. It’s not a real exciting approach but it’s an approach that works for us.
Q: Have you gone through a similar season like this as a coach?
“Not really. A lot of times, you look back and say this is where it all turned for us. When I was in Arizona, we had a come from behind win against Washington and went on to win 13 of the next 16 games. In a weird sort of way, the turning point for us was the Hawai’i game. At that point we knew we had to tighten things up because we looked like an undisciplined outfit. We didn’t feel we were putting our best foot forward. That was out of character for us.
Q: Adrien spoke about the impact the seniors have left here. How do you feel about the impact this year’s players have left on the program?
“This is their team. Every good football team usually has guys on the team that handles things. If you have malcontents on the team, they get them gone. If you have problems in the locker room, they get them fixed. They are the ones that come communicate with us as coaches. They’re the ones that come to us and say “hey, we’re tired, let’s go a little lighter tonight.” We didn’t really have that last year. We had guys try hard but not really understanding it. This year’s senior class didn’t really understand it until midseason. At that point, they said this is our team and we will handle it. Adrien rededicated himself and took control of it. We needed positive leadership and not leadership that were up and down like in years past. That’s when those guys stepped up and made sure we kept a consistent approach. There have been so many guys that have changed their approach and the way they come to work on a daily basis.”
Q: You wanted to change the culture around here. By winning the WAC championship, do you think that goal is accomplished?
“That’s a day-to-day thing. We’re all proud of what we’ve done but we know and expect to do better. We have to continue to improve in every way, coaches and players. We’re going to figure out ways to develop and build a better camp. This is a place where we can win multiple conference championships and make an impact nationally. That’s something we all know we can accomplish and will continue working hard to do so.”
Q: Did you do anything interesting with the trophy on Saturday like Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints or Les Miles of LSU?
“I was afraid somebody stole it. I was talking to Bruce after the deal on Saturday and we didn’t know where it was so I thought it was on the hood of somebody’s car. I had it in my office earlier today and soaked it in a little bit. This trophy is for our team, coaching staff and fans. There are a lot of people here that do a lot of work for our program and do not really get anything in return so this is their reward as well. This trophy is for everybody associated with Tech football.”
Q: How does this compare to one of your years at Texas Tech when you beat opponents by 60-70 points?
“It’s always good to beat somebody by 60-70. This has been more rewarding and it’s always fun to build a program. When you go to a program and it’s easy, it’s not as rewarding. When you are given the opportunity to build a program, it’s exciting and rewarding because it teaches your players what they are capable of and it’s a lesson for all of us. I’d be a liar if I said I knew we were going to win seven games in a row. Every week was a one game season for us and it was fun. We played a lot of tight football games and we spoke about that in camp. We knew we were going to be competitive and play one possession games and it wasn’t going our way early on but we’ve been fortunate throughout this streak.”
Q: Whether it’s TCU or Boise St, your opponent will be a high-profile team with national exposure. Because Boise St. set the precedence for non BCS teams, does the competitor in you want another shot at them, especially because they played in this conference?
“In some ways, it’s like everything else. You vote Republican because your dad did or you vote Democratic because your dad did or you had a hippie experience in college. I grew up in Texas so playing TCU is a big deal to me. Also, the fact that they won the Rose Bowl last season adds to it. However, Boise is the preeminent non-BCS team and the team that you are trying to reach and become, so playing them would be great. My dad coached against TCU so it would be great.”
Q: First time in a while Tech has received votes in the coaches poll.
“I voted for us. I ranked us 25th.”
Q: Were you worried you would be the only one?
“I wasn’t. I knew the teams we played against have mutual respect for this football team.”
Q: Have you played the would of, could of, should of game with this team?
“I don’t know if we would have won the WAC if things didn’t go the way it did. What this football team needed, was exactly what happened to us. We needed to get checked and needed to re-evaluate everything. We had to find out that we needed to do the little things well in order to be successful. Playing tough opponents and hard fought football games gave us confidence. Losing those close games early on showed us that we weren’t there yet. We knew we had to keep grinding and improving.”
Punter Ryan Allen
Q: What’s it mean for you as a punter to see the punt return unit return one like they did on Saturday?
“It’s great to see that. We have great punt returners on special teams this year that can make big plays. We have some great punt returners back next season as well like D.J. Banks. He’s going to be absolutely phenomenal to watch and is a great player. Quinton Patton and Craig Johnson have been great but it’s always fun to see us take advantage of a punt that was punted out of coverage. To be able to score points off a punt is great for us.”
Q: Are you glad you don’t have to punt to Craig [Johnson]?
“Honestly, we have some great returners back there that are some of the better ones I’ve seen all season.”
Q: What was the locker room like after the 1-4 start?
“After the Hawai’i game, we all had a feeling of disappointment and felt like we let everybody down. It was hard to get a grasp on our season last year but after the Hawai’i game we all knew it wasn’t in our personality to play the way we were playing. We had to do something about it. After that loss, everybody was looking at each other and couldn’t believe we let that happen. If it wasn’t for some of those losses, like the Houston and Mississippi St. losses, I do not know if we would be in this position. The leadership Adrien Cole, Jay Dudley and Matt Broha brought to the table has been amazing and we had a few team talks after that loss and brought it against Idaho. That game started something new for us.”
Q: Coach talked about watching TCU play while growing up. You’re from around the Boise area (Oregon); is there a part of you that wants to see Boise on Dec. 21?
“It seems like Boise has had our number in the past but it would be a great opportunity to play any one of those teams. The quarterback from Wyoming (another mountain west team) is a young quarterback from my high school, so playing against any one of those teams will be great. Playing in a different area and against a team with their reputation will be great for our program. It’s going to be fun.”
Q: The way the season worked, it looked like it would be Boise or San Diego in December. Are you glad it worked out the way it did?
“I liked the outcome.”
Q: How did you get from Oregon to Ruston?
“Long story short, I was at Oregon St. for two years and I walked-on there. The other kid I walked-on with ended up getting the starting role and I got a few opportunities to play in a few games. It was a blessing in disguise I got to keep my redshirt freshman year. After he received a scholarship, I was still confident enough in my abilities and my family was as well. They told me to try to go to a place where I would play and a school that might pay for my school for my final two years. I went to a combine in Las Vegas and got re-evaluated by kicking coaches. Coach Tommerdahl and coach Dykes were there, although we didn’t know who Tech’s head coach was going to be, but we were pretty sure it was going to be him. I ended up visiting and loved the campus and the football program. I loved the players on the team and it felt like a good fit.”
Q: Coach Dykes spoke about the lack of national media for the team. You’ve kind of been the exception to the rule as a finalist for the Ray Guy award. What does that mean to you?
“All in all, I’m happy to get our name out there. This is a great program that can only move up. We’re going to play in a bowl game and have an estimated 30 guys coming back next season so we will be strong next season as well. We’re going to have new guys step in on defense and they have big shoes to fill, but it’s great to get our name and logo out there. We’re in the right direction and that’s what every program wants.”
Q: With that being said, was this team a year ahead of expectations?
“With this team, especially with a lot of us being here last year, we struggled last season. To be able to go through all the adversity we went through early on this season and be able to succeed in the second half even with all of the injuries we’ve had, we feel great. We have a lot of momentum and I think we’re in the right direction. I think we’ll doing good things next season.”
Q: Did you see yourself as one of the top three punters in the country?
“No. Last year, I had an okay year and a lot of it had to do with being new to the program. A lot of credit needs to go to coach McCabe, who is a punting coach I went to see in Alabama. He worked with Chas Henry who was the Ray Guy award winner last season. He also worked with Auburn’s punter and Ray Guy finalist Steve Clark. He critiqued some of my form and I didn’t expect it to do this much for me but I still have a lot to work on. As far as this season goes, I’ve been blessed and it’s been a punter’s dream. I’ve been blessed to be in certain instances where I could switch the field position and pin them inside their 20. I couldn’t ask for a better season and for the opportunities I’ve been given.”
Q: You’ve had a few opportunities to throw the ball. Have you thrown the ball before?
“I threw the ball once last season and almost left Matt Broha out to dry with a soft bubble. This year it worked perfectly but unfortunately we had a player offside. But it’s always good to get a fake in every now and then. I’m still waiting to run it eventually. I’m not very fast and I can’t jump that high but I feel like I can do some damage running behind a few blockers.”
Defensive back Chad Boyd
Q: Talk about the freedom the nickel position gives you as a defensive back. Did that have anything to do with the two interceptions Saturday?
“Actually, I moved back to strong for the last seven games. It just came down to comfort level. We knew that we had to make changes once Ryan Williams went down. Nickel wasn’t a bad spot for me and it allowed me to make some great plays. The opportunity to go back to strong worked out great for me and allowed me to get two picks. All in all, it was good for all of us.”
Q: Was the Hawai’i game the turnaround for you guys?
“I think it was but it’s ironic because looking at everybody’s face after the game reminded me of my high school football team. My senior year, we got off to a slow start and you could see that some people thought our chance of making the championship were down the drain. It was the same opportunity I had in high school when we reached the state championship after starting off so poorly. After the Hawai’i game, we still knew that this team had the opportunity to be great and knew that the team would improve. We just took it stride for stride and turned out to be the best thing for us.”
Q: You were here two years ago. Talk about the differences in the program then and now. Also, do you think you’ve arrived at the top of the WAC a year too early?
“I wouldn’t say arrived but with injuries and with incidents that didn’t allow us to play at full strength, we have surprised people. Two years ago, we played Boise and took them stride for stride and wound up being 4-8 on that season. We knew what type of team we could be. Even last year, injuries hurt us and everybody said it was because of new coaching and things like that. We knew coming into this year, everything was in place for us to succeed. None of us expected to be 1-4 in the beginning but things happen for a reason. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It truly showed our growth as a program.”
Q: Do you think the lack of national media has to do with your last few seasons?
“It happens, especially after two consecutive losing seasons. Now we’re 8-4 and have surprised many people who are asking themselves “where did they come from?” Things haven’t always gone our way but now it’s great.”
Q: What’s the attitude around southeast Louisiana?
“I have friends that play for LSU and ULL (Lafayette). It’s great that all three programs are playing well. I was on the phone with a few friends from LSU after the Ole Miss game and said if you guys allow more than seven points, we have something to say for that so all in all, it’s just a good thing for the state to have three programs playing well.”
Q: How happy are you for Cole after his pick-6?
“I’m extremely happy for him but kind of mad at myself for not scoring. I was behind him when he made the spin move and was enthused when I saw that. Adrien’s a great athlete and I knew he wasn’t going to get tackled because he’s too big and strong. I’m extremely happy for Craig because he’s always said that if he gets a chance to return it, he will and he did. Everything was going our way and it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and it made it a great day.”
Q: You spoke about the injuries last year. Does it feel that much more rewarding knowing the amount of injuries you’ve had to overcome?
“It does, especially because you look at the type of players we’ve lost in Lyle (Fitte) and Andrew (Guillot). They bring great things to the table and it just shows the maturity of our team that we have players that stepped in and played well like Craig. It’s just credit to everybody’s character and shows that everybody just wants the best for the team. We’re playing like a unit.”
Q: Several guys have had interception this year. Do you guys talk about it before the game?
“We talk about it but nobody is bragging about it. It’s just an overall mentality that all of us on defense have. We want to create some turnovers and help our offense out. When I got my second one, Quinn (Giles) was right behind me and could have picked it off as well so he was happy as well. Sometimes we’re more excited that the person that made the play so it’s always a great feeling.”
Q: Does it matter who you play in Dec.?
“It doesn’t really matter. It would be good to play Boise St. because it’s been the type of season that we’ve beaten the teams that had our numbers in years past. It’ll be a great challenge for us but any one of those teams will make for a great matchup. TCU won the Rose Bowl last season and are nationally-ranked. It doesn’t matter who we play. We just have to show up and show that we belong. Hopefully we get a win.”
Q: How great did you feel when you held the trophy on Saturday?
“Phenomenal and a dream come true because even in high school, I went to state three times and lost. It was a great feeling and to finally hold it, it showed why we did all the work we’ve done the last few seasons. Seeing everyone’s face made it all worth it.”
Q: We’ve heard about the leadership role the seniors this season have taken. You’re going to be a senior next season. What have you learned from those guys?
“Perseverance and the mental aspect of knowing when to say and do the right things. The actions on and off the field show your leadership. You don’t have to be a vocal leader. Cole and Dudley are always in the training room banged up but they never show it on the field because they know how important they are and how much they mean to this team. We have to keep going and grinding and find a way to get things done.”
Q: Have you thought about the bowl game?
“We’re still on a little high from the game. We won’t get settled for a bowl game-type mentality until we find out who we’re going to play. We’re soaking this in a little bit but we’re going to have to continue working hard and hopefully come out with another win.”
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