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'04 Chronicle content analysis

Final media analysis summary        Table and MS Excel file download...
Can't deny pro-sports bias of local coverage

HOUSTON (Dec. 16) -- For 125 days we tracked the Houston Chronicle and their allocation of space to several of the various college and professional football programs of interest in the community. 

mystery man.jpg (1222 bytes)We began the quest on August first, and ended the review on December 3rd, the Friday after the last regular season game was played for the college programs studied.  While the results were not surprising, they were illuminating in many respects.

First, there were some flaws in the study design.  We made an initial decision not to count pictures in the space allocation count, which was a major mistake in retrospect.  As mentioned earlier in the weekly reviews, the Chronicle's passion for pictures of all things Texan in the sports pages is significant, and would have further slanted the amount of ink allocated to Houston's professional franchise.

We also discovered that the Chronicle does not seem to send photographers on road trips with the college teams, but relies on the wire services for photo coverage.   The Chronicle struggles covering west coast games for Houston-based college teams, probably due to time deadlines.  This was an issue for Rice as they were on the road out west several times this season.

All of the above aside, what did the report show?

1      The Chronicle loves the Texans.   Their coverage dominates the paper from August forward.  There were very few days over the past 125 where they did not have an article on the front page of the sports section.  In fact, several times, you could read about various aspects of the team in the front section, the (formerly) Lifestyle section, or in a society or Ken Hoffman column.  David Carr's haircut garnered more ink than some of the game day coverage for a college program.  All in all, there were less than 20 days out of 125 that a college team out-inked the Texans.  The domination began in pre-season and continued to a lesser extent each month, win or lose.

2       The Chronicle is currently in love with Coach Fran and the Aggies.  We were subject to countless accolades about the re-birth of the A&M program under the new coach.  Mickey Herskowitz in particular seems to have a fondness for the program.  Several of his columns were devoted to the maroon cause.

3       U of T still can dominate the sports page.  They ended up in second place behind the Texans in total media coverage, slightly ahead of Texas A&M, who started slowly, but gained momentum over the later months.

4       The Chronicle could care less about TSU. Truly, alumni and fans of this program should be all over the Chronicle about the lack of coverage, game day and other.  It took some sleuthing to discover that they went winless last year.  In fact, there was scarcely a mention of any player profiles or coaching information.  I do not believe any reporter followed the team when they were out of town, as the Chronicle relied on the wire service for news.

5       Rice and U of H, despite weekly columns devoted to their athletic programs still rank significantly behind UT and A&M in newspaper coverage.

Different looks at the numbers

Let's assume that each page of a newspaper has 126 column inches of space to allocate.  Below are how many total pages the Chronicle devoted to the teams we were following during the past 4+ months:

Team                            # of Pages

Houston Texans                       96
The University of Texas         20
Texas A&M University           17
The University of Houston    14
Rice                                              12
Texas Southern University      03

College totals                               66

Another way to look at the amount of resources devoted to the college programs is to eliminate the professional team data and look at the percentage  of resources allocated to the five studied college teams.

College Team                    % of Coverage

The University of Texas          30%
Texas A&M University             26%
The University of Houston       21%
Rice                                                17%
Texas Southern University       04%
(Totals do not equal to 100% because of rounding)

There are a number of additional studies that could be completed in the future, including page placement, number of mentions of individual players or coaches, positive or negative columns,  but my guess is that they would still show similar results. 

Football is clearly a dominant sport in Texas.  It might be fun to do a similar study for the various basketball and baseball programs, but the level of resources devoted to the college game at the Chronicle is much less than football.

I hope you enjoyed reviewing the data as much as I did tracking the results this year.  Have a wonderful holiday and enjoy reading about the bowl games and the BCS controversies......

Warmers Regards,

Gaylord Ravenal
Newspaper Sleuth

Season winds down
Editor's note:  As a special feature provided this fall to the Webletter by a neutral source --  guaranteed  -- we'll be presenting an occasional update on coverage of the local football teams,  both college and pro, by the Houston Chronicle.   Table and MS Excel file download...

HOUSTON (Nov. 29)  -- With the exception of the Monday Night game pitting Rice against Louisiana Tech, the regular college football season is over for the teams that we have been covering.  For the Texans, it means that there will be no competition for pigskin ink with the exception of the Monday game, the cries from Austin when they make or miss a BCS bowl bid, the annual post mortem of what went right (and wrong) for the covered teams.  The U of H piece already ran this past week, but we were treated to a story about Rice football player academic accomplishments as we await the post mortem piece on the Owls (offense line and RB injuries, the emergence of Joel Armstrong, and the usual....almost....what if scenarios). 

The past week was host to a plethora of Aggie/Longhorn rivalry stories.   Most Chronicle columnists weighed in on some aspect of the game.  The game met the week long hype and produced a one point safety and enough ink to rival the Texans to the point that the 60% coverage level from last week by the Texan's was reduced by at least 4%.  In fact, a picture and caption for the game was front page above the fold on Saturday.  Not to worry, with this Sunday's game against the Tennessee traitors, um...Titans, we can expect that pro football margin to increase again. 

This analysis project is expected to end on November 30, but we may wait until the final Big 12 U of H columns so we may follow the ink until the end of the week.   We will have one more analysis to report before we call it a day.

Happy reading!

Gaylord Ravenal
Newspaper Sleuth

Sorry, our mistake:  Mickey did give Owls half a loaf

HOUSTON (Nov. 24) -- As promised in our last review, we went to the archives of the Houston Chronicle to see if Mr. Herskowitz had opined on the Aggies program with as much regularity as it seemed.  The Chronicle keeps a pretty good archive of columnist material and a reader can quickly peruse his columns from Christmas Day 2003 forward.  We kept our search parameters from August 1 through the current date and discovered that the legendary columnist wrote about the Aggies a total of 7 times, while covering the Owls in 1/2 of a column (The other half was about the Coogs, a feel sorry for the Owls and Coogs plight column, as they have to play the big boys, in this case, the Longhorns and Miami Hurricane, respectively).  His next ink should again wax nostalgic about the splendid history between the big twelve powerhouses.  The 7 columns comprise a little more than 19% of his 36 columns since the beginning of our study.  If my prediction is correct, the 8 columns out of 37 will increase the total to 21.6%.

During that same time frame, Mr. Herskowitz covered the Texans in five columns, the Cougar's in 1 and 1/2 columns and has not decided to opine on the TSU Tigers.

Happy Thanksgiving!
Gaylord Ravenal
Newspaper Sleuth

Why doesn't Mickey ever write about Owls?

HOUSTON  (22) -- College Football is winding down as the teams head into their final game or games prior to Championship week and the bowl game hoopla.  It looks like both the Aggies and Longhorns will go bowling, while Rice, U of H  and TSU will be hanging on the sidelines wondering "what if".

We no longer need to ask the question of "what if" with the coverage of the Houston Chronicle.  There is clearly a focus on the Big 12 schools, in particular, UT and A&M.  There was no clearer evidence of this than in the past week when the Longhorns out inked the Cougars during a week where one of the top 10 teams in the nation came calling to Robertson stadium and the Longhorns had a bye week.  

In fact, three area teams covered had a bye week.  Ink for the bye week Agges and Longhorns?...almost 237 column inches (80 and 156.5) .  Ink for the idle Owls during the same time period?....30.5 inches.  Coverage of the perfect (winless) season for the TSU Tigers (who played Saturday night but had no Chronicle reporter filing a story Sunday or Monday)?....17 inches.  The Coogs received 148.5 inches during that time period.  Even more to the point, who garnered front page Sunday sports page above the fold coverage for college football?  Oklahoma's 35-0 whitewashing of Baylor.  The Cougars arrived below the fold.

Conversely, the lack of games to cover for the past 7 days foisted the Texans back into a dominant media position.  61% of the coverage for these programs in November focused on the professional team.  It was a special week.  We found out that David Carr is considered a "hunk" by Hollywood, thanks to his gorgeous locks....so glad he didn't cut his hair until the team won two games in a row or else we might have never known.  In fact, this is front page of the sports section coverage....real news! 

We were also treated to some eccentric River Oaks millionaire who wants his lawn to look like Lambeau field.  I can see why we would want to include this important news instead of looking critically at what went wrong this year at TSU, or how much did the injury to Thomas Lott disrupt the Owls season since he averaged over 7 yards a carry in 2003.

There was a Mickey Herskowitz sighting as he devoted a column last week to the Cougars.  It seems like he has spent the entire year waxing about the Aggies in his work, so this was a welcome bit of journalism outside the maroon program.  I did not track this specifically, but will take a moment this week to check the Chronicle on-line to see if my impressions are true.

I expect we will only update this information one or two more times as the season finally winds down. Tracking this coverage since August 1 has been a bit tedious but very enlightening.

Happy reading !

Gaylord Ravenal
Newspaper Sleuth

Winning, coverage doesn't correlate-- except for the Owls

HOUSTON (Nov. 10) -- November is approximately one-third over and football coverage continues in the Chronicle.  There has been wild enthusiasm that the Texans are beginning to whisper "winning season" and the Aggies have gone from Ashamed & Mortified (Baylor) to "Almost & Missed" (Oklahoma).   The Longhorns are playing like comeback kids after a first half debacle with Oklahoma State.  The Cougars are winning again, the Owls are in a tailspin and the Tigers are winless. 

The question I pondered recently was if there is a correlation between winning, losing and the number of column inches devoted to the program?  The conclusion seems to be at this point that the answer is no.  The Longhorns have moved from 6% to 10% to 19% and back to 10% from August through November 10th in relative coverage.  The Aggies just gained momentum from 3% to 10% to 14% and 18% over the same time period, media gain despite their last two losses.  The Cougars averaged 9% over the 4 months (6%,12%,9%,9%) while the Owls coverage has steadily eroded, showing the strongest correlation of lack of wins meaning lack of coverage (3%, 10%, 9%, 8%).   TSU simply is not covered before or during the season, barely breaking the 2% to 3% barrier.

The Texans? no amount of wins or losses will diminish the level of media adulation by the Chronicle.  Monday still produce luv ya Texan's day.  I continue to rue the day I made the (arbitrary) decision to not count pictures in the number of column inches devoted to the programs.  The results would be even more skewed with the picture happy Chronicle.

The big college gainer since the last analysis was the Aggies.  The Chronicle just can't get enough of their program and quarterback Reggie McNeal.  He is a semi-finalist for the Davey O'Brien award and has performed extremely well in most games.  The Chronicle has published several articles showcasing his prowess.   The stories are embellished with charts showing how he compares to other QB's in the nation.  My personal favorite was the chart showing "gosh, can he run!" as he was listed among the leading rushers in the nation for quarterbacks.  Who was the nation's leading quarterback rusher at the time the chart was published?  Rice's Greg Henderson.  

There have been two recent interesting developments in Chronicle coverage.  On November 4th, a reader comment that the U of H receives little coverage and poor page placement was published in the Chronicle sports page.  In addition, the Chronicle devoted part of page two of the sports section to the lack of attendance at the U of H and Rice November 6th games.  I wonder if the attendance dig by the columnist was related to the complaint to justify the placement and the level of coverage by the paper for the two schools? 

November Coverage in Summary:  The Texans: 55%, the Aggies 18%, the Longhorns, Cougars and Owls? 10%, 9% and 8% respectively.  TSU? off the radar at less than 1%.

Year to date?  As an example, the Longhorns have out logged the Owls in media ink by approximately 650 Colum inches.  That translates to approximately 5.4 full pages of news copy since we began this review(we assume 6 columns of 20 inches of type per page).  Better yet, the Texans have out-inked the TSU Tigers by an astronomical amount of 9,456 column inches since August 1!  That is almost 79 pages of copy.  (and I remind the reader yet again, that the tally does not include pictures!)  TSU's lesson?  Have your quarterback let the press know that he will not cut his hair until the Tigers win a game!

Happy reading!

Gaylord Ravenal
Newspaper Sleuth

Season-long coverage now averaging out

HOUSTON (Nov. 2) -- This report is usually updated every Friday, but since we were close to the end of October, we decided not to provide an update until after we measured the Sunday Chronicle and totaled up the month. 

The month ended with the Texans dropping below the 50% level for total competitive media coverage.  The drop was not anticipated because there was little drop off in coverage during the bye week.  But something happened on the Saturday after our last update.  The Texans did not have a mention in the sports page except a one inch scheduling notice on the 23rd and two days later the same phenomena occurred on the Monday sports page.  Imagine, two whole days without professional football coverage of the Texans.....

Meanwhile in the college ranks,  the twin titans of the Longhorns and Aggies garnered a collective 431 square inches of coverage while the U of H was recovered from their bye week and received 190 inches of ink.  The Owls were 25 inches behind the Cougars and miles behind the Big Twelve goliaths.  Need you ask about the winless TSU Tigers?  At 36 inches of coverage, they brought up the caboose of this media train yet again.  Now you would think that a story like the Baylor victory over the Aggies would be the story that outstripped the competition and take the lead for mention for the past week, but even that overtime debacle did not get as much play as the continuing story of the Longhorn road trip in Colorado.

The college season has now well past the halfway point, and the Chronicle has shown where their loyalties (and coverage) lie.  The combined coverage of the Houston college football teams barely beats the ink of the Longhorns.  The Aggies trail the orange by 5% but still handily beat the Owls, Cougars or the Tigers hands down.

Happy Reading,

Gaylord Ravenal
Newspaper Sleuth


With baseball done, football
should dominate coverage

HOUSTON (Oct. 25) -- On Thursday night, the St. Louis Cardinals put an abrupt end to Houston's baseball pipe dreams.  The incredible run of the Astros during the month of September and October significantly changed the face of the Chronicle's sports page, devoting a large portion of space to a team that would otherwise been relegated to page 2 and 3 if they were merely playing out the string.  Now that the run is done, we can expect that football will clearly dominate for the remainder of the fall, despite the beginnings of professional basketball. 

In our last weekly review, we discovered that at least for the University of Houston, a bye week ended coverage.  In fact, the momentum away from U of H coverage allowed Rice media mentions to catch up to the Cougars, significant in this market.  This past week was an off week for the Texans so it was interesting to see if the disappearing media would affect the professional franchise.  The answer in a word.....no.  The Texans averaged 36 column inches a day from Tuesday through Friday.   Of course the day after game day coverage held strong at 324 column inches.   Luckily the Chronicle made sure that Houston did not forget about their professional franchise during their bye week!  In fact, despite the bye week, the Chronicle still made sure that more than half the media coverage stayed with the professional franchise.

The big gainers for the week were the Aggies and Longhorns, respectively.  They out inked the Owls by 100 and 70 column inches, respectively.   At the same time, the Cougars and the Tigers of TSU recorded an identical puny 19.5 inches of media coverage.  Rice made 90 inches of ink as their up and down season continues.  For the Month of October, almost 85% of media coverage for these franchises have been concentrated with the Texans, Longhorns, and Aggies.  The Owls, Cougars and Tigers have split the crumbs.

One revelation was that the Sunday game day photo coverage of the college games for the teams under our scrutiny are all Associated Press shots, meaning that the Chronicle does not deem it important enough to send a photographer to cover any of the local college teams away games.  Conversely, the Monday coverage of the Texans game are all Chronicle snap shots, at least for the home game.  We will watch the next road game to see if that is still true.

Cheers

Gaylord Ravenal
Newspaper Sleuth


Owl coverage suffering from jet lag

HOUSTON (Oct. 17) -- As we reach the halfway point for October (week six in College Football parlance), a familiar pattern is taking place. Forgetting for the moment that the Texans will out ink the college programs, (they lead the closest competitor by more than 700 column inches), the Big Twelve Conference, and the University of Texas in particular is dominating in the college coverage circles.

Mack Brown's crew received almost 280 column inches of mention last week, compared to the Aggie's 143 inches, trailing way behind is the Owls at 93, while the result of the Cougars bye-week is saying bye bye from media mentions (less than 20 inches). Needless to say, TSU continues to fly beneath the Media radar, almost no one is aware that they are winless this year and seem to have lost their offense.

Now, the Aggies are trying valiantly to catch up in the media column. We are continuing to see three themes as we follow the "Dracula like" rise of the Aggies from the grave. 1: the genius of Coach Fran. 2: the return of the wrecking crew defense, and finally 3: My god, Reggie McNeal may be an honest to goodness quarterback in College Station. The Aggies lost much opportunity for press when they lost big and early in Utah. For several weeks, they trailed in garnering media mentions until they started to win some games they did not expect to be in. The Aggies also miss having a huge rival game other than the Longhorns. UT gets to reap the media mileage from two major rivals, the Aggies and the Sooners.

Coverage for Rice seems to be suffering from West Coast malady, trying to find anyone to read about the exploits Hawaii, San Jose, Fresno, Nevada and other WAC rivals. Their West Coast forays are also poorly covered by the Chronicle, partly because of the time delay, games in the left coast end too late to make any detailed analysis through the newspaper deadlines on Sunday. Completing the stories on Monday and Tuesday put the Chronicle way behind the other media outlets such as Radio, TV and Internet services. As the Rolling Stones sang, "Who wants yesterday's papers?"....old news doesn't sell.

There is also little mention of other stars and players in the WAC, compared to the ink received by big 12 players. Brad Smith (Missouri) and Donovan Woods (OK State) get major media treatment, while Timmy Chang's exploits in Hawaii or the comeback attempt of Nevada's Charles Kretschmer receive little notice in Houston media. Boise State's winning ways do not seem to be of interest to Chronicle editors. Through Friday, the Broncos have won 16 straight, yet are only ranked 21st in the nation.

All of these challenges (and more) systematically seem to work against increasing the profile of the Owls among Chronicle readers. It will be interesting if having two local angles in Conference USA will make a difference in coverage of the local collegiate teams next year.

Until next week,

Happy reading

Gaylord Ravenal
Newspaper Sleuth

Coverage of Owls lags behind UH

HOUSTON (Oct. 11) -- It looks like October will be remembered as the month of the clich'. Will the Cubs make it to the post season or yet again be subject to charges of el foldo? Will the Red Sox end the curse of the Bambino? Will the Astros ever win a playoff round? Will Mack Brown and the Longhorns finally beat the Sooners?

These are the questions that will dominate the media during the next weeks. It seems to be easier to retread old stories instead of working on real news and analysis. "Look at this running back recruit that got away from Texas!" "Mack tells his team his job is safe!" "Mack is serious about defense this year, he hired NFL Coaches!" In fact, I really wish that these teams would win so we could dispense with the curse stories and clich's and get down to some real journalism.

The Red River hype fest dominated the media, in fact, if you take away the Monday Texanfest...(a mere 287 column inches on our favorite pro team, without pictures), the Texas/Oklahoma feud even eclipsed coverage of the Texans. There is some justification for the coverage this year. Both teams are ranked in the top 5, both are undefeated, and the winner of the game has national championship aspirations.

Well, coverage matches the importance, as the Longhorns garnered almost 300 column inches of Chronicle ink. Contrast that to the Tigers, who had a relatively robust 28 inches as they struggle to win a game this season. The Cougars come in a few inches below 200 inches as they get prime coverage for their Thursday night scuffle with Southern Mississippi. 100 inches below that total come the Owls, who seemed to be short shrifted because of their game on the left coast was too late for complete coverage, and what seemed to be a lack of thoughtful analysis of the game in the days afterward. 133 points scored in a regulation contest seemed to garner more attention outside of Houston than in the Chronicle. The Aggies seem to be gathering a bit more respect as Coach Fran continues his college station resuscitation tour. They received 30% more coverage than Rice but they could not touch the level ink reserved for the Longhorns.

Meanwhile, we saw David Carr and his Dad get their haircut as we continue to be subject to domination of the media by the pro franchise. The gap is getting smaller, from 80% in August, to 57% in September to 42% so far in October. The large amount of coverage for the UT/OU game was the major reason for the shrinking gap, but we should see that change back in favor of the professional team until the Aggie/Longhorn battle in November.

Since we began this survey, we have seen the domination of the media by the pros, an increasing amount of coverage of UT and a surprising amount of ink for the Cougars, still leading the local coverage of college teams. Rice and TSU are clearly lacking in coverage relative to the other programs. By the time next week's analysis is published, if is likely that the Longhorns will overtake the Cougars in coverage, since we will probably see wall to wall expose on every play from the Cotton Bowl.

Happy reading!

Gaylord Ravenal
Newspaper Sleuth

Chronicle goes snapshot-happy

HOUSTON (Oct. 2) -- Football season churns into October and we have seen the first victory by the hometown Texans. If you missed the game, no problem! The Chronicle had more than 219 column inches of color pictures from Kansas City! The first Texan victory received the front page color picture treatment in the paper. This is at least the second of three weeks in the regular season that a picture of the game has been front page news the following Monday. Another way to look at this snapshot happy paper is to recognize that the Texan's pictures from last Sunday's game eclipsed the total column inches devoted to Texas Southern for the entire month....

Since A&M and the Cougars had the week off, there was little mention of their programs during the beginning of the week, but Coach Fran's detection of a pulse in the Aggie gave rise to a sizeable expose on his history of revitalizing college football programs.

The Rice-UT football game generated the typical amount of space for both programs, but surprisingly, the Longhorn game this week against Baylor is not generating much ink. In fact, the last 3 days only generated 5 column inches of "burnt orange" newsprint. Rice's press release on Ben Wiggins medical condition was reprinted virtually verbatim.

TSU received more coverage than usual, with a total of 44 column inches devoted to the winless Tigers during a 7 day period. Not much compared to the other programs, but far greater than earlier this season.

So September ends with approximately 57% of the comparative ink, sans snapshots focused on Bob McNair's $700 million professional franchise, while the U of H has received the lions share of the college coverage, thanks in large part to the number of games they have played versus the other teams we are measuring. UT, A&M, and Rice are within 5 column inches of each other for the month, trailing the Coogs by about 100 column inches, and TSU's coverage, despite their mentions this past 7 days, significantly lags behind the other programs.

Since we began this measuring game, the Texan's have garnered 67% of the space, while the other programs have fought between 7 and 9% of the remaining crumbs, again, except the Tigers, who merit only 2% of the Chronicle's coverage when comparing these programs.

Gaylord Ravenal
Newspaper Sleuth

Coverage of local colleges picks up

HOUSTON (Sept. 25) -- As September winds down to its inevitable conclusion, we are observing a noticeable increase in coverage for some local teams.  

The University of Houston enjoyed more than 295 column inches of coverage from their win over Army through the anticipation of the top ranked Miami Hurricane arriving coincidental to tropical no-show Ivan. In fact, Friday's coverage of the Cougar's effort at Reliant stadium logged close to 97 column inches, sans pictures.   Coverage before and after the game Thursday  was approximately double the average space the Chronicle allocated to the Cougars in their previous 3 games...

Rice benefited from its second win against Hawaii.  Leading with a 35 column inch picture of Ed Baily (large, but still only 1/3 the size of the David Carr melon earlier this month), the Owls inked about 185 column inches over the week.   There has been some considerable interest due to the fact that they are 2-0, and that they play the Longhorns next.  However, the preview article on the game was so focused on the Rice players, we gave Rice full credit for the words and allocated no space to UT for the coverage.

Despite the increase in interest of these local programs, the Texan's coverage still outstripped the sum of both schools.  Logging in at a sturdy 684 column inches over the past 7 days, we do not have to fear that people will forget who the Texan's are.  Imagine what they will do if the team actually wins a game or two!  

The Aggies have the week off so there was little mention in the paper of their resurgence after the first game debacle against Utah.  TSU plays Saturday against Nichols State but there was no information Friday except a radio listing.   For the week, the chronicle allowed 5.5 inches of space for gridiron news for the Tigers.

In summary, we have seen coverage for the Texans continue at a strong rate, but the college programs are making some inroads.  The Cougars lead in total coverage of the College teams, largely due to playing 4 games so far compared to the Aggies three and the Owls and Longhorns 2 contests, each.  The lead could change again after the weekend, but the fact remains that the Coogs have benefited from the Thursday game and national exposure with Oklahoma and Miami over the past 2+ weeks.   It will be interesting to see how much space is allocated to the Rice-Texas game this weekend without the Aggies or Coogs playing to compete for space.

Happy reading!

Gaylord Ravenal
Newspaper Sleuth 

It's getting spooky to open sports section

HOUSTON (Sept. 17) -- As we head into the second half of September, we are learning to fear opening the Houston Chronicle on a Monday.  Last week, readers opened their newspaper only to find a ghastly blue and red paper mache' mask and painted head with a pained expression staring them down on the front page as the Chronicle's crack team of investigative pondered the irony of a stadium named Reliant (after an energy company) losing electrical power during the opening day loss.  In total, the Chronicle devoted 351 column inches to every possible detail of the first NFL game for the year, and that was excluding an additional 232 column inches of pictures.   That translates to more than five full pages of Texans pictures and stories.   Even Shelby Hodge's society column led with a story about what local celeb's, movers and shakers were in the owners box for the first game!

The mass coverage booster the total coverage to date for Houston's NFL darlings to more than 80% since August 1 in comparison to the other 5 college programs we are tracking, and boosted their comparative space allocation for September from 47% to 55%.  We will confirm it on next Monday, but it looks like each Monday we will be subjected to a "special sports section" on the results of the NFL weekend.  

On the other side of the equation, it took the Chronicle until Wednesday to mention that Texas Southern lost their football game last weekend.  Before then and since, there has been no sighting of the TSU Tigers and their football program.   At the University of Houston, the story that broke on Fox TV with Dave Maggard's possible flirtation with another job the previous week finally surfaced in print last weekend, five days after the story broke.  Houston's game with Army is not generating much copy.  It is likely that some additional coverage will occur on Saturday, just prior to the game.  A similar situation exists with Rice and Hawaii.  There was no full page comparative analysis between Timmy Chang and Greg Henderson as we saw Friday with Messer's Harrington and Carr.

News copy that Rice and U of H are offering free and discounted tickets to hurricane refugees  hit the paper Thursday and Friday, respectively.   Apparently the rumor that the 49ers-Saints game would be played in Houston if Hurricane Ivan came ashore in the Crescent City did not generate much interest.

There was mid-week sightings of stories about both the Rice and U of H programs, with similar treatment for the Aggies and the Longhorns.  It is interesting to note that there has only been one day during the first 48 days of this study where column inches devoted to any of the college programs exceeded the daily space devoted to the Texans.

In summary, forgetting the pro slant, coverage during September for the five colleges is very even between the Aggies and the Longhorns, (in the 350 inch range) about 100 column inches less for the Cougars, with another 80 inch drop off for the Owls and other than the conference preview special sections prior to the season and a wrap of the Prairie View A&M game, a miniscule 10 column inches allocated to TSU.

Gaylord Ravenal
Newspaper Sleuth

David Carr's hair out-inks college game

HOUSTON (Sept. 10) -- The first games have been completed for college football and it is time to open the NFL regular season.   The glut of non-stop football coverage on the air waves and in print is now in full swing.  While there was no contest in August on who ruled the print media during preseason (the pro's, hands down), we now get to see where the Chronicle will put their coverage muscle when looking at allocating column inches to the various college and pro teams we are studying. 

Remember the ground rules, we are measuring column inches devoted to the following 6 programs, the Texans, Longhorns, Aggies, Cougars, Owls and Tigers (TSU, not LSU).  We also made the strategic decision (should I say mistake?) not to count the column inches devoted to pictures.  This decision is especially painful now that the Chronicle has revamped their layout and devoted an ever increasing amount of space to pictures.  What made me reflect on this?  David Carr's hair.  The Chronicle loves David Carr.  He has his own column.   His picture was in a "teaser" on the front page of the college preview, as if to say..."don't worry, you can read about me next week!"  Then on Sunday, there he was...David Carr's hair,.............. more than 96 column inches on page one.......his locks hanging down, and then another 30 column inches of picture inside.  It was like reading Tiger Beat magazine!   "Davey won't cut his hair until the team wins two games in a row!" Yikes!

Forgetting the giant cranium pictures, the September Texans coverage approximately equals the collective level of the five college team's space.  Most of the Texan's news starts on the front page of the sports section, with somewhere around  1/2 of a page continuing inside.  We have not seen regular season game day preview and post win/loss coverage, so these ratios may yet change.   We do suspect that the amount of coverage for the Texans will not diminish the Chronicle's commitment to cover the TSU Tigers, they have not devoted any space to their program since last Sunday.

The Longhorns received the largest amount of coverage last week, from the opening slaughter of North Texas (65 column inches, approximately 3 times the amount of coverage for the other programs), to two articles during the week and the Arkansas payback preview of 45+ inches Friday.  The Aggies were covered solely for the challenge of their quarterback injury and a Herskowitz column last Sunday.   After the coverage for the Rice/Cougar match, and one follow up article each during the week, little has been mentioned for either program.  Rice does not play this week, U of H had a mere 4.75 inches devoted on Friday to their game with Oklahoma this weekend.

In other media, Fox sports reported on Wednesday that Dave Maggard, the U of H athletic director was considering another position.  On Thursday, Fox reported that Maggard decided to stay.  There was nary a mention in the Chronicle Thursday or Friday on this news item.  I guess no press release, no news......

In summary, the Longhorns and Aggies lead in the September college coverage, followed by U of H, Rice and the no news Tigers.  Since August 1, total column inches devoted to the Texans is still above 70% as we head into the first weekend of NFL games that count.

Just think, David Carr's hair!

Gaylord Ravenal
Newspaper Sleuth

September picks up bit of momentum for college game

HOUSTON (Sept. 5) -- August ended as if begun -- a plethora of words and pictures in the Chronicle about Bob McNair's pro-football franchise.   Nonetheless, there was an increase in activity the last 4 days of August and the first 3 days of September in the College arena.  Thankfully, the Chron saw fit to devote 11 column inches (and a picture!) in the City and State section to the retirement of the current Bevo and the unveiling of the new UT longhorn mascot.  They answered the question we all had....will the old Bevo become briscuit and burgers, or maintain a retirement lifestyle as a pampered methane dispenser? (The latter.)

Does the focus on the mascots as a major feature story in the front two sections of the paper mean that we will soon focus on the exploits and travails of the other sports mascots in our community? (more Pulitzer material!)  Shasta at home with his mate?  Sammy the Owl's molting problems?  Reveille's secret fire hydrant fetish? Perhaps a search for the name of the TSU Tiger?  Toro's reckless driving tickets on his segeway?  A multi-part series for those of us interested in hard hitting news and commentary!

Thanks to the last Sunday sports section special preview of the college football season, the overall share of media coverage to the Texans versus the other 5 programs we are tracking was reduced from 86% to 80% by the end of the month.  The largest gainers for the week were the Aggies, Cougars and Longhorns, respectively.   At the end of the pack was Rice, at least 10 inches behind the cluster of state schools and finally TSU, trailing even the Owls by 7 column inches.

September has picked up some momentum for the college game, with less than half of the coverage for the first 3 days going to the pro franchise (a mere 45%, 220 column inches), but luckily the string of front page stories/mentions on the sports section continues to thrive.  The Aggies seem to be paving the way, since their opening game was on Thursday.  32% of the space focused on their hopes, aspirations, quarterback superiority, and ultimately their demise at the hands of Utah, 41 to 21.   Saturday, Sunday, and Monday could be a significant coverage boost to the remaining four college programs, with the Tigers and Longhorns playing separate games on Saturday, and the Owls and Cougars facing off at Reliant Stadium on Sunday.  Since the Texans played their last pre-season game Thursday night, there should be less competition for space over the labor day weekend.

As it stands on Friday, September 3, the Texans lead the newsworthy pack with 76% of the coverage since the beginning of August, with no other program garnering more than 6% of the media mention.  I wonder what will happen when the NFL regular season "kicks-off"?

Gaylord Ravenal
Newspaper Sleuth

Texans beat goes on

HOUSTON (Aug. 27) -- The past seven days have not bucked the trend of the Chronicle continuing to portray itself as the "Flackmaster" of the NFL and Houston Texans.

For the Month of August, a remarkable 86% of column inches (of the teams we have been following) have been devoted to the Houston Texans (up from 85% a week ago), due to a stunning 89% of column inches following the pro franchise over the past seven days.  It would have been far more if not for an article detailing how happy Mack Brown is in Austin last week.  In fact, collectively over the past 7 days, the Chronicle has allocated less than 17 column inches to the Owls, Cougars, Aggies, and TSU Tigers football programs combined compared to more than 652 inches allotted to the pro franchise during the same period.  This does not count column inches devoted to pictures!

Some interesting trends,  the daily page devoted to the Texan's training camp is finally over, so the guaranteed daily 120 column inches has been reduced somewhat.  Another trend to note, I did not keep an accurate tally, but I can not think of a day during the month where an article featuring some aspect of the Texan's program was not featured on the front page of the sports section.  Other than the Mack Brown article, there have been no front page features on any of the college programs we are following (that I can remember).  TSU continues to be the big loser in the media mentions.  There must be little happening off of Scott Street, according to the Houston Chronicle.  In fact, the Chronicle used 45 inches of space in the Houston Section to feature Texans trainer Dan Riley and his training and health tips, while they have devoted only 46 inches in August to TSU, all in one "preview" article.

The Chronicle's intrepid reporting of local college football continues to be comprised of running almost verbatim the press releases from the schools they choose to cover.  It must be somewhat embarrassing to those who know how the system works.   The college reports on the local teams are also run in a smaller font than the regular feature articles.

Perhaps this lopsided coverage will change once the regular season starts...... 

The Chronicle has been following (via news services) the travails of the Colorado football player and Olympic skier who lost his NCAA eligibility because he had received "sponsorships" to help pay for his skiing training.   Unfortunately, they did not choose (yet?) to explore  the apparent hypocrisy of how the NCAA will allow college athletes to participate and get paid for other professional sports while still competing as an amateur, as did Cedric Benson by playing minor league baseball, or seeming to ignore the deals (perhaps under the table) that Nike and others have made with high school basketball players and for AAU and "select" programs.  This is a good "think piece" that would distinguish the reporting at the paper.  Instead we get columns about how former NFL linebacker Dick Butkus has a nephew who has to answer the obligatory questions about his lineage while trying to make the team.  Wow! Pulitzer material! 

As we continue to follow this coverage throughout the season, we are going to make some decisions on how to count some articles and information.  When college teams we are following play each other and there are feature articles devoted to the upcoming game or post game coverage, we will total the column inches and divide by two to give equal (but diminished) credit to both schools. (Rice versus U of H, Rice versus UT, UT versus A&M).  We will not use that method if there are comments about both teams in the weekly column devoted to Rice or U of H, assuming these columns run during the season as in the past.  They will count strictly for the schools featured in the column.  While we are not counting column inches for pictures, the playbook diagrams that have graced the game analyses of Texans games in the past will be counted if they are run this year.

Happy reading!

Gaylord Ravenal
Newspaper Sleuth

Link to content analysis table (as of Aug. 27)...

Local media college coverage comes in dribs and drabs

HOUSTON (Aug. 20) -- Reading the Houston Chronicle Sports pages during August is becoming a mind-numbing experience.  The amount of copy (sans pictures!) devoted to the Houston professional football franchise has swollen to more than 2,600 column inches during the last 20 days.  In addition, like being home on the range, "seldom is heard a discouraging word" when it comes to these media darlings.  Now, the Chronicle does not have a monopoly on this obsequious behavior, most of the local television stations are devoting much of their sportscasts at the "bubble" and sports talk radio has logged so much time off of Kirby drive that they might have a legal case for "squatters rights" if they choose to fight an eventual eviction.

Media mentions for the various college football programs are coming in drips and drabs, one to two inches at a time.  Do not assume that the Chronicle's intrepid sports staff are busting their behinds to get the inside skinny on the latest at Cullen boulevard or University drive, they are simply printing or slightly rewriting the school's press releases.  The big loser in this activity? Texas Southern University.   For whatever reason, (resources?) they either have not provided updated press releases on the results of their preparation or they are being ignored by the Chronicle.   Consequently, there have been no mention of the Tigers program since the 46 inch analysis on August 10th.

Any follow up in the Chronicle on UT's Cedric Benson's foray into the pen?  Nary a mention of the story that Cedric showed up for jail twice and was told that the cells were full and because of his good behavior, he did not have to return.  (this update was mentioned to me by a UT fan, so I have not verified the accuracy)  Sports Illustrated ran a short anecdote that the talented running back helped out a couple in distress by running to get help after they had crashed their automobile.  The grateful couple decided to buy season tickets as a way to show appreciation for his selfless act.  I did not find a mention of this story either in the paper.

The Texan's preseason skirmish with the evil Cowboys garnered more than 218 column inches of analysis, anecdotes and "information".  That one game coverage has exceeded media coverage for both Rice and U of H combined from August 1 through August 20th.  I am beginning to regret my decision to not count pictures in the content measurement, since if seems that each day I am subtracting at least 15 additional inches of space to some aspect of the legendary Texan's lore.

So the summary to date? 85% of the Chronicle newspaper space devoted to covering these programs has been allocated to the Texans, with the Cougars, Longhorns, Aggies, Owls and finally Tigers (in rank order) struggling for newsprint mention. 

Gaylord Ravenal
Newspaper sleuth

Chron coverage continues pro slant

HOUSTON (Aug. 18) -- Week two of following the Chronicle coverage of football in our community started and ended again with a "professional slant".  To date, 87% of the coverage of the football teams we have decided to track have been devoted to those professional darlings, the Houston Texans.

This week we did see some column inches devoted to Rice, U of H and TSU, and we can look forward to preview articles next week on TAMU and the Longhorns.  The college stories are previews of the season.   They were the predictable sort...can Rice win the WAC crown in their last year in the conference?, Can U of H continue their winning ways under Art Briles after going to a bowl last year?  The depth charts covered 2 columns in width so I counted them as such in my tracking (benefit of the doubt).  The "depth charts were pretty much boilerplate.  No real research in the position by position analysis. 

Hmmmmm...No coverage of Cedric Benson completing his stint in jail...guess it is not newsworthy....

Most disappointing is that the "Texan's leading information source" is not even picking up the press releases from the schools about the first week of practice,.... but we did learn that the Texan's second string QB Tony Banks has a wife that is a "pro-bowler" as a cook.   Boy howdy!...do I feel informed!

The next few days should be tough, we actually get to see coverage of an exhibition game against the evil Dallas Cowboys.  Don't expect coverage of anything else for the next few issues.     

Gaylord Ravenal
Newspaper Sleuth

College teams run poor second
to newspaper coverage of Texans

Editor's note:  As a special feature provided this fall to the Webletter by a neutral source --  guaranteed  -- we'll be presenting an occasional update on coverage of the local football teams,  both college and pro, by the Houston Chronicle.   Table

HOUSTON (August 8 -- Special to the Webletter) -- Ah, August!

The time when football fans across the nation begin to peruse the bookstores for their latest football preview magazines and whet their appetites for the upcoming season.

Despite the sweltering heat, we begin to long for the days to sit in the stands and watch our gridiron heroes as they prepare for the challenges ahead.

Houston is uniquely positioned with so many outstanding football teams, venues and games that we thought we would look at how our community's "leading information source" reports on the various teams in the area. Surely they will provide plenty of in-depth coverage to help satiate the casual and discerning fan's interest!

We thought it would be fun to do a little research to track the amount of space the Chronicle devotes to the various professional and collegiate teams that Houston fans follow. Therefore we are scouring the paper on a daily basis with our trusty tape measure and are comparing column inches devoted to several teams throughout the season. The following chart and graph will be updated on a (hopefully) regular basis to see how things progress.

We began the comparison August first, so we missed the WAC Media day on July 27th. (Don't worry, the Chronicle has not reported on it as of August 5th).....(hmmmm, if the Chronicle does not report on it, did it happen?).

We decided to track comparable column inches devoted to the Texans, Rice, the University of Houston, Texas Southern University, Texas A&M and the University of Texas football programs. For statistical purists, we are calculating headlines into the column inch comparisons, but not pictures.

We are also using estimates, usually rounding up and down to the closest inch. Letters to the sports editor on a program will be counted, since their inclusion is an editorial decision. A newspaper column devoted to a program, player or coach will be included, but the weekly column's about Rice, U of H and others will only count the portion of the review that is focused on some element of the football program.

What have we noticed so far? Whoa! more than a full page daily of Texan's training camp! So far the new nickname of the Chronicle should be "The Texan's Daily Information Source!".

Even Ken Hoffman's Thursday column devoted 3 inches to this year's tailgating opportunities at Reliant Stadium, more coverage this week than Rice, UT, TSU and Texas A&M combined! After a while I have become a little uncomfortable looking for even mentions of the collegiate programs.

Can I count the blurb on the legal problems of a former A&M player? I will since there seems to be an epidemic of off season disciplinary problems in the program currently...it's a common theme. Shall I measure the mention two former A&M players in the story on the visiting Dolphins? No, arbitrary decision on my part!

The paper ran an article on the 4th about the last season for many Conference USA teams and the season ahead. There were several U of H mentions so it goes in their tally. Rice was mentioned in one sentence so no credit for the Owls.

There was a great article Friday about the new NCAA regulations and their effect on recruiting. What a great opportunity to talk to local coaches and get their perspective! In fact, Ken Hatfield would be a great source for this article since he is President of the NCAA football coach's association this year. Sadly, there is no mention of any local reaction. What an opportunity missed.

We hope you enjoy this little research project! Who knows what the future brings!

Until next time, happy reading!

Gaylord Ravenal
newspaper sleuth

 


Back-to-basics turnaround
should give Owls impetus
for strong start this year

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Rice head football coach Ken Hatfield relaxes with reporters at this week's annual THSCA confab

HOUSTON (July 27) – At the halftime of the Navy game in Rice Stadium last year, things looked about as grim for Rice’s football prospects as they had in many a year. Facing a 1-6 record, with what looked to be a blowout home loss to a team that Rice had beaten on the road the year before, the Owls, used to dealing from a short deck in the best of times, looked down on their fortunes and down in the mouth.

It was a classic time for a gut-check, and head coach Ken Hatfield’s crew apparently pulled an abdomen observation quite well, for, although they didn’t come back to win the game, they did go and play Navy on even terms in the second half, shutting down the Middies’option attack with a suddenly-jelled defense.

Speaking at the Texas High School Coaches Association annual meeting at the old Astroworld Hotel earlier this week, an upbeat Ken Hatfield took strength from the turnaround that began with the second half of last year’s Navy game. And before gathered press, he ventured a bit of analysis on the matter.

"We really had two bad games during our time here," he said, " that really put us in a hole that we had to climb out of."

"I guess we’ve had several more bad games than that, if you listen to the alumni," he added with a grin. "But I know we’ve had two bad games that as far as the coaching staff’s viewpoint that we thought were really bad."

"The first one was Air Force early on out there when I first came here. It was matter there of our just trying too hard. We blocked four punts in the game, but still didn’t win the game. It was just one of those things; we wanted to win so badly we just lost our concentration and wound up playing so poorly."

After the loss, Rice simplified its offense, got back to basics, readjusted the focus button, and won out the rest of the season, going 7-4 and deserving of a bowl game that th Owls were basically cheated out of.

Lesson learned.

Turnaround started in second half of '03 Navy game

And then there was last year’s Navy game. "We had a lot of people here; you know, a lot of hoop-la surrounding the game," Coach Hatfield recalled. "And Navy was really doing great about that time, running their triple option extremely well. And on defense, at that point in the season, still, the guys were so young -- just learning to play the game, really. Then all of a sudden, that week against Navy, we ran up against a buzz-saw, option offense that really executed well, and I mean they ripped us to shreds in the first half."

"But then we gutted it up; made a couple changes on defense, and came out and played a great defensive second half. That helped us."

Adjustments on the offensive side helped out the Owls’ cause at that time, as well. So did  Kyle Herm's return to the pink of health. "He’d had broken ribs earlier in the year," Coach recalled. "When he got healthy, that gave us more depth at quarterback, where we could do some things."

With Greg Henderson as the only uninjured quarterback with any game experience, Rice offensive coaches had been hamstrung in their strategies and tactics. But with the added depth and experience fostered by Kyle’s return, and the back-to-basic approach, the Rice offense got well in a hurry.

"Really we decided to revert to the basic triple option the rest of the year," Coach said. "And it started, the next week at Fresno – we played a great game at Fresno. We lose the game, but it was a great game. We really took it too them – and got, like, 487 yards of offense."

Lesson number two learned.

"We played well on the road during that run last year; that’s the hardest thing that you have to do, is win on the road. To win at SMU, and Louisiana Tech, they had down years, maybe, but those are two tough places to play, and it gave our guys a lot of confidence." 

It was a big turnaround for the Feathered Flock, it turned out, for the Owls came out and won four out of their five last games – and with any luck it could have been six out of the last six.

Naysayers will point out that Rice’s wins came against teams that were less than juggernauts. But that doesn’t factor in the ferocity of the Rice attack, and the level of improvement in play on both sides of the ball that took place as the Owl offensive unit clicked and the defensive side jelled.

Owls can pick up where they left off -- and plan on doing so

By the time the last game of the '03 rolled around, against LaTech at Ruston, the Rice option game was rolling like a well-oiled machine and the Young Guns in the defensive secondary had learned how to take control of a football game.   Consequently, the Owls ripped away three turnovers from their opponents in the first half and scored virtually at will all day, setting an all-time school and league rushing record en route to a 49-14 victory.

After that, noboby really wanted the season to end.  But end it did, and at that point left off, it turns out, is exactly where Coach Hatfield and his charges plan on starting out, this September.

"The success we had last year definitely has carried over," he said. "We’ve shown a workmanlike attitude – and a confident attitude – during spring practice and in the off-season program. And I really look forward to that same attitude carrying forward when we start our two-a-days here in August."

Guess somebody better alert those guys from the outre’ side of South Main that they’re not going to get a forfeit, after all, as more than a few of them apparently expect, virtually, at least. Nope, the Rice Institute plans on showing up at Reliant Stadium for this year’s Sept. 5 home opener against Houston – and they plan on showing up ready to play, Coach Hatfield said.

"This is the time of the year for every team to start thinking about developing its own identity," the head Owl noted. "That’s really what we’re thinking about right now. It’s something we’re looking forward to. We are probably as excited as we’ve ever been at Rice, since I’ve been here – and this would be our eleventh year here – just because we were able to finish so strong last year."

"We have 18 seniors this year. All of them will play. And that’s important to us."

Paul T. Hlavinka
Webletter Editor

Coach Hatfield reviews his anticipated offensive starters

04hatthscaconference2 copy.jpg (41875 bytes)
"Strongest player we’ve ever had, pound for pound. He power cleans 381 – that’s the best I’ve ever had for a quarterback anywhere. But he just loves the weight room. He is a good leader, and we’ve been looking for to Greg’s coming to the fore"

HOUSTON (July 27) – Rice head coach Ken Hatfield went down the list of his offensive unit while meeting with scribes at the THSCA convention this week. He focused on his anticipated first unit, while pointing out, nevertheless, that two-a-days loom ahead and that nobody’s job should be expected to remain a lead-pipe cinch, especially with some talented redshirts and underclassmen in the pipeline. That having been noted, however, Coach Hatfield detailed his mental list.

"Offensively, we’ll start nine seniors and two juniors. So we have an experienced bunch on offense."

"The main thing I like to look at is to see to it that the players are playing their best football in their senior year. If they are, then they will have improved, they’ll be better – and we’ll have a chance then, at every ball game that we play."

"Going into the last year of the WAC, the Western Athletic Conference was a big, big plus for us, with the breakup of the Southwest Conference. And we’ve had some exciting games with all the teams in that league. This being the last year, certainly we’d like to win the conference, and go out as the WAC champion. But it will not be easy because there are some outstanding teams, as you well know."

"Boise State has had one of the top programs in the country in the last decade. Fresno has a lot of people back; their quarterback’s really good. Timmy Chang, coming in here to our place, from Hawaii, is on his track to be the all-time NCAA passing leader."

"But we also have also have a quarterback, Greg Henderson, who is a senior. Strongest player we’ve ever had, pound for pound. He power cleans 381 – that’s the best I’ve ever had for a quarterback anywhere. But he just loves the weight room. He is a good leader, and we’ve been looking for to Greg’s coming to the fore. He’s always been kind of in the shadow of Kyle Herm, for the last three years. Greg is ready to take control of this team, and to provide us with the kind of leadership that will give us a chance – in the opening game against Houston, and then on from there."

04hatthscaconference4.jpg (46900 bytes)
"We’ve got probably as good a group of running backs as we’ve ever had, coming back. Thomas Lott was second in the nation in average per carry last year, at 7.3 yards per carry. The only guy who averaged more than he did was (Texas’) Vincent Young"

"We’ve got probably as good a group of running backs as we’ve ever had, coming back. Thomas Lott was second in the nation in average per carry last year, at 7.3 yards per carry. The only guy who averaged more than he did was (Texas’) Vincent Young, when he ran the ball."

"Joe Moore, a former baseball player and a great athlete who can do anything, and a former quarterback, has really developed into an outstanding running back. Marcus Rucker, another freshman running back who started the game against Houston last year, is a strong, 215-pounder and a great player. Quinton Smith showed a tremendous amount of speed when we first gave him a chance to start in a ball game against Fresno; he had great game."

"Mike Falco, Clint Hatfield, Ed Bailey, Andrew Cates, John Wall are all fine players and will contribute on the field as well. And so we’ve got great depth a both fullback and running back – probably the best we’ve had since we’ve been here."

"Receiver-wise, Marcus Battle is back; he was the quarterback in high school in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, but has been a receiver for two years now– and I think he’ll continue to be a great, great receiver for us."

"At tight end we have Ben Wiggins, who’s a track All-American. And he’s one of the great stories – a guy who came here on a track scholarship and told us he wanted to play football, too. And I tried to talk him out of it five times, with the track coach – and he wouldn’t listen to me, thank goodness. No, he kept coming back, said, ‘no, I want to play football.’ So he gave up his track scholarship, came out and practiced and earned a football scholarship from us."

04hatthscaconference5a.jpg (41749 bytes)
"Greg Wilson is our right guard; we’ve played him and can play him at guard, tackle and center. And he’ll be the right guard, going in. We’re hoping he’s down on his weight a little bit; he was up at about 330 and we’re hoping to get him down to about 310, or somewhere in there – where he can really run and move"

"And then you saw what he did his first start in the SMU game – I think he had three catches for something like 182 yards and two Tds. And he would’ve had three Tds if the quarterback hadn’t underthrown him. But he’s going to be a big, big plus for us, too, even though he’s a six-foot-three guy who can play tight end or split end either one."

"On our offensive line, probably Scott Mayhew is probably the bell cow of our group – he’s 6-6, about 312. Our left tackle, from Nederland, he’s just a great guy. The left guard, Micah Meador, from out here in Humble, can really run; he’s about 290. Ross Huebel’s our center; he’s a great athlete and has really good feet. He’s from Clear Lake, an excellent player for us."

"But those three are really the ones that have all had the experience of playing harding together."

"Greg Wilson is our right guard; we’ve played him and can play him at guard, tackle and center. And he’ll be the right guard, going in. We’re hoping he’s down on his weight a little bit; he was up at about 330 and we’re hoping to get him down to about 310, or somewhere in there – where he can really run and move. I think he’ll be just fine."

"Cotey-Joe Cswaykus will be our starting right tackle; he should start at about 310; he’s also from Midland. He’s come back from injury and from personal adversity and he’s quite a story."

"And then whether we’d be running a tight end or not, depending upon the situation it should be either Joe Wood or Ben Wiggins."

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"The kicking game looks to be pretty solid. We’d lost a great snapper (Ryan Pontbriand) who signed a pro contract with Cleveland; we ended up with a guy who can snap it faster than he does. Drew Clardy, who’s about 6-6 and 270, did a great job at deep snapping last year"

"The kicking game looks to be pretty solid. We’d lost a great snapper (Ryan Pontbriand) who signed a pro contract with Cleveland; we ended up with a guy who can snap it faster than he does. Drew Clardy, who’s about 6-6 and 270, did a great job at deep snapping last year. And you know how important that is."

"We need to be more consistent in field goals. Brennan Landry was 35 of 35 in extra points last year; but we have not been as consistent there as you’ve got to be. I think you win three games a year on a good field goal kicker, and we need to have that. Besides Brennan, we’ve signed a young man this year (Luke Juist) who’ll be with us, field goal wise, and kicked a 52 and a 53-yarder in high school ball games. So, between the two of them, we’ll come up with whoever’s working out the best, and let him kick the field goals."

"But I think we’re going to have a fun offense, with that much experience back, and finishing as strong as we did, I think we’re looking forward to having a productive offense."

OK, now that you anticipated offensive starters have got a big, fat target painted on your backs for the redshirts and underclassmen to take aim at during two-a-days, may the leather-popping begin.

Next week: Coach Hatfield takes a look at the defensive side of the ball


Coaches comment on position players

Friends of Rice Athletics website...

HOUSTON (July 23) -- Here's a rundown of comments by Rice assistant coaches on some of their key position players -- this given in connection with the fundraising efforts currently going on through the Friends of Rice Athletics.

From Coach Brinson, running backs coach:

riceac.brinson.jpg (18371 bytes)As the running back coach at Rice University I am very excited.  This group of running backs might be the best group I have coached in 21 years including Clemson and Arkansas.  This group has size, speed, agility, and power to win on the Division I level.  We have always possessed a strong run attack and this group is no less but with the creativity they have, there will be a lot of excitement in the running game.

Ed Bailey – A red-shirt senior who will continue the tradition of tough, hard-running fullbacks like Benji Wood and Robbie Beck.  The extra dimension that Bailey has is his halfback-like ability that makes him as elusive as he is tough.

Bio Bilaye-Benibo – A red-shirt freshman with great size and speed.   Has not played but showed good running and blocking ability during spring drills.

Andrew Cates – A red-shirt sophomore who follows two outstanding fullbacks, Benji Wood and Robbie Beck, that attended his high school (Marist).  Now at back up position to Ed Bailey he is poised to continue the Marist full back tradition with great blocking skills and power.

Mike Falco – A red-shirt sophomore who is expected to be a big contributor this fall.  Suffered a hairline fracture in his lower leg that kept him out until late in the season.  With his great running, blocking, and catching ability he will make a very good H-back.

Clint Hatfield – A red-shirt senior who is a gifted running back, but injuries have slowed him in the past 3 seasons.  He has had a good off-season working and is expected to have the best season of his college career.

Jordan Kramer – A red-shirt senior who will add quality depth and experience to the fullback position.

Thomas Lott – A red-shirt junior who finished as a starter at the A back position.  Lott led the nation in average yards-per-carry at the running back position.  Making great transition from quarterback to running back along with a good year’s experience, Lott should continue to put up big numbers at the A back position.

Joe Moore – A true senior who has made a good transition from quarterback to running back.  Made some big plays running, blocking, and catching last year and with a full year of experience, Joe should show more improvement at the H-back position.

Marcus Rucker – A true sophomore who played as a freshman last year.  Has great inside and outside running ability.

Quinton Smith – A red-shirt sophomore that has exceptional speed to make a big play every time he touches the ball.  If he stays healthy look for big things to happen from him.

John Wall – A red-shirt freshman that was moved to fullback last spring.   He showed signs that he could be a big factor at the fullback position.

riceac.young.jpg (17863 bytes)From Coach Young, defensive line/defensive ends:

This is Coach Young your defensive line and defensive ends coach. Let me introduce you to our defensive linemen and defensive ends:

Defensive Line

This group of young men should be the anchors for our defense starting with our defense tackles. Jeremy Calahan will be a senior and a 3-year starter. He is also having a great summer in the off-season program. William Wood and George Chukwu have added weight this summer and both are close to 300 lbs. DeJaun Cooper, Jonathan Cary and Addison Hopkins add good depth in this position, which we haven't had in the past.

Defensive Ends

At the Defensive End position we have a group of guys we're hoping can bring excitement to the game. The starters will be John Syptak, who is a 2-year starter, and Rob Daniel. They both bring experience to this position. Behind them will be Courtney Gordon, who has improved quicker than anyone this past spring, and Thadis Pegues.

Closing the defensive line are good back-up players Eric Sweetser, Trey Macaluso and Travis Stephenson, two of which red-shirted last season.

Defense starts up front and this group is ready to take on the challenge and have a good season.

riceac.kidd.jpg (19814 bytes)From Coach Kidd (kickers):

This is Coach Steve Kidd your kicking coach and recruiting coordinator talking with you today. The kicking game looks good at this time. Let me tell you about it:

To say the off-season has been tumultuous might be the understatement of the year. I am so ready for the season to arrive so we can put these issues behind us and get down to the business of winning the WAC in our final season before we begin play in CUSA. There is good reason to be optimistic from my office.

Punter Jared Scruggs had a tremendous campaign in 2003 and I do not see any reason he cannot continue to improve with each passing season. This spring we really worked on his directional punting and hang time consistency. We led our conference in net punting in 2003. We have the ability to make some noise on the national scene in net punting this fall. Jared is busy attending punting camps as an instructor and lifting and running in preparation for the season. We speak weekly and he "survived" his annual summer cruise with his family this year.

Deep snapper Drew Clardy performed admirably as a true freshman. I was a bit nervous starting Drew as true freshman because we changed our punt protection and coverage this year. In the past, the snapper snapped the ball and covered with no blocking responsibilities. Drew had to snap, block and cover. Depending on our protection, he also had to snap the ball to a certain leg of the punter so he had to be pin-point accurate also. I hope nobody knows the name of our deep snapper. That means he is performing his duties as desired! One bad snap equals the limelight for all the wrong reasons. Drew is home in Moss Point, Mississippi this summer where he works at the local Blockbuster.

Kicker Brennan Landry is home in Lafayette, Louisiana this summer preparing for the upcoming season. This spring he showed signs of becoming the consistent kicker we signed out of high school. Until the last five kicks of the spring practice I believe he had a really good spring going. His confidence is high when I speak to him and he says his kicking is going well. We shall see when he arrives in August.

Kickers and punters have to have the shortest memory on the team. It is a very tough job with not many opportunities to perform and tremendous pressure with every kick. Our motto this season will be WE STAND ALONE TOGETHER. I saw a documentary on the men of Easy Company in the 101st Airborne Division in WWII this Memorial Day. Their motto made too much sense not to borrow. I am in no way trying to compare kicking to their tremendous sacrifice. Fresno, California is no Bastogne, Belgium. It is with tremendous respect that I have adopted this philosophy.

riceac.bland.jpg (20520 bytes)From Coach Bland, quarterbacks coach:

Greg Henderson -- Will be a senior quarterback with lots of experience and confidence after a spring of being the starter.  Greg is also the strongest player on the team pound for pound.  Has the tools to lead us to a WAC title.

Joel Armstrong -- Very talented red shirt freshman who will see playing time and help the Owls in their march towards the WAC Championship.  Joel is a solid thrower and has great running ability.

Tommy Henderson -- True freshman from Wichita Falls and the younger brother of Greg.  Tommy is a natural option quarterback.  Great running ability and can throw the ball as well.  He can make something out of nothing.

Chase Clements -- True freshman out of San Antonio (Alamo Heights).  He was the San Antonio player of the year.  He has great passing ability and also has great speed to get around the corner.

riceac.wachenheim.jpg (19923 bytes)From Coach Wachenheim, OC/OL coach, re offensive linemen:

Greg Wilson -- We call him the Masher.  Our most talented offensive lineman.  Will start at right guard.

Scott Mayhew -- AKA Mayhew-mongous.  They say the bigger the neck the bigger the paycheck.  Should be rich someday.

Micah Meador -- does a wonderful Donald Duck imitation.  He has great feet and is outstanding at pulling.  Will start at left guard.

Ross Huebel -- Has his private pilot's license.  Has volunteered to fly the team to away games to save money.

Cotey Joe Cswaykus -- He has an unbelievable gun collection and I'm not talking about his arms.  Will start at right tackle.

Corey Laxen -- His dad is an electrician at Rice.  A very talented athlete who should help us at guard.

riceac.farrar.jpg (20496 bytes)From Coach Farrar, defensive secondary/cornerbacks coach:

Lance Byrd -- Projected starter. Started the last 4 games of 2003.   Played well in all 4 games and expect him to be a big play guy on defense.

Raymorris Barnes -- Projected starter in the fall. Started as a sophomore at corner. Played free safety last fall. Moved back to corner in the spring and nailed down the starting position. Had a great spring and hope that his production will continue in the fall.

Dustin Haynes -- Off and on starter from '03 season. Very athletic and really came on strong at the end of the spring. I count him in my starting rotation with Lance and Raymorris.

Matt Ginn -- Spot played in the fall. Had a good spring.  I expect him to play lots this fall. He is a big play guy and we have to get him in the game.

Jonathan Turner -- Redshirted last fall. Had a great spring. He is very athletic and has lots of ability. He will be a great player.  He has things you can't coach and I will be excited to watch him play.

riceac.hinshaw.jpg (19921 bytes)From Coach Hinshaw,  defensive coordinator/safeties coach:

As Barney said the secondary looks good. Here are your 2004 safeties as of today:

Terry Holley - senior - Terry had a great year in 2003. As afreshman in 2000, he had major knee surgery. This past fall wasthe first time he showed no residual effects. Terry is one of ourtop team leaders both on and off the field.

Clifford Sparks - senior - 2003 saw Cliff become one of our most valuable resources. He made a position change from corner to rover in '03 and established himself as one of the best punt cover and kick off cover men on the team. His unselfishness is an example we all can follow.

Edgar Vega - senior - Edgar began his career as a walk-on. His effort during practice everyday is a thing of beauty. Edgar is now on scholarship and his daily effort has continued. There aren't very many teammates any better than Edgar Vega.

Mike Merrick - junior - Mike had a very tough 2003. He sustained a severe ankle injury midway through the fall and was unable to come back and be as effective as he was at the beginning of '03. He is looking forward to '04 after major off-season surgery.

Trey Coleman - junior - Trey has become a vital member of our special teams and is ready to step in and play where called on. He's a very competitive young man, wanting to always know what he can do to help the team.

Chad Price - sophomore - Chad has developed into a play-maker very early in his career. We see no ceiling on what he can accomplish. As he develops the attention to detail each day in practice, his production will increase even more.

Andray Downs - sophomore - "Dray" made the switch from corner back to free safety during our open week fast fall. He enjoyed spring practice because he finally began to feel comfortable with his new position. He really loves to play the game.

 


 


02posthat1.jpg (16005 bytes)
"Any kind of drawing back away from Division 1A totally, would have been antithetical to Rice’s mission, to what the place is all about"

Things looking up,
head Owl tells us

on return from DC

HOUSTON (June 7) – Freshly returned from a brief business trip to the nation’s capital, Rice head football coach Ken Hatfield had nothing but good things to say about the events transpiring the past few weeks in the athletic domain on South Main Street.

Coach Hatfield said he was thankful that the Rice Board of Trustees gave full credence to the letters and emails it received in support of Rice athletics.

"I think the biggest thing that I took out of it was the amount of support that so many former players and friends of Rice athletics showed, in taking the time to go into detail on how important it was to them, and what an impact it’s made on their lives, throughout these last ninety-something years," Coach Hatfield told us. "They didn’t want all that to be thrown away just overnight."

A lot of the expressions of support came from people who had personally benefitted, in one way or another, by having athletics at Rice at the highest level, he added..

It was gratifying to see some of Rice’s recent football graduates come back and lead such an intelligent role in the fight for Rice athletics,  Coach said. Julian Duncan and Greg Gatlin, for example, who emceed the rally – and then there have been some absolutely wonderful letters that ex-lettermen have written. All of that has been a source of major satisfaction, he added.

"There’s no doubt about it. When you start with Courtney Hall and what he’s accomplished, himself – graduating from Rice at 20 years old; going into the NFL; and just the things that he’s been able to do and the way he can express himself, what it meant to him. N. D. Kalu, other players who’ve gone on and gotten their degree and had a chance to play professional football – and then the others who’ve learned a lot of lessons from the game of football, and now who are out in the business world and the community; yet they still want to give back. That’s the real crux of what you’re trying to do with every person while they’re at Rice University – is be a giver, when you get out. You’re not going to have money immediately, but whenever you have, find something to give back to."

"And that’s what I think made me most pleased – that they took time to give back to a program that meant an awfully lot to them, or else they wouldn’t have done it."

"And I think that Rice means excellence. Rice definitely wants to compete at the top level in everything. So I think any kind of drawing back away from Division 1A totally, would have been antithetical to Rice’s mission, to what the place is all about."

Coach had been in DC testifying before Knight Commission

The Rice mentor had been in Washington, speaking before a congressional commission studying intercollegiate athletics. "In Washington, I went to testify before the Knight Commission," he told us during our brief visit Thursday. His cohorts testifying before the Commission included three other current or former major college football coaches – Bill Curry, now with ESPN, R. C. Slocum, now with the Texas A&M something-or-the-other, and Tyrone Willingham, from Notre Dame, along with the Hat, in his capacity as current president of the American Football Coaches Association.

"They had the American Football Coaches Association summer board meeting; so I was in New Orleans for that, for a couple of days, and went from there to Washington for one day, and then back home," Coach Hatfield said.

The Knight Commission is the instrument for a periodic review by Congress of the status of intercollegiate athletics. Naturally, there was a lot to testify about.

"They do that up there in Washington about every ten years or so. They were looking at everything," Coach said, "from post-season games, to recruiting, to the ‘arms race’, to commercialization, to the new academic standards – trying to get the viewpoints of the coaches in all of those areas that are going to affect the future of intercollegiate athletics."

Speaking of every ten years, it looks as if Rice tends to follow the same sort of schedule in regards to a periodic examination of athletic goings on. The current controversy appeared to have resulted in a stronger institutional commitment to athletics than previously has been the case. But when it comes to recruiting and keeping the best scholar athletes, did the event comprise bad publicity that will cause some negative fall-out in the future?  Ken Hatfield was candid in his response.

Looks as if all recruits stayed the course

"We don’t know – we don’t believe anything negative is going to happen," Coach replied. Rice’s recruiting coordinator, Coach Steve Kidd, was careful to stay in touch with all the new recruits and their families throughout the five-week period from the time the Board examination first became fully public, to the date of the happy announcement on May 21, Coach told us.

Looks as if there are no defections, other than the earlier-announced departure of Jonathan Carroll, who received an offer at Princeton and decided to go East, young man.

"But I think the most important thing was that we didn’t know what we legitimately could say for a long time," he added, "other than the one commitment that we always talked to our young men about, even when we sign them. And that is: when you sign a scholarship with us, you’re signing with Rice University. You’re not signing with the football program."

"And so Rice has a commitment to see that anybody who’s signed for that particular scholarship, if they’ll keep their grades up, Rice will fulfill its obligation to see that person is able to graduate. That’s certainly part of the selling point to come to Rice -- the assurance of receiving a quality education and the degree if you just do the work. That’s the case whatever happens on the field."

"That’s always the thing that we reassure them with. It doesn’t matter whether there’s a program or not, if you sign with Rice University, their commitment is going to be that your son or daughter will have a chance to graduate."

"And of course, there is going to be a program– better than ever."

Rice now only "Board-Certified" program in country?

In the event, it perhaps may be said that Rice is the only school in the country whose athletics program is now "Board-certified" – this program’s going to be around, and the subject of a renewed, major commitment, for a long, long time.. Rice is committed to go forward. Can that be used as a selling point, we asked.

"You do see that there are a lot of transitions going on in college athletics," Coach noted in reply. "Whether it be Vanderbilt, which reorganized its athletic department last year; whether it be Colorado, with things that they’re going to be doing different now in their athletic department, too -- I think that, from time to time, if there’s a way to enhance the program, then everything ties in to the mission of your university."

"I think that’s what our athletic programs have all done here. As evidence, with a 91 per cent graduation rate, we’ve had 26 teams that have won conference championships in the last ten years. We’ve got people that are competing in the nationals in track and tennis as we speak. Our track teams are both doing well, the baseball team is going to regionals next week."

"So there’s been a lot of contributions in a lot of different areas, and that what makes Rice such a diverse place – that there are all these places that people can understand about Rice University, and what it has always stood for. It provides leadership in a lot of facets in this country. And athletics is certainly a big part of it and we appreciate the opportunity to continue to do that in the future."

Now comes a bit of a breather leading into the summer camps which the Rice staff stages, beginning the third week of June. And then there’s always film to review – lots of film.

"The big priority is just evaluating where we are, recruiting-wise, because we’ll have about 20 to recruit next year," Coach remarked, "and so we’ll want to be sure through the summer that we’ve got tabs on the people we want to follow."

"We want to be at our best going into the season opener at Reliant with Houston; and I think everybody’s working out over the summer, and we’ll stay in touch with them to see how they’re doing. And I think that’s the thing that will stick in our players’ minds, too, that they’re looking forward to playing the first game next year."

-- P.T.H.


 
045springtholley4.jpg (32035 bytes)
"It boils down to getting out and doing things that you naturally don’t want to do"

046holley1.jpg (32376 bytes)
" I feel like that we’re perfectly capable of going out and winning the WAC. That’s what we set out goals for this spring; that’s what were going to be setting our goals for this fall"

045springtholley5.jpg (32237 bytes)
"I felt like at the beginning of last year, when we played U of H, we just weren’t ready. We just weren’t ready to play a football game"

045springtholley2.jpg (35199 bytes)
"Offense, defense – everybody’s just out here fighting hard to try and make each other better"

045springtholley3.jpg (33626 bytes)
"That enthusiasm the younger guys have can sometimes rub off on us older guys, too. That makes us better players, as well"

Leadership role
no weighty matter

Owl safety ready to fly
to even loftier heights

HOUSTON (April 7) – Terry Holley’s ascent began so imperceptibly that his coaches and teammates were scarcely aware of it. Then again, they’d had to have been up at the crack of dawn to have noticed it at all.

Now, the 22-year-old multi-sport athlete from Oklahoma City stands at the top of his particular peak of the college football world. Opposing offensive coordinators are painfully aware of his exploits, and NFL scouts are drooling at the package of skills, tools and intensity that this leader of the Rice defensive secondary exhibits, as he stands at the cusp of a showcase senior season.

And it all started with those six-in-the-morning weight sessions.

"It boils down to getting out and doing things that you naturally don’t want to do," Terry told us after the Owls’ final spring scrimmage Friday. "Last summer I somehow managed to roll out of bed at six in the morning to work out – I guess there’s not too many guys my age who are going to want to get up and lift weights at dawn, every day."

"Of course, I didn’t want to," he admitted. "I just came to the realization that being a success involves a commitment. In this case, I was basically eliminating my night life, for the summer."

Right. You could say it was tantamount to a self-grounding – leaving zero room for the kind of hanging- out time that college guys thrive on.

"To get better, you’ve just got to make that kind of commitment. You know, a lot of time in the weight room – and I also made myself spend a lot of time on the field, making myself concentrate on steps and footwork. Thing is, football is a game that’s played on the field, not in the weight room. But you need both, to prepare. It’s a lot, that goes into success."

Owl defensive leader came to Rice with ‘who’s-who’ high-school bio

Terry was hardly unheralded, coming to Rice in 2000 as a much decorated scholar-athlete from Oklahoma City’s Southeast High. As a four-year, two-way starter for the Spartans, he rang up impressive passing and running stats at quarterback while at the same time leading his defensive mates in tackles.

He was all-state and all-city as a senior – but wait, we’ve skipped a paragraph. That was in basketball. The guy was a 20-point-a-game man on the hardwoods! And did we mention he carried a 3.9 high school GPA, made both academic and athletic national Who’s Who, and was Oklahoma City’s Student of the Year in ‘98 and ‘99?

Terry Holley was highly recruited and could have gone to a lot of places to play football other than Rice. But a combination of factors kept leading him toward South Main. Part of it was the coaches. The quality of education certainly was a consideration. The kind of guys he’d be playing with.

"It was a little bit of everything -- on a rational plane," Terry said, as he strode slowly toward the dressing room. "But beyond that, there was something more. It had to be God, who is the head of my life. And I feel He puts you in places for a reason."

"When I first came to Rice, after a while I was kind of upset, you know, because I felt I was – it’s hard to explain – somehow 'better' than Rice. I was thinking that I’d done so much in high school, blah, blah. But once I was able to get acclimatized to the place, and I was able to realize and understand really what was going on, I said, ‘God put me here for a reason.’"

"And when Coach Hatfield had come out and visited me in my home, I was really touched by the way he let me know that, while he’s a head coach, he was the kind of person who’d take time to spend with a player who needs the attention, for whatever reason. I decided: That’s the kind of coach I want to play for."

"And then along with that, academics is just such a big thing in my family. My mom, especially, really wanted me to come here."

A low profile -- at first

Despite arriving with such heavy credentials and intense personal mandate, at Rice Terry kept a low profile for a time. After blowing out a knee and redshirting his freshman year, he moved to the defensive side and lettered in 2001; then saw action in all 11 games with one start as a soph in ‘02.

Still no big noise, but by last season’s August two-a-days, he had his harbinger in the person of fellow Owl DB and kemo sabe Raymorris Barnes. What happened in November last year, Ray had predicted in August.

"Terry and I, we were roommates together in the summer," he told us on media day, "so we had a chance to spend some time together. There wasn’t one 6:30 a.m. weight session that Terry missed. And then he worked out on his speed and conditioning in the evenings; he worked out at least twice a day. So as far as putting on weight, developing his conditioning and preparing his mind for the coming football season, I have to put Terry Holley at the top of the list."

And then, sure enough, what Terry went out and did at the safety position last year had Rice fans clamoring for more. In a breakout junior season, he dominated the stat chart with a team-leading 92 tackles, as well as registering five tackles-for-loss, three sacks, two interceptions for 55 yards returned, four passes broken up, two fumble recoveries, and two blocked kicks.

But that wasn’t the half of it. Where Terry Holley had his biggest effect on the Owls’ ‘03 season lay in the fire he was able to light under the backsides of his teammates on the defense, some time around mid-year. While the Owls were in the midst of turning their season around, winning four out of their last six and durn near running the table during that stretch, it was Terry who was the chief tub-thumper for Rice’s defensive unit. A group of game, but green, secondary men gradually coalesced around him as the schedule wore on, and by the season-ending 49-14 romp over LaTech, they functioned as a well-oiled machine.

That same group returns basically intact for the coming season, and their straw boss says Owl fans should expect them to pretty much pick up where they left off last November. And spring practice performances left no reason to dampen that expectation

"The guys’re coming along even better than I’d expected," Terry told us. "Actually, it makes me more enthusiastic to have these younger guys around; it has the effect of making me play better. It may sound funny, being that I’m the ‘old’ guy of the bunch, but that enthusiasm the younger guys have can sometimes rub off on us older guys, too. That makes us better players, as well."

He elaborated a bit.

Byrd, Price, Downs -- all blue chippers

"You have to start with Lance Byrd," Terry began. "Lance really came on at the end of the season last year, as a really strong corner for us. He’s gotten better; he’s shown that he can be really strong and physical. Even those he’s a relatively small guy, he’s really physical and he’s not at all afraid to get in there and mix it up with the big boys."

The next mentions came in no particular order of achievement – these guys all graded "A"during spring workouts.

"It’s hard to say enough about Chad Price. The guy is athletic; and he just has a knack for closing in on the ball. He’s always going to be doing things that help us out. You know, during the season he went in really not knowing the play book all that well, but he still managed to get better and better and contribute more and more with each game. I think he’s going to really help us in the fall."

"Andray Downs – he’s so fast out there that it’s unbelievable. All those guys together, with as hard as they play, bring the level of everybody’s game up a notch. I’m older, and so that kind of makes me like the big brother to them. But I’m feeding off of them and improving my game just as much as any of them. It’s just a great camaraderie that we’ve got going on out there."

This line of conversation obviously could’ve gone on to mention several more Owls, but it was time to turn attention to the just-ended spring drills. It seems the expectation level of the Rice defensive brain trust was as high as the team’s.

"We came into the spring workouts, and our coaches started us out, right off the bat, with some blitzes," Terrry said. "That’s never happened before, as long as I’ve been here. So I was just thinking, like, ‘OK, that means they’re expecting that we’re just going to pick up where we’ve left off,  too.’"

"The team camaraderie is even better – I’m not just talking about the relationship that we defensive backs have. Offense, defense – everybody’s just out here fighting hard to try and make each other better."

Key to the season:  be ready to play in September

Attitudes, the level of preparedness – those factors loom crucial to Rice’s chances for success in the coming ‘04 campaign. Ken Hatfield’s Owl teams tend to be notoriously poor starters in September. Last year, that propensity, combined with a very unfavorable schedule in which the Owls spent practically the entire first month of the season on the road, spelled early disaster.

But this year, Rice plays its first three games at home. They’ll all be tough-- but there won’t be any of them that the Owls won’t be completely capable of winning. Thus, starting off on the right foot is so very important, Terry allowed.

"The first two games are the big key," he said, referring to the Owls’ home openers with UH and, er, UH – the University of Houston and Hawaii -- in consecutive weeks. "If we win those two, we’re off to a good start, and one that we can build on. Early wins would provide some energy that we can feed off of, as the season goes along."

That suggests some basic goals for August two-a-days for Terry Holley and his fellow teammates in the defensive secondary.

"It’s more than a matter of just keeping on doing what we’re doing," he said. "It’s going to take a special effort. I mean, I felt like at the beginning of last year, when we played U of H, we just weren’t ready. We just weren’t ready to play a football game."

"So that has to be the number one priority, going into August two-a-days – to prepare ourselves, and be ready to play, once that opening kickoff comes around."

So how far can this team go?

"Being out here with these guys, and knowing everybody’s capabilities," the Rice defensive sparkplug said, " I feel like that we’re perfectly capable of going out and winning the WAC. That’s what we set out goals for this spring; that’s what were going to be setting our goals for this fall."

"It’s everything. It’s really everything."

--Paul T. Hlavinka
  Webletter Editor

 

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