Fourth-Year Head Coach Ruffin McNeill
Aug 26, 2013
GREENVILLE, N.C. - Fourth-year East Carolina University Head Football Coach Ruffin McNeill addressed members of the media on Monday prior to the season opener this weekend against Old Dominion. The following are selected comments:
"I'm excited to get here to game week. We talked last night and, really, it began immediately after the Bowl Game about getting to this point in the season. The kids have done everything we've asked them to do as a group. This is an exciting time, not just for us, but I think for all colleges. As I was walking the other day and listening to the song "The Boys of Fall," that's really what it's all about. The smell of the barbeque, the grills going and the school spirit - it's an exciting time. We're looking forward to that, looking forward to game week. We dove into it last night. It was good to get around and feel that next level change within our team. This team has done a good job of focusing on themselves. What I mean by that is the fundamental part. Making sure that we're fundamentally sound in all aspects from the simple things that people tend to neglect (the blocking and tackling), to the concepts and execution of our offense, defense, and special teams.
"The next thing that we have really have honed in on is our Football IQ, making sure we play smart and that we are a smart football team. We know things happen during the game, but making sure we do things to continue to be a smart football team. We improved that aspect last year and we were the Top-10 in the nation in least amount of penalties, and I was very proud of that. I have no doubt that equals success and I thought the young men did a very good job. Coming into this game, there will be a lot of anxiousness and excitement by both teams. We've talked to them about making the routine plays and then play the next play. That's true for all games, but this game with excitement and knowing Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium will be second to none in atmosphere and venues anywhere in the country. But, routine plays on Saturday and then being able to play the next play, whether it was a great play or a tough play, just being able to do that. We rehearsed that during fall camp and they've been doing a good job of that."
"Breon Allen is probable (left leg). He's gotten some reps and we'll try to add more leading up to the game. He's handling it pretty good, so we're just being careful with him. Justin Dixon is coming back from a knee, so he's getting some reps and he's probable. Drayvon Fairley (left knee), Terrell Richardson (right knee) and Marquis Wallace (left knee) will be out for the game."
On Old Dominion:
"I talked with (Old Dominion head coach) Bobby (Wilder) this morning. We've gotten to know each other through head coaching meetings and media days. He's done a great job at Old Dominion. He's won wherever he's been, but he's resurrected that program brick-by-brick and he has a great general to do it with in (quarterback) Taylor (Heinicke). Taylor is one of the finest quarterbacks out there and it's not by accident when you look at his numbers (5,000-plus yards passing and 44 touchdown passes). They're just a really good football team. I had a chance to meet Taylor in person, with Shane (Carden) at Media Day. What a great leader; just like I feel about Shane. His stats speak to one part of him, but meeting him in person, you see why he's a leader and can see why that team revolves around him.
"Special teams is another area that Bobby Wilder and his staff focus on. I think for all good programs, and we as well focus on it, special teams is very key. They put a lot of emphasis on that.
"Defensively, just like we have here, that is one of Bobby's concerns in the off season and he has a new defensive coordinator as well. After watching some things that he's done, they'll be an attacking and a multiple defense, as well, this year.
"Colby Goodwyn is the running back we have to make sure we're aware of. He's 5-9, 190, and has power, quickness, catches the ball, and is involved in all of their offense just like our back is. He and Taylor give them that `NASCAR' type offense. They'll be a fast break, upbeat offense when they come in here, and we know that.
"Antonio Vaughn, some guys may know of him, has done a great job for them as a wide receiver and returner. We've got to be aware of him. He's done a good job of making plays and has a good yards per catch average. Also he's a 13-plus yard punt returner, so we'll have to be aware of Antonio. Larry Pinkard is another receiver that is athletic, has speed, has good size and catches the ball well. Those two guys along with Colby are some skilled guys. They'll have four, five wide receiver type sets that we'll have to be aware of defensively.
"Their top lineman is Jack Lowney. Jack is 6-4, 300 pounds, a senior, he's been there with Bobby his whole time. He's done a good job. He's a Second Team All-American candidate and of course, an all-conference candidate. The center, Josh Mann is a junior at 6-3, 308 pounds, a really good football player and just like our offense, has to make a lot of calls.
"Defensively, they'll be aggressive and multiple. Linebacker John Darr is a two-year starter who is athletic, moves around and is their leading tackler. Reggie Owens in the secondary, is a cornerback with good size, is active and started for them towards the end of last year. Another player to keep an eye on is Andrew Everett. He's a defensive end and they'll be using him probably like we use Derrell (Johnson), a little bit in some substitute packages and moving around, but he's a player to keep an eye on.
"I mentioned Antonio Vaughn in punt return, Colby Goodwyn, who I mentioned earlier as a running back, he's also in the kickoff return. So those guys think like we do. They put their best players on special teams, especially in the return and coverage game. Josh Pulisic is a new punter who will do a good job so we have to be aware of him and Jarod Brown."
On the depth Davon Grayson and Cory Hunter bring to the team:
"We knew about Davon coming out of high school. He has speed, athleticism and will be playing the X position. Cory Hunter did a good job in the spring and everybody saw that. Tay Cooper is Tay Cooper, and he's done a great job, but Cory has done a good job. He is a guy who catches the football well, he's a downhill type runner, has great vision and is also a three-point running back (running, receiving and blocking). He will provide a great complimentary piece with Tay. Chris Hairston is another one who's done a good job this season, and I mentioned Breon (Allen) earlier trying to get back in the fold."
On putting Davon Grayson in the mix:
"For me it's the maturity part and how he handled it. Some guys, you think on film will be ready when they come in, but once they see the speed and the tempo of this level, some can handle it and some can't. But, Davon and Zay (Isaiah Jones), both of those kids have handled it extremely well. They came in and were not intimidated at all. Once they felt the speed of the game, they did not back off whatsoever."
On the similarities between ECU QB Shane Carden and ODU QB Taylor Heinicke:
"They both are dual quarterbacks and lead their team. We got a chance to meet at Media Day and those two were like clones. Both are really good looking guys, built, and both have that intensity about them. With the similarities, we have been able to show the defense some good looks at what ODU does offensively. (Offensive Coordinator) Lincoln (Riley) and (Defensive Coordinator) Rick (Smith) have worked well together, both showing each other good looks. Almost in an NFL type concept, where Rick may scout some looks for Lincoln and vice-versa. It's been good for both of them. Taylor is a good quarterback and a lot like ours."
On the differences between the two offenses:
"Not much. Both (teams) spread the football and have the ability to run it. We do have a mixture of design plays, run plays and both of us have design plays for our quarterback. When you look at it they both play at a very high tempo. So that's why it was good for us to continue to scrimmage. This year because of what we'll be facing for the first game, it worked well defensively for Rick and our staff."
On the importance of the game from a recruiting standpoint:
"When I came back to East Carolina, one of the areas I wanted to make sure we hit recruiting-wise was Virginia Beach, and even going up into that Richmond area. That's always been an area, from when I was playing with Freddie Jones and those guys, that Virginia Beach area has always been great. I know Bobby (Wilder) hits that area hard and so will we. So it's a big game from a competition standpoint, but a lot of the `757' kids will be able to see both teams."
On the mindset of playing a non-conference game as opposed to a conference game:
"Each game is important. The conference games, we put a lot of emphasis on. That's where we want it as a football team, as a program and I'm sure as an organization. But, all games are important. This is no different. We put all of our focus on this one and we're not looking past Saturday. We know we have a challenging schedule and the non-conference games are a part of that. This is a very important game, one because it's the first one, but also because they're all important."
On the 50th Anniversary of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and personal memories:
"That first year, when I played with those old guys. At 17 years old, I came in here, and winning the conference championship as a freshman with Mike Weaver leading us at quarterback and Cary Godette, Reggie Pinkney and Eddie Hicks. That first year will always be special as a freshman coming in. We had some great wins in that building. We chewed a lot of dirt together in that building. My mom has a picture of me from my last game in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. I remember we won and I was looking up in the stands at my parents. It started on a great note and the ability to end on a great note - those two memories stick out. The fan support and the love for their football program, coaches and players - that's one of the reasons why we came to ECU. Now that the stadium has been enlarged, there will be more love shown now with 50,000 fans. Those two memories: winning the championship that first year and that last game at Dowdy-Ficklen as a senior, winning the game and coach taking us off the field and looking up into the stands - I'll never forget that."
On the comparisons between Shane Carden and Dominique Davis going into the second year at quarterback:
"(The offense) slows down. For the quarterback and his offense it slows down and Shane is able to go faster because he's able to understand what Lincoln wants and what his guys can do around him. Shane is always up here watching film. You go in that room and he's in there by himself watching cut ups. This year he's grabbing more people to bring in the film room with him. Yes, he has advanced. He's always been a smart football player with great savvy, but you can tell his understanding of the offense has increased very well."
On preparing for the first game of the season:
"The first games of the season are always difficult. But it's also difficult for the opposing team as well. The thought process here is always focus on yourself. Having that as a major thought process it comes into play right now. We do what we do. We have film and study the opponent, but there will be some adjustments that have to be made during the game. We talked about that yesterday as a staff because everybody has that ability to change, but as a group, we have to be ready to make adjustments when needed during the game and at halftime. They'll be a little different than what we have seen and we'll have something a little different them as well. It is one of the most difficult games to get ready for. But we're looking forward to the challenge. All our focus is on making sure we control what we can control. That's how we practice, how we prepare and how we work."