2003 Media Day: Q&A with Players and Coaches

Head coach Gary Crowton talks with local reporters during the Cougars' annual media day at Edwards Stadium.

PROVO -- On Tuesday, local reporters had the opportunity to meet with members of the 2003 BYU football team. Following is a transcript of conversations between media and select players and coaches.

GARY CROWTON

Q: What makes you excited about the upcoming season?

A: I thought the work ethic in the off season was very good. We didn't lose everybody like we did two years ago, so most of the guys knew what to expect. It's been very encouraging how the team has worked and pulled together in the off season.

Q: Now that Matt Berry has had a year of experience would you be more or less inclined to give him more responsibility?

A: More. He knows what he's doing better, so he's more comfortable with it. He should be a more positive player. Those six games he started were very good in terms of growth as a quarterback. He's going to be able to handle more and be more aggressive doing so.

Q: Do you think you would be more inclined to run the ball, considering the number of backs you have in camp?

A: We need to be balanced. We need to be able to be effective in our passing game, as much as our running game. We have some very good running backs, along with some pretty good receivers. We'll work all that out during Fall Camp, and come up with game plans during the season to prepare for each opponent."

Q: How long until you make an official decision at quarterback?

A: As I have already said, right now the official decision is Matt is our quarterback until John, or someone else beats him out. That's my official stand on all players, not just the quarterback. We have returning starters that come back, once they're listed as the starter on the depth chart someone else has to beat them out. That's my position. We want everyone to compete for positions. Right now, Matt has those six starts from last year, and he's worked hard. Beck's trying to beat him out, so is Todd Mortensen and so is Jackson Brown.

Q: What about John Beck?

A: The thing about Matt, before I get to John, is he was just a freshman last season. People need to remember that he's going to get better. John is coming in as a freshman also so they're both pretty young. John is mobile, he has a good arm, he has a good feel for the game and is an extremely hard worker. So when he gets in there, things are going to happen for him. He's going to try and make things happen. Hopefully he'll do it within the offense.

Q: Are you more excited or nervous with the possibility of playing a lot of freshmen on the offensive line?

A: I was a little nervous last year because we didn't have as much depth and then when we got beat up. We were really struggling to get guys out there that we felt were going to help us at the level we needed them to. This year, even though we're younger, we have a little bit more depth, so I feel more confident in the whole group, rather than just a few guys. Now even though Ofa hasn't played and Scott Young hasn't played and Kuresa hasn't played, they're very good players and they practice well. They have proved that they're on the right track. If they continue to prove it at camp, I will be very confident in that line.

Q: Does it look like two or three freshmen will be starting with where you are now?

A: If we count redshirt guys, there will be some freshmen in there. Chris Hale will be at least rotating, if he doesn't win the starting job outright. Then Eddie Keele and Jake Kuresa are two other freshmen, along with Coats who will play. It's safe to say that there will be a lot of redshirt freshmen, along with Ofa and John Beck and K.C. Bills who are true freshen who could play. Those guys will be right there. It's a good group, a good mixture of guys.

Q: How do you feel about the wide receivers?

A: I think Chris Hale is very fast. I feel like he's tough. When he gets off the line of scrimmage he's tough to jam because he's so strong in his lower body. I think he's going to be an outstanding player. He's just got to do it in games. He hasn't played except before his mission. I remember that one touchdown he got against Washington that was a big play for him.

Q: What about the tight ends?

A: Well we've got a good core of tight ends with Justin Jory and Aissac Aiono playing the most. We have two real good redshirt freshman in Daniel Coats and Jeremy Gillespie, and a true freshman in Phillip Niu. They're all real good players. I'll probably have to redshirt one of them. I'll make that determination later.

Q: How does the team maintain team unity?

A: It's all because of the consistency of the work ethic. When you have consistency and there's a good work ethic and guys are calling each other to work out that's where your team unity starts and that's when the leadership starts. I've seen a lot more of that this year than I did last year. Kind of like two years ago and that's been real encouraging.

Q: How big of a loss is Paul Walkenhorst

A: Paul is a three-year starter, and we felt like he was our best defensive player last year, so if he's not able to play this year, it will be a pretty big loss. I knew the team would rally and try and fill in that vacated area, but I know that Paul's cheering for everybody. I talked to him on the phone yesterday and once we get him back on the field running, he'll be an inspirational leader until he's ready to go.

JERNARO GILFORD

Q: After last year's nagging injury, how are you feeling?

A: I'm feeling good. I'm rehabbed. I just want to say first and foremost that it was totally my fault that it happened. But I'm rehabbed now and I'm feeling good.

Q: How do you like Bronco Mendenhall?

A: I like him a lot. We'll attack more, blitz more, I'll be in a lot more man coverage. Our scheme is totally different. The offense will have to read us. We're dictating the tempo of the game, so I like that a lot.

Q: How is this defense different from last year's defense?

A: We just attack more, blitz more, a lot more man-to-man coverage. All eleven people will be reading and running, going to the ball. It's going to be fun.

Q: Do you feel you will be able to play at full strength, where you were before the injury?

A: I played this spring and felt pretty good. I'm ready to go."

MATT BERRY

Q: How comfortable do you feel with the offensive line?

A: I feel very comfortable with them. They're great players and they're going to rise to the occasion.

Q: What are your thoughts about the depth/competition at quarterback?

A: It's the same situation every year at BYU. Healthy competition is great and it's always nice to have someone behind you pushing you. And, I hope I push them to be better quarterbacks as well.

Q: What are your thoughts on the receivers?

A: Our receivers are really going to step up this year. They're really great, and they've worked out really hard this summer. They're going to surprise a lot of people.

Q: Do you think people who think John Beck will be the starter by the end of the year are underestimating you?

A: Like I said, it's always the same every year, the only thing that changes are the names. I'm prepared for that, and I'm ready for the competition.

Q: Do you look at preseason polls very much?

A: Yeah, I'm interested to see where we are, to see where other teams are.

Q: Do you think they have BYU rated too low?

A: No question. I think we're pretty underrated this year.

Q: Do you think the new defense will take pressure off of the offense?

A: Our defense is very good, and they've prepared themselves very well. They'll step up and make some plays, and probably score themselves so that will help out.

Q: How comfortable do you feel with the system?

A: I feel very comfortable. This past season we didn't go to a bowl game, so we had an off season that was too long, and we had a lot of time to prepare. I prepared myself and watched a lot of film and got in the weight room, preparing myself both mentally and physically.

MARCUS WHALEN

Q: With a full stable of running backs, BYU could go to the ground game more this season. How do you feel about that?

A: I think I'll definitely get 1,000 (yards) this year. My personal goal is above that, but if I stay healthy, I think I'll reach it.

Q: Looking at your schedule, where do you see this team at the end of the year?

A: Winning the conference and winning a bowl.

Q: Are you worried about running behind a young offensive line?

A: No, not at all. We've got a good group of guys that have worked a lot in the spring and the summer. I think they're coming together really well.

Q: Thoughts on the defense?

A: I think they'll make a lot of big plays this year for us and put us in good spots where we can score. Not making us go 70 or 80 yards every time to score.

BRADY POPPINGA

Q: Does the defense feel entirely different?

A: Oh yeah, it's aggressive, there's a lot of intensity, flying around and having a good time.

Q: You already look pumped up.

A: Oh man, this is the time of the year to get going. Anything to do with football gets me going. I love the game, flat out.

Q: Does your role on the defense change?

A: No, it's basically the same thing. Run around, sack the quarterback, run after guys who have the ball and tackle them. It's pretty much the same.

Q: Thoughts about being named preseason all-MWC after entering last season as a back-up?

A: Of course it's going to make you feel good, but I have confidence in my abilities already. It's a nice compliment that they would include me in the preseason conference poll. I know what I can do, that's where my confidence comes from.

Q: How big of a loss is it to lose Paul Walkenhorst?

A: It's a big loss because he was an emotional leader and great player. Fortunately, we have a good linebacker, Levi Madrietta who was going to share time with him. We'd love to have him here, but we still have a good linebacker coming in.

Q: With Paul going down will you have to fill the void as an emotional leader?

A: Yes, I've got to step in and fill his shoes. I'm not going to do it by myself. I want to get a bunch of guys together to do that.

Q: Where do you see this team ending up?

A: We're going to end up good. We're preparing and working hard, and we're going to be successful. I don't care who we play, we're going to be successful.

Q: What's the biggest difference under Bronco?

A: Intensity, man. Flat out. That's the word right there. He's an intense guy. Watch him in practice. He, as a coach, is coaching just as hard as we're practicing. He's running around, flying around, yelling.

Q: Thoughts about the new scheme.

A: It's unpredictable. It's going to create mismatches. It's going to make it so the other team won't be able to double team any of our players because if you do that you're opening up a hole for somebody else.

Q: Do you feel like you'll be able to shut a lot of guys down with this defense?

A: As a defense, you have to have the attitude that you're going to go in there and shut the other guy out.

BRONCO MENDENHALL

Q: What do you do to get these guys ready?

A: I think you need to ask for ultimate effort. I want all these men to try as hard as they can try. And, if they do that they will be included in the defensive family that we're creating here that is based on free agency and choice. The choice is based on how hard they want to participate. If they don't want to do that, maybe they would be better suited somewhere else.

Q: Do you think you have improved last year's defense?

A: I think it's too early to tell. I think right now the team is embracing a new defensive system. And they are excited in how the system has fared in the past. I think they are coming to realize what it takes on a day-to-day basis to perform in the system and they are having to make the choice of whether that's what they'd like to do or not.

Q: Is it more text-book learning right now?

A: No, it's not. Like I said in the spring, it's an effort-based system and we're not moving on to assignments and all the intricacy levels until the effort level is correct, and the fans or the perception might be, that's not going to be soon enough. It might not, but we're not moving on until the effort is correct.

Q: How big of a loss is it, losing Paul Walkenhorst?

A: It's a big loss because of experience. I think that we'll miss Paul because he's a physical player and he's a good leader. In the world of coaching and college athletics, you have to go on, and we have a game coming up, so really the next young man who steps up to take his role, and if he tries hard enough, he'll do his best that's all I can ask.

Q: What are your thoughts on the defensive backfield?

A: I'm encouraged. I think our corners are the best I've been able to coach my whole career. And I'm encouraged about Aaron Francisco. I think our backs will be one of our strengths.

Q: How would you summarize the mentality of this year's defense?

A: We play with one standard in mind, regardless of who it is and who recruited him and if they're a starter or not, they need that standard. And if they do, they'll be just like everyone else who's meeting that standard. And it's funny when they all meet that standard there's a collective consciousness of effort and unity. And that happens through application of work.