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'04 Rice player features

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Short takes: Thadis Pegues
"Good just to get that first one off our backs"

HOUSTON (Sept. 13) – Thadis Pegues is a local guy, having graduated from Clear Brook High School, near Friendswood. He’s soft-spoken, but intense, and a conversation with him belies the passion which he brings to the game – in fact, that he brings to just about anything that he takes on.

He redshirted his freshman year, played enough to letter as a redshirt frosh, but then sat out last year to get some personal matters straigtened out. Those things have been put past him, and, to the delight of his coaches and fans, Thadis has matured into the solid, intense football player that everyone hoped he would turn out to be.

In the season opener with the U of H, Thadis was everywhere on the field, hot in pursuant of UH quarterback Kolb. Even though his numbers weren’t all that gaudy, his two credited tackles were both sacks, and he was in on a bunch more.

"It was definitely a big win," he said. "It was good just to get the first one off our backs so we won’t dwell on it and can concentrate on the rest of the season.".

During the spring, Thadis said, he and his teammates started focusing on picking up where they’d left off in ‘03 and coming out strong this season. "We tried to have fun with it," he added.

He was sanguine about the overall Owl effort against UH. "The defensive played really well; the offense played really well, although we weren’t able to capitalize on a couple of things," he noted. "But mistakes are going to be made in every game; the thing to do is work on them and learn from them – and do a better job the next time."

The Owl defense looked liked it had cranked up into yet a higher gear, out on the field with Houston. The speed and quickness of the Riced defenders, even the big guys like Thadis, was apparent to onlookers.

"Yeah, we have worked on our speed this spring and in August," he said. "It’s a combination of effort and speed. In fact, it has more to do with making the effort than it does with natural speed."

All things being equal, Tahdis said he’d have preferred not having the week off – he was ready to go again last Saturday. But he realized, he added, that some of his cohorts appreciated a little extra down time.

"I definitely wanted to play this week. I prefer the off week to come, like, after the third or fourth game. But it did come in handy this week to have the bye because we’ve got several guys who were pretty banged up and they needed some time to heal."

The Owls open with three, tough opponents to start the season in Houston, Hawaii and Texas. But Thadis said he wouldn’t want it any other way. To be the best, he said, you have to play the best.

"I enjoy the challenge," he observed. "I’d prefer to play somebody really tough and take it on as a personal challenge. Then we can just see the chips fall where they may."

Short takes: Cotey-Joe Cswaykus
‘We’ve got a great shot at winning the WAC’

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'Things are looking up – because we’re just working hard'

HOUSTON (Sept. 1) – "I’m well. It’s nice to be back, finally."

Understated words, indeed, coming from a young man who’s had his share of adversity to overcome in the past couple of years in order to take his place on the front line of Rice’s offensive unit.

Cotey-Joe Cswaykus has had to overcome a skein of personal tragedies, a major ankle injury which shelved him for the entire year in ‘03, and a long, tedious rehabilitation period, but, ever the optimist, he’s survived it well, and now stands to be a major contributor this season as a key member of Coach Hatfield’s "Road Graders."

After spending what seemed eons being able only to slowly jog around the perimeter of the practice field while his fellow lineman slugged away, now the Midland High grad says he’s back  full-speed and ready to do some damage out there – with the help of his fellow seniors.

"I’m definitely pleased with the way the line has looked during practice," he told us. "All the seniors, all six of them, have done a great job stepping up, really leading the O-line. Things are looking up – because we’re just working hard. I think we’ve got a great shot at winning the WAC."

Cotey-Joe’s teammates know what he’s had to go through, and his never-quit attitude and his cheerful disposition has been, literally, an inspiration to them. But C-J shrugs it off. It’s a matter of teamwork, he says.

"I think there’s a real bond we have been able to develop as teammates, of camaraderie amongst the guys," he said, speaking of his fellow offensive linemen. "I think that works to really bind us together, so that if we all work hard and all focus on our goals this year, we’ll have a great chance to achieve them. Right now, we’re really operating as a team out there; we’re not just a collection of individuals – and I think that’s the driving force behind us."

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Cotey-Joe and friend take in the Rice Football Banquet in January

Last year, when Cotey-Joe went down in fall practice, and Mike Holman wasn’t able to come back from his previous injury, it placed  a huge burden on the Owl offensive line to come together. Those things just don’t happen overnight. But the players this year look to be solid enough, and deep enough that, if, heaven forbid, something like that would happen again, Cotey-Joe said, there’d be a solid backup in each case to capably replace the injured guy.

"Our two-deep line has a lot of experience, coming back from last year," he noted. "They’re looking good and should have no problem filling in for anybody who gets knocked out with an injury – whether it’s for the whole season, or a game or two – or a play or two. We’ve got a lot of depth and a lot of experience, and I think we’ll do really well up front."

Now it’s time to get a game face on, for the season opener. U of H is tricky in everything tht they do on both sides of the ball, but for Rice’s OL, it’s simply a matter of preparedness, Cotey-Joe said.

"We’ve watched a lot of film, trying to get ready for whatever they throw at us. But with the offensive line, it’s mostly a matter of just being ready to play."

He says he enjoys playing, from time to time, in the NFL atmosphere of Reliant Stadium.

"I played there the year before against LaTech," he reminded us. "I do enjoy it; it’s a nice stadium; it’s a nice break from the college venues. It may be a touch slower than Rice Stadium – but that would work both ways for both the offense and the defense. I don’t feel that that would hinder our game at all."

"Let’s just go do it."   

This is the fifth in a series of brief features on some perhaps less-heralded -- but no less capable -- Owls who are expected to excel this year.   Scroll down for more Owl Short Takes -- and expect quite a few more to appear as the season rolls along - Ed.

Short takes:  Marcus Rucker
'We’re going to have a great year this year'

'Hang in there, man....'
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Marcus Rucker gives his fellow running back Thomas Lott a clap on the head during action in the Rice-Texas game last year

HOUSTON (Aug. 31) -- Rice has got a fine stable of running backs, and Marcus Rucker is certainly not the least of them. Marcus looks better just standing still than many college backs do, running full bore.

The 2003 graduate of Magnolia, Arkansas, High is a true sophomore, but played in all 12 games as a freshman, starting three of them. And he turned some heads while gaining over 300 yards on just 49 carries – another one of those big yards-per-carry guys.

He stands to see plenty of playing time this fall as the backup to Thomas Lott at the running halfback position. Last year in the season finale against LaTech, Thomas and Marcus both had big days, one-two punching the Bulldogs until they collectively resembled a punch-drunk prize fighter. And since Magnolia is only a short drive from Ruston, Marcus had a big chunk of family and hometown friends in the stands to watch him at work.

"Actually, I don’t have family just in Magnolia – we’re really scattered all over the United States," Marcus explained. "But they used that game as an excuse to get together back home, and there was a big group there. I hope they got a little bit more excited about the team, after seeing us in that game. That’s true for everybody– I hope just everybody comes out and supports us."

"We’re going to have a great year this year. We really believe in ourselves and feel confident we can bring home the WAC championship."

The rotation thing is nothing that really bothers him, at all, Marcus told us. There’s enough wealth out there to be shared.

"The backs have been looking great out there in fall practice," he said, "and the coaches are speaking in terms of rotating us – the key thing is keeping us fresh, they say."

"One guy can go in and hit it hard, and then there’s another guy waiting to come right on in there and back him up. And we do have a great set of backs; there’s great talent out there. So we should be able to rotate like that without there really being any kind of talent dropoff. Especially in the backfield.".

He explained that each of the guys in the running back corps are their teammates strongest cheering section. "The thing is, we’re all a family. All of us are out there, all of us get our reps, and that way all of us have been able to pick up at least some degree of experience."

"We can feed off each other’s success. That’s what we want to do this year."

Short takes:  David Carter
'We’re just going to stick with it'

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David Carter: 'We’ve just been focusing on what we know we can be successful with - and what we have been successful with in the past'

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David Carter gets emotional after big play against La Tech

HOUSTON (Aug. 29) – David Carter has already made Academic All-WAC. Now his goal is to earn regular all-league honors, as well.

Perhaps it was a ‘given’ that the former prep star from The Greenhill School in Dallas was slated to earn academic kudos. But what has pleasantly surprised his teammates, coaches and fans, alike, is the early and strong contribution he’s made up front as one of Ken Hatfield’s "Road Graders."

"David is one of those guys who’s going to just keep filling out, more and more,"  Coach Hatfield told us. "He’s six-foot-five. He played basketball in high school, and so when we got him, he only weighed, like, 245 or 250 pounds.  But he's a lot heavier now, and I think he has great feet; that’s the thing we liked about him when we recruited him."

The redshirt sophomore ably backed up all-league tackle Chris DeMunbrun for much of last season, and, although he’s once again set for a number two slot on the depth chart behind Scott Mayhew, he figures to get significant playing time once again this year.

"The OL is solid, both in terms of depth and experience," Dave told us. "Practice shown that to be the case."

"All of the line – especially the five, starting fifth-year seniors, and we have a reserve fifth-year senior, too – are just dominant. They’re really looking good, and should be the foundation of a great running attack."

The bookish 285-pounder has no problem absorbing course work, but he said the midseason shrinking of the Rice playbook last year was a turn for the better. It’s a matter of being able to concentrate and focus.

"Our playbook this fall has been really simplified," he said. "It’s a lot shorter. We’ve just been focusing on what we know we can be successful with - and what we have been successful with in the past. And we’re just going to stick with it, and practice hard -- and see what we get."

 

 

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Mike Falco: "I think the best way I can contribute is just to do the best that I can on whatever the coaches ask me to do, on any given day"

 

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Here, Mike hits the open spot for good yardage against LaTech last November

Short takes: Mike Falco
Now injury-free, versatile

back ready to go all-out

HOUSTON (Aug. 26) – It seems like every time one takes a look out onto the Rice practice field, Mike Falco is out there doing something different. First it’s running play reps as the off-side back in the wishbone. Then it’s catching passes coming out of the backfield. Then it’s practicing his downfield blocking. Then it’s shagging punts or kickoffs.

No truth to the rumor he’s going to take tickets and sell programs at Owl home games, this year, as well. But the third-year sophomore running back from Scottsdale, Arizona, is bound and determined to make a contribution – wherever and however he’s needed.

Coaches like that old-school sort of approach, and tend to try to reward it.

"I think the best way I can contribute is just to do the best that I can on whatever the coaches ask me to do, on any given day," Mike told us. "Whether it’s catching punts, running down the field catching the ball, running the ball, blocking – I’ve learned a lot of things from Coach Hatfield and Coach Brinson, and I think just going full speed at all times and doing whatever is asked of me, will allow be to be able to contribute this year."

"All I can do with two seniors playing the same position as me, is to give my best effort, and show the coaches that I really want to get on the field and contribute somehow – and be a useful part of this team."

The former all-state running back at Scottsdale Horizon High had to make an adjustment, moving from a desert environment to the humid hothouse Texas Gulf Coast. Rice is really more like living in a small town than dealing with the cosmopolitan Phoenix area. But again, those are small matters for Rice’s own Italian Stallion.

"So far," he said, "the main thing that’s taken getting used to was getting hurt last year. Man, I just wish that I hadn’t gotten hurt."

Mike suffered a leg injury during two-a-days last fall, but doggedly rehabilitated himself on the sideline until he reached the point where he could be a factor in Rice’s season-ending, three-game win skein. By the time the Owls played LaTech, last game of the season, he looked, well, say, 85 or 90 per cent, laying some big blocks and picking up a 23-yarder on one of his handful of carries.

"When you break a leg the second day of practice," Rice head coach Ken Hatfield remarked afterwards, "and you’re back playin’, that’s bein’ tough."

"It was good to come back," Mike said, "and be a part of that, that huge finish that we had last year, and be able to play.  I was glad I was able to do at least a small part in developing all that momentum we gained – that we need to build on this September."

"It really was just minor contributions here and there, but it was enough to really make me hungry for this year. The team, we look forward to nothing less than a championship this season. We want to make a statement and go out of the WAC and into Conference USA looking as strong as we can."

Falco played with a gimpy leg even in his late-season surge, but he says he’s 100 per cent this August, and it feels good. "Oh, yeah, it just feels so good to be completely healthy," Mike said.  "I can feel it in my muscles, my bones. Everything feels like it’s where it needs to be, nothing’s rubbing the wrong way – and that just feels great when you go out on the field in that condition."

Except for one thing.

"Except for the humidity," he remarked.  "This is my third year in Houston and I feel I just now am beginning to get a little bit used to it."


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Dustin Haynes

Short takes: Dustin Haynes
"There’s just a lot more competition"

HOUSTON (Aug. 22) – With the Olympics resolutely pounding away in the background, sports fans are constantly reminded of the value of picking oneself up after an early fall. That was a lesson Rice cornerback Dustin Haynes earned early in his career, as well, and he’s profited considerably from his experience.

As a redshirt freshman in 2002, Dustin earned the starting punt returner’s job, only to founder with two bobbles against Michigan State on a windy day in East Lansing. The put him on the end of the bench, but he battled back, playing in all 12 games last year as a sophomore and winding up the season as a starter and member in good standing of the Owls’ "Young Guns" defensive secondary – the entire membership of which returns this year intact.

Rice is perfectly capable of picking up where it left off in last season’s effective October-November run, Dustin told us. That goes for the team; that goes for the secondary.

"Actually, we’ve got a lot of depth this year and we expect to compete well, back in the secondary," he said. "Last year, we went through a lot of learning experiences, and I think we have a chance to be really good. The defense believes in itself, and I think you’ll see us step up and make plays this year. Our goal is nothing less than the WAC championship."

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Dustin reels in Navy QB Craig Candeto in action last season

There’s firm truth to the rumor circulating that Rice’s practices are more intense this fall than they’ve been in prior campaigns, he told us.

"The attitude has been very different this fall. There’s just a lot more competition. Everybody’s trying to get on the field and play – and I think that’s helping out just a whole lot."

Playing against U of H last it, it was the first time anybody had seen Coach Art Briles’ offense at the college level, he said. That obviously hurt the Owls’ level of preparedness. Although the Coogs’ offense is formidable, it should be a different matter for Rice defenders, come the Sept. 5 season opener.

"Last year, all we had to look at were high school films," Dustin noted. "Now, we’ve got a better picture of what they bring to their offensive game, and so we’re able to better prepared ourselves. We’ll be ready to prepare for the diversity and trickery that Coach Briles brings to the game – and I’ll think we’ll be OK."

 


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"This year, we have got to dominate on defense"

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"We’ve got a good schedule, and those first three people are mighty good"

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"That we played well for six straight weeks, ending the season last year, was the best thing that we’ve got going for this team"

Experienced Owls
better equipped for
tough September

HOUSTON (August 17) – "Three-and-0."

That was Rice head coach Ken Hatfield's immediate comeback when asked, last week, by scribes what he’d hoped to get out of the Owls’ first three games of the season – tough matches with Houston, Hawaii, and then at a little honky-tonk called Texas.

"Now, wait a minute – you didn’t ask me ‘how,’ you just asked me what would I LIKE to have out of it," he was quick to add.

"We’ve got a good schedule, and those first three people are mighty good. You’ve got Houston coming off a great season, a bowl team – three bowl teams right away, all of whom had great success last year. With Hawaii, (senior QB Timmy) Chang has a chance to be the all-time NCAA leader; he presents a tremendous challenge."

"And Texas? Texas has as good a talent as anybody in the country," he admitted. "They play Arkansas up there two weeks before us. And then they’re off a week before they play us. They even have two weeks to get ready for us, this time. But they will be an outstanding team, I don’t think there’s any doubt about it."

But that’s they way a coach wants it, Ken Hatfield allowed, with scarcely a grin on his face. "Two of ‘em are non-conference games, and we hope to learn something by playing that kind of competition. That’s why we schedule them. Because if you DO beat ‘em, you’ve done something great – and I think it would add in a lot of confidence to our picture."

This year, Rice’s photo pose is stacking up quite a bit prettier than it did last fall, when four, experienced players fell out of the picture over the summer as academic casualties – and this, in a situation where the Owls were thin on depth to begin with.

The results were predictable – Rice got pasted on the road against Houston, and a couple games later got toyed with in Reliant Stadium by a vastly superior Texas team.

But the rest of the time, the Owls played their opponents on basically even terms, getting stronger and wiser as the season progressed. The Owls were in all four of their other losses on the season, and lost three of them literally in the last minute – against Duke, on the road in overtime; against Fresno, on the road on a last-play field goal after dominating the whole game, and at home against Tulsa on a missed tackle after surging back.

So is this the year that it all turns around, that the breaks even out?

Winning close ones a factor of confidence, tradition

"You know, I think a big part of that is just a factor of confidence and tradition," Coach Hatfield mused. "Once you’ve been there before, and you’ve won before, and you’ve made a play or two in the fourth quarter to win, it’s like anything else. It’s kind of contagious."

"But the disappointing thing was, especially on the Fresno loss, is that we lose on a last-second field goal to them, TWICE in a row, 31-28. I mean here AND there. And they were as good a talent as there was in our league; they have been every year."

"With Tulsa, we come from behind, and we have a chance to win that game, and we miss a fundamental tackle. They catch a three-yard route, and then the guy misses a tackle, and the receiver goes 35 yards."

Fact is, when you have to rely on smarts and precision over sheer brawn, like Rice so often does, then so often, too, it comes down to one play. "We’re hoping that we can get it to a situation where it doesn’t come down to just one play," Coach said. "But a lot of times we do."

That’s where the dreary grind of August practices can be rewarding, he added. "That’s the fun part of practice– we’ve got to get up the confidence of our second and third teamers. You know, they’re liable to be the ones that are in there on that last drive. And you know if you’re on offense, and somebody’s got a weakness, you’re going to go at him every time. So you’ve got to have good depth. And that’s what the great championship teams have. So that’s kinda what two a days are all about for us."

"But I think that we played well for six straight weeks, ending the season last year, was the best thing that we’ve got going for this team."

Rice’s defense learned to take control of the game during that six-week skein. At times, you could even call the Owl defense dominating. And it returns, basically intact, this fall..

"This year, we have got to dominate on defense," Coach allowed. "We are starting off a lot better than last year, when we lost three starters right before the season. Then in the middle of the season we started moving people around; we got people into the positions that we thought was best for out team. And I feel good about the leadership."

"This fall, John Syptak and Jeremy Calahan are two big-play people up front; we’ve got Adam Herrin back at the linebacker position, to provide the leadership there. And then you’ve got Terry Holley, and Chad Price, and Andray Downs kind of right in the middle – all big-play type people."

"So when you’re solid up the middle – kind of like a baseball team – you’ve got a chance. And I think we’re solid up the middle, on our defensive team."

The 18 Rice freshman again missed much of the Tuesday morning’s workout with orientation week activities. The full squad will continue work Wednesday and Thursday mornings before shifting to Rice Stadium for Friday evening's "Meet The Owls" function.

Matt Musil returns to lead Owl broadcast team

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Matt Musil

HOUSTON — Houston sportscaster Matt Musil will return as the football voice of the Rice Owls in 2004, associate athletic director Mike Pedé announced Thursday.

Musil, a long-time sports reporter/anchor at KHOU-TV, replaces Matt Thomas in the Rice play-by-play chair. Thomas, who called Owls football and basketball for the past three seasons, will join the University of Utah broadcasts from his new base at KALL-AM in Salt Lake City.

Musil, who previously called Owls football action from 1989 through 2000, will be joined in the booth this season by former Rice defensive back Bobby Dixon as the analyst and ex-Owl quarterback Chad Richardson as the sideline reporter for home games.

"While we're disappointed in losing one Matt (Thomas), we're thrilled another (Matt Musil) is ready to step in to maintain the high-quality broadcast our fans have always expected," said Pedé. "With two former players in Bobby and Chad delivering their insights, we hope to increase the excitement of Rice football to the next level."

Dixon, who lettered for Owl coaches Fred Goldsmith and Ken Hatfield in 1992-95, won all-Southwest Conference honors on Rice's 1994 SWC co-champions. He was a two-year member of the SWC's academic honor team and is now president of Kaos Sports International, the fastest growing performance apparel company in the country.

Richardson moves to his new role as sideline reporter for home games after serving as the analyst for the past three seasons. He quarterbacked the Owls during the 1996-99 seasons.

Musil's first game on the Owls' broadcast will not come until Sept. 18 when Rice hosts Hawaii in the 2004 Western Athletic Conference opener. The Game for the Administaff Bayou Bucket against Houston from Reliant Stadium on Sept. 5 will be broadcast on KBME, 790 AM in Houston, with Tom Franklin, Dixon, Richardson and UH analysts Tony Fitzpatrick and Chuck Brown on the call.

Musil's debut against Hawaii will be broadcast on KSEV (700 AM), and the last nine games of the regular season will be on KPRC (950 AM).



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Rice DL Jeremy Calahan: 'We were able to finish strong, and we carried it through the off-season'

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Owl OL Scott Mayhew:  'As the season went on, we feel like we really jelled. We’re really good friends'

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John Syptak: 'We’re deeper than we’ve ever been, in any of the years that I’ve been here'

The year of the lineman?
Owl heavy equipment
set to move some earth

HOUSTON (Aug. 10) – Some of you greybeard Owls out there who’re even more venerable than this writer may remember the old, 50s cigarette jingle that started out, "It’s what’s up front that counts. If you haven’t got it there, you haven’t got it."

It’s been a lament that Owl fans, coaches and players have joined in, pretty much year in and year out, for it seems eons. What with the Institute’s academic restrictions, style of play, and, well...academic restrictions, it's been a well-nigh impossible task to assemble a stringer full of 300-pound-plus linemen who could fly like an eagle and strike like a hawk – and stay eligible, to boot.

But not this year. Finally... not this year.

Although the Rice roster may still provoke a few yuks from opposing fandom who observe the lack of 335-pounders, close observers say that head coach Ken Hatfield has assembled a solid, deep group of athletes, many of whom, indeed, tip the 300-pound mark on the scales but can fly, and can hit, and can block – and are plenty smart, as well.

The Rice offensive and defensive fronts still often may be outweighed by a few pounds to a man. But Bear Bryant’s and Darrell Royall’s lines always did, too.

Rice’s assistant line coaches were about as animated as you might ever find such big ol’ boys, during Monday’s opening practice, for they saw big, strong, fast linemen stacked like huge chunks of cordwood, and nary a limp or a gimp in the bunch.

"Everyone looks good," Rice’s senior defensive line anchor John Syptak told us. "Coach Young’s been very happy. We’re very excited this year."

Cynics among us may ask: sure, we’ve got most everybody returning on the lines, but they weren’t exactly world-beaters last year. That view, however,   discounts the role the big boys had in Rice’s second -half resurgence that saw a defensive coalescence and offensive rushing records fall.

"Obviously, the last six games of the season the offense put up some pretty awesome numbers," senior OL Scott Mayhew told us. "I mean, it’s not any fun for us when the team’s not putting up any rushing yardage. All we do is block, but we like to see some results, and for us that means big-time rushing yardage."

"The last half of the season, last year," he added, "we started putting up some great numbers. One thing built on another; we were really excited when we could spring the running back and he’d run for 20 or 30 yards at a pop. That’s fun for us. That’s all we really need to see, to make it all feel really worthwhile."

Inspiration, Accumulation, Perspiration

Take that magical element, momentum, and add in three catalysts: Inspiration. Accumulation. Perspiration.

This group of Rice linemen, both on the offensive and defensive side, took a great deal of inspiration from last year’s season-ending success – and spent a good part of the summer collectively working on improving themselves physically.

It was the most productive summer the group has had in the four years he’s been at Rice, senior DL and team spark plug Jeremy Calahan told us.

"This summer, we were coming in and working harder than we’ve ever done since I’ve been here," Jeremy said. "The whole time, there were 10 to 15 of us coming in to the weight room every morning at 6:30, four days a week. And we had at least that many people coming in the evenings."

In the past, Jeremy said, people tended to scatter for the summer and work out wherever they were. There didn’t appear to be that much coordination. There’d be a few guys here in Houston, but not nearly so many as stayed around this summer.

"I think that did spark us – the way we finished the season last year," Jeremy said. "We were able to finish strong, and we carried it through the off-season; we carried it through the spring."

"And then, in April, May, Coach Hatfield didn’t really push it, but he let us know that if we wanted to stay, let us know -- and we can help you look for a job or look for a place to stay. And so the buzz got around, and everybody made their best effort to stay. Some people just couldn’t stay, and they had good reasons, to do with family, or financial, or whatever. But everybody who could stay, did stay. And there was more of an urgency to stay and relate and work out and spend time together as a team. So it worked out really great."

And when players come in, redshirt, play for four years, largely avoid injuries, and graduate, then even with the scholarship restrictions, it gives a wily old coach like Ken Hatfield the opportunity to quietly begin stockpiling a few Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Last year's Lone Ranger has plenty of Tontos

During the entire Hatfield era, Rice always has seemed to be able to find one, superlative defensive linemen in any given season – you know who they were. But the most recent of them, former Bellville Brahma John Syptak, says those days of playing Lone Ranger are over – now, he’s got plenty Tontos alongside him.

"We’re deeper than we’ve ever been, in any of the years that I’ve been here," John told us. "That kind of depth is an asset to any team, but it’s going to be particularly helpful to us, because we’ve had to struggle so much with depth in the defensive line, seems like every year."

Hmmm, Kemo Sabe.

"And there’s no doubt about it – our backups are just as good as we are. Or I guess another way of putting it is – we’re no better than they are!"

His teammate and fellow go-to guy, Jeremy Calahan, elaborated a little.

"Seeing everybody come in yesterday, it was encouraging," he said. "We’re bigger than we’ve ever been. Our guys, compared to prior years, are huge. DaJuan Cooper looks amazing. John Syptak put on 20 pounds and he’s faster. I put on about 20 pounds since last season; I’m right at 300- even. Everybody just looked great on the weigh in."

"Depth-wise we’re stronger than we’ve ever been. The second string guys are just as good as the first string guys. And then we’ve got third string guys who can really step in and make plays just as well."

But there are some red-shirt-sporting youngsters who drew quite a bit of attention in spring drills, as well. For instance, there’s....well, there’s future investment banker and current Man Mountain George Chukwu, who’s just itching to get in there.

"George is a great player; he’s huge. He’s strong as an ox," Jeremy said. "He’s one of the strongest guys I’ve ever seen, leg-wise, coming in as a freshman. He was a strong as Mayhew, and myself and Greg, leg-wise, and that’s amazing. DaJuan Cooper, he’s looking great; Jonathan Cary, is going to be really good, plays the pass rush really well with his hands. William Wood picked up some experience at the end of last season, and he plays hard every down."

"We’re deep, man. We’re very deep I didn’t know what to do when they told me I could sit out the spring game, because they were going to let the young guys go. That was surprising, because the last two springs, I’d played 80 plays, each scrimmage."

OL every bit as deep as defensive side

The news is good  among those who Coach Hatfield refers as his 'road graders' as well, all-conference candidate Scott Mayhew told us in no uncertain terms.

"We’ve got some very good athletes on the offensive side of the line," Scott said emphatically.

Size is one thing for an offensive lineman, but in Rice’s scheme, the heavy equipment needs mobility and speed just as much as it needs horsepower, he added.

"Obviously we don’t pass a lot. So mobility is a really necessary thing to have. All the offensive linemen are mobile – and they’re all pretty big. We’re all over 300 pounds all the way across the offensive line, and we all move really well, so that’s the combination you really need when you’re running the option."

"All of us just have to be able to move with the ball; we have to be able to pull, we have to be able to run. We seem to be able to do that really well."

Scott ran through for us the penciled-in starting OL, position-by-position.

"On the offensive line right now we have all seniors," he noted. "I’ll be at left tackle. Then we’ve got Micah Meador at left guard, Ross Huebel at center; Greg Wilson at right guard, Cotey-Joe Cswaykus – who’s really a solid player, although he didn’t have any playing time last year because he broke his ankle. But we’re really looking forward to seeing what he can come in and do because he didn’t play at all last year. He’s a senior, he’ll get to start at right tackle going into the fall."

"All of us – myself, Ross, Micah and Greg – we all played a lot last year. As the season went on, we feel like we really jelled. We’re really good friends. Coty-Joe, too. So we’re really looking forward to going out there; we feel like we work really well as a group."

That doesn't even mention some super subs waiting in the wings, such as Rolf Krueger II, Corey Laxen and David Carter.

"We’re confident," Scott said, referring to his understudies.   "We had a lot of guys last year in the spring get a lot of experience. We’ve got backups who are really good; and now they’re in a position to step up and play the role if one of us goes down."

Syptak, Calahan  say they need to be verbal leaders

If a senior leader is to be identified  on the defensive side this year, it’s got to be John Syptak. But John sees his role as being in tandem. Last year, John led mostly by quiet example while Jeremy Calahan gave most of the pep talks. But it’s going to take some verbalization by both of them to keep the crew on an even keel this fall, Syp said.

"I think it’s going to be up to me and Calahan to try and be verbal," he said frankly. "I try to lead by example, but there are going to be times this year when it’s just going to be important to speak up and encourage everyone. I think, with Jeremy, that splitting that job will make it a little easier to do."

One thing all three of our giants agreed upon, though – Job One is to get out there and be totally ready to play, come the Sept. 5 season-opener against Houston. If the Owls play like they did in last year’s 48-14 blowout against the Coogs, they’ll be digging themselves a hole that they’d just as soon avoid.

"I don’t want to put too much pressure on us to win right away," John Syptak said, "but I really think the key to the season – the key to us winning in October and November – is for us to come out against Houston, and doing our absolute best, clicking on all cylinders. We’ve got to emphasize that as much as possible, to come out and beat Houston."

Scott Mayhew agrees.

"What’s it going to take is to get out of the box fast – we’ve got two really important games to start out the season."

"What we need is to go out and have a really good showing in the first game. Last year we came out thinking we were ready to go, but then we got down after we lost big against UH. We need to go out and have a good showing against Houston and stay confident going into our first WAC game, then, against Hawaii."

One may expect the Rice lines to uphold their end of the bargain, in that scenario. And that puts the Owls ahead of the curve.

Lagniappe:

  • Rice will undergo an unusual workout schedule this year during two-a-days, SID Bill Cousins announced. Actually, this year, there won’t be two-a-days at all; rather, the team will practice once a day, in the mornings, normally from about 9:15 to 11:45. If the Owls win the WAC and go to a bowl this year, football players of all ages all over the country will exult – arguing that it just goes to show what a counterproductive waste of time that the despised two-a-days are – the Junction Boys notwithstanding.

Paul T. Hlavinka
Webletter Editor

 

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