Here’s a transcript of some of the interviews during Georgia State’s media day, courtesy of the sports information department:
Georgia State Head Football Coach Bill Curry:
Thank you for being with us today and celebrating with us the next step in this wonderful program that we have worked so long and hard to establish. I could take hours and talk to you about what has happened and who has done it because so many people have contributed for us to be able to come to this moment.
We have changed the profile of our football team from the standpoint of personnel. Two years ago, at this time we had one player, Mark Hogan. We added a class of about 40 people two years ago. A year ago, we brought another class not knowing if the two classes would blend or clash. As last season wore on, we began to show our youth and our inadequacies. We were an inconsistent football team. I was not pleased at all with our performance. A lot of people were. A 6-5 season was perceived as being really what we were striving for. A 2.73 GPA was perceived by many as a good thing, but we haven’t scratched the surface. We haven’t begun to perform the way we can. We’ve got much better academic potential than we have demonstrated. We’ve got much better ability as a football team and staff than we have demonstrated. We have high goals for this year for our personnel in the areas that are most important.
When we say we have priorities of the five F’s: Faith, Family, Finishing our Education, Football Team and Fun. We are serious about that. We work every day to keep those priorities in mind. It is nice to be able to say that we’ve made progress in those areas. It is almost as nice as being able to say we’ve made progress in the facilities area.
When I first saw this site, my heart sank. Before they began construction, this area was the defining picture of the most urban blight that I have ever seen in my life, and I played in Baltimore for a long time so I know urban blight. I could not have been more shocked as we began to see it develop. Even better was our players response to what they created because without these young men having the faith in our program to come here, this certainly would not have happened. Our players and coaching staff who came here as an act of faith, a wish, a promise, a vision a hope and a dream, I’ll be eternally grateful to all of them. To see them walk in the locker room yesterday and hear them yelping, jumping up and down and raving that this is the best locker room they had ever seen. That is such a great thrill to me. For us to have this kind of facility, after we’ve worked with some difficult circumstances the last two years, is terrific.
Our goals for the upcoming season are simple. We have to become a consistent football team. We can’t be up one week and down the next. We can’t play fairly well in the Dome and terrible on the road. We can’t be a team that just plays hard in the fourth quarter. We have to be able to be a team that plays hard and well in the 4th quarter. We did play hard in every fourth quarter last season, I’ll concede that. I want us to be a fourth quarter football team that is dominant when it counts in the fourth quarter, meaning execution as well as guts.
The second stage to our goals is beating opponents that we aren’t “supposed” to beat. Our six wins last year came against teams that we probably should have beaten based on numbers and the level of competition. We almost beat some teams we weren’t supposed to beat but we didn’t finish the job. This season we have to finish the job.
From the football perspective, here is the reality of what wins in football: we have to stop the run better and we have to run the ball better. That is a strategic reality. Naturally we would like to improve in all other areas. We were reasonable in kicking, throwing and catching and reasonable in some defensive areas. We have to get better at running and stopping the run.
Our quarterback situation is one that has attracted a lot of attention for all the wrong reasons. We have had to suspend some players. They aren’t bad guys. Frankly I think I didn’t do a good enough job of preparing them for what it would be like if we had a winning season. We go into the season with Bo Schlechter as starting quarterback. He came here as a highly-touted high school quarterback. He moved to wide receiver when we have a bunch of injuries at that position. He helped us win some games by making some big catches when he had never even played there. He was also our punter and was among the nation’s leaders in net punting. We expect him to pick it up where he left off as a punter and we expect him to pick it up enormously as a quarterback.
Kelton Hill is still operating under the university system and the dean’s office. I am not allowed to comment on his case.
With respect to Drew Little, I have said from the very beginning, I appreciate what he did for us last year. He was our leader. He did extremely well under tough circumstances with a brand new team, but that does not exempt him from our rules. I’ve said from the very beginning that he has the opportunity to reduce his suspension term if he did certain incredibly difficult things. He’s done every single one of them up to this moment, but that has to continue.
Right now we go in with Bo being the starter. We are very blessed to have been able to sign Ben McLane who was a state championship AAAAA player. He won the state championship with an amazing offensive performance in the Dome with his Brookwood teammates. He had a great success his senior year and he is also a superb student. Those will be the two quarterbacks going into the first game.
We have some newcomers that we expect to make an impact. We think they will upgrade us athletically. One of them you have already seen in the spring, D’Mario Gunn. He’s a good player and we expect a lot of good things from D’Mario Gunn. Qwontez Mallory was one of his teammates at Georgia Military. He is a linebacker and we expect Qwontez to make an immediate impact. We have the young placekicker, Christian Benvenuto, who had a tremendous high school career. He will be trying to replace our third-team All-American Iain Vance, but he will have competition from some talented walk-ons.
It’s very important and significant to report a big surprise to me, and that is the fact that we have 10 commitments already. For an FCS program that is unheard of. I give credit for that to coach George Pugh, who is our recruiting coordinator. He started us out recruiting really hard as of Feb. 3, the day after the last signing day. We have done that within the letter and spirit of the rules. We’ve been in touch, we’ve been evaluating, and we’ve been out when we could be. All our coaches did a great job. Now we have to continue to build on this marvelous recruiting class. I also give enormous credit to Josh Moore, our new assistant recruiting coordinator. And to our coaching staff who all got out and beat the bushes.
What you see when you come to Georgia State now with this beautiful facility is a big part of it, and we’re so thankful to Cheryl Levick and our administration for making it happen.
We know we have a tremendous job to hang onto these commitments, but we will have the recruiting class this year that I believe will define Georgia State University football, based on the reception that we are getting already.
Compare QB situation this year to last year. Talk about possibility of having to use Ben McClain so quickly and not being able to redshirt him.
A year ago was an embarrassment of riches, to have four potentially polished quarterbacks on the field. One of them would look good one day and one would look better another day. They were all young players. It was thrilling and we were agonizing over how we would decide on a quarterback. Drew was the one who assimilated the offense and that is why he started. He started out with such a bang that pretty much established how it was going to be for the rest of the year. We looked for ways to get the other guys in there and we did.
Then in the offseason, the situation developed that we now have. That’s life. Sometimes it happens. You would rather that it didn’t but we will manage. We would love to redshirt Ben McClain. If it is the right thing to hold somebody out, then we would like to do that. If we can, we will. If we have to play him, we will prepare him to play.
What is the advantage of going into this season where most of the guys have played together and know each other as opposed to last year when all the players were new?
“It is a tremendous advantage. I have great expectations of a cohesive, well-organized, well-led football team.
What are you looking forward to seeing at practice regarding the running backs?
“I’m going to expect to see amazing effort. I expect to see absolute perfect execution in learning. I’m going to expect the same kind of dynamic running with the football. I’m going to expect absolutely perfect ball security. We’ve got to improve our turnover margin and we’ve got to be able to run the ball. In order for all of that to happen we also have to block better.
How important is it to have a veteran offensive line this season? How do you think that will lend to improving the running game?
It not going to be easier because we have a much tougher schedule this year. We will be playing against better front people on the other defenses. But we should be much better. We have a year under our belt. We’ve worked together. We should have the calls down. We’ve got a chance to become a really cohesive offensive unit, which, in my opinion, we never did last year. We were sporadic. We had long stretches where we did really well protecting, throwing and catching, but we never became consistent at run and pass. We have to do that.
Were you surprised at how much better passing developed last season than the running game?
Yes, I was surprised. I’m glad we were able to do it because we would have been in trouble if we couldn’t throw or catch. Coach (John) Bond did a great job of taking what we had. He took our best assets and used them. While our offensive line was certainly not a great run-blocking line, we gave up very few sacks. One of the reasons for that is Drew got rid of the ball. I think it was a matter of us trying to find a way to win by using the best tools that we had. We would have rather done both passing and running at the same time.
What do you expect to get out of this camp in comparison to last year?
We know exactly what we need to do. We need to be gritty, tough, lean and nasty. We need to be great in the kicking game, great in the turnover margin. We need to be absolutely determined to be a great football team. Great being defined as performing beyond the apparent sum of our parts. When I say a great football team, I’m talking about us being better than it is perceived that we can be. I want our guys to go beyond ourselves and we can do that.
Beyond results, what are some of the things you looking at to see that the team is on the right track?
We had our moments in spring practice where we took steps forward. We added a few things that will make us better on both sides of the ball. We’ve got a much better handle on what kind of defense we want to be. We should know how to line up. Some people got us on the run last year with tempo. That won’t happen this time. We will be ready for that because one of the things we did well in the spring is we practiced at a very high level of tempo. That is something that has been the dominant theme of the really good teams. If you watched the National Championship game for FCS or FBS, what did you see? One play after another. You’ve got to be able to get lined up and play. You’ve got to be able to play hard and fast. It is much faster than it has ever been before. I sit there and watch and think ‘I would love to play. I wish I could play now just to see if I could measure up.’ It is a lot harder to be a football player today than it was just a few years ago. We will practice like that. We did it in the spring and I was pleased with our guys being able to adapt and get in shape.
#35 Jake Muasau, Senior Outside Linebacker
On off-season training…
“Our new strength coach, Ben Pollard, has reached all of our expectations in regards to speed and strength training. With his help, I’ve been training every day this summer like it’s my last because this is my last season. I’m just trying to give it my all and leave the rest in God’s hands.”
On the new practice facility…
“The facility is built right next to our practice fields so we don’t have to take any buses to get to the locker room anymore. We are better equipped to do what we need to do on the football field. It’s really beautiful, too.”
On team and individual goals…
“As a team, we need to play a whole game of Georgia State football. Last year, we had flashes of that for a few quarters. But this year I want us to go out there and play our hearts out. Personally, I want to continue to make plays and help my defense any way I can.”
#62 Ben Jacoby, Senior Center
On the quarterback situation…
“Whoever is back there is going to do a great job. Our expectations are for the position, not the individual. If you come in and play quarterback, you are expected to produce as if you were the starter.”
On the running game…
“I think the running game will be a strength for us this year. Our offensive line as a unit is going to pride ourselves on running the football. That’s something I expect us to focus on heavily and improve on.”
On the new practice facility…
“This facility allows us to stay focused and centered during our practices. You don’t have to take buses or anything now. It’s going to remove all of the clutter and allow us to focus on the task at hand.”
On the team goals…
“The next step is constantly improving. We lost a couple of games last year by a very small margin. If we can improve just enough to knock those out, we can become a heck of a football team and a force to be reckoned with.”
#20 Brandon Jones, Senior free Safety
On new strength coach, Ben Pollard…
“This whole summer the guys have been at it, especially since Coach Pollard, the new strength and conditioning coach, came in. The guys love how he has been able to bond with the team, and we’ve adjusted to the way he runs his program. He’s been a key addition to the program. Guys have gotten a lot faster and a lot stronger.”
On guiding the incoming players…
“The seniors have been talking to the younger guys and the younger guys have been listening. We tell them that we’ve been through the things that they’re about to go through. They love to play football, and that’s why they’re out here. It’s going to get tough, but it’s mental and they have to know that they can do this. They know what their assignment is and what they have to do. We want them to play within our system and have all our guys playing on one accord.”
#84 Arthur Williams, Senior Tight End
On how the new facility will help the team win:
“First of all, before we didn’t have a permanent meeting room, we were going from classroom to classroom on campus. Now, we can spend more time actually doing things and looking at film with the new technology we have in here. With the classrooms, we had to keep switching rooms to be with different positions. Now, we can just press a button, and a wall will lift up and we’ll have two positions in one room. The fact that we can stay in one place all day, that will definitely help.”
What are you looking forward to this year:
“First of all, winning. We definitely could’ve done more [last season]. We let a few games slip right at the end or we had a few games get away early, came back, and couldn’t finish. I definitely think we could’ve won two, maybe three more games last year.”
On improving the running game:
“We’re definitely going to get better at running the ball by focusing on blocks and key assignments. Last year we had too many lapses when it came to running the ball, this year we’re definitely going to take care of that.”
On receiving the Offensive Leadership award:
“It definitely means a lot. Early in the morning Coach [Curry] asks us about who has a positive thought for the day. I always try to be prepared with one quote to motivate players. In practice they actually listen to what I say and people took notice of that.”
On how he learned to block and hence earned the nickname “Bully”:
“I’ve been playing football since I was eight. From then on, I was playing offensive line and defensive line so I’ve been learning how to block my whole life. The fact that after the ball passes me, I never stop blocking. I always try to finish the block and finish the play, and that ends in pancake blocks, so I guess that is where the name comes from.”
On being named a pre-season player to watch on the All-Independent team:
“It does have significance saying that my play from last year was noticed and I appreciate it. But in the back of my mind I’m just going out and playing my best every day.”
#8 Jordan Giles, Sophomore Wide Receiver
On being selected the best offensive performer of the spring:
“I had an injury during the fall when I broke some bones in my hand and was out a couple games. I felt like coming into this spring, I was ready to prove myself again. I practiced day in and day out with that hunger. I felt like I was doing well [in the spring], but you always have to improve two percent every day. That’s my goal every single day to keep improving and become a better player every day.”
On the injury and coming back:
“When it happened I was hurting, not just physically but emotionally. The trainers really helped me. If you asked me, I was ready to play that next week. But I had to have surgery, I had to have a couple of rods put in my hand. Then, I actually came back and played the rest of the season with a cast on my hand, which we called the Panther Claw. That was definitely a task. I got it done. This year I’ll be playing with both of my hands.”
On playing with the cast last season:
“I think the first ball that I caught in the first game back was a touchdown. So that felt great. During practice I made sure the cast fit well enough to catch and obviously it worked. I felt like when I came back, not only did I have to get my spot back, I had to prove that even though I broke my hand, I’m still a receiver and I still can catch. That made me become a more confident receiver that I could come back and play with a cast on my hand.”
On blocking the first punt in GSU history:
“I play special teams on punt return. When I blocked it, I had my head down going full speed and I felt like I could get it and I actually blocked it with my broken hand on the cast. When I hit the ball I didn’t even feel it.”
#53 Christo Bilukidi, Senior Defensive Tackle
On the new building:
“It’s going to help us a lot. It motivates people to see pictures on the wall, the new lockers, the new equipment. That’s going to motivate so many people to come play, come to practice every day, wanting to get better. It’s going to motivate us a lot, I mean look at this building it’s an upgrade enough. I was taking pictures like the paparazzi in here.”
On switching from defensive tackle to defensive end:
“Let me tell you the first thing, it’s a different beast down in the inside than the outside. At junior college, I played end. So moving from defensive end to tackle is a lot tougher. The plays are similar, but the way our scheme is, it is similar to the things we do on the tackle with the gap controls. I feel better being on the end because I’m more free to do what I need to do. On the inside I have to react so much faster than the outside. The guards are on you in a split second.”
On having more freedom as a defensive end:
“One thing is I have more one-on-one matchups rather than a double team or a triple team sometimes. So that’s a huge thing.”
On being named to the preseason all-independent team:
“It’s a nice recognition to have, but obviously I know I can do a lot better. It’s a nice little award to get that so people know who you are, but I’m really focused on this season and what I can do this year, especially now that I’m at a new position.
On when he started playing football:
“I started my senior year of high school. I was always a basketball player and I had to transition. When I was in high school I was 6-foot-3, 250 pounds and I was very athletic. Our football coaches came up and asked if I wanted to come play. I said, ‘Ok, I’ll try it out’ and from then on I stuck with football. I played outside linebacker, defensive end, fullback and tight end with special teams. I was on the field constantly and that’s how I grew to like it.”
On what he’s learned about football through playing experience:
“I’m talking about college now. Coming here, Coach Curry taught us that school is everything, not that football is everything. I had the mentality that football was everything. But getting into college, knowing how to work, how to study, how to do all that stuff while playing football at the same time is something that I’ve definitely learned.”
On what he’s learned about playing football:
“Getting your fundamentals right is the only thing you can do to get better every day – how to stay low, how to get off the line. Working on those basic fundamentals is how you get better. You can learn all the new tricks after, but you have to get your fundamentals down.”