MANHATTAN, Kan. - Kansas State head football coach Ron Prince addressed the media for the first time this spring on Tuesday afternoon in the Vanier Football Complex.
Head Coach Ron Prince
“We’ve had a terrific off-season. We’ve had the time to take a look at our personnel and now, a year after seeing our competition and our schedule, seeing our division and some of the challenges that we are going to face. These are challenges with our personnel and within our division, and hopefully now we can anticipate some of those that we’ll have in the next year of two. The southern part of our schedule changes, so we can start to look down the road and around some corners on what kind of games we are going to have to play. We feel really positive and excited about some of the things that we have in store for our players and really how we’ve been able to put the team together.
“We talked last year about this first phase, the winter phase, is really critical in putting together the DNA – what kind of team we will be. What is the mentality of the team going to be like and what are the real and true goals of the team? These are all things that we’ve been working on. It’s been terrific to watch some of the players, most of which contributed to last year’s efforts. We’ve got some experienced players hosting on recruiting weekends that were able to walk and talk and deal with each other about what their expectations were in the future. We’re very, very excited.
“We have three major goals going into the spring. We had a pretty in-depth team meeting the other night to talk about what we are really here to accomplish in these upcoming four weeks. This is the second phase, and it’s one of the most important you’ll have all year because it’s the time you get to mesh, match and shape the systems you’ll have based on the personnel you’ll have next year. Now, some of that is a little speculative because some of the players that will play an integral part of what we’re going to do will be here next fall. We anticipate the kind of contribution, or at least the competition, at some spots like we had last year with first-year players. It’s also taking a look at the way we played, the nucleus of the team and how we can put this together to create positive match-ups and deal with the circumstances within the schedule.
“The biggest part is trying to create versatility among our veteran players. That is one of our biggest objectives – one of the most important things we’ve talked about. We need to become a more versatile team in a lot of ways. Not only in the kicking game, which we really emphasized last year. That was our number one objective last season, to establish ourselves as one of the best special teams units in the country. We wanted to have players that would have the versatility in both the kicking phase and return phase. Now, we want to take that kind of versatility and bring in over to the defensive and offensive sides of the ball.
“We did that defensively with trying to find some players who could do some different jobs so that you could match the certain style that you’re going to see with the wide variety of things we’re going to see in this league. We think that we can take one more step towards that when we find those versatile players. Defensively, we’ll take our most veteran players and find a variety of things they can do to help contribute so we can always have our best players on the field. Offensively, we have some young players who are going to get the chance to show us what they’re all about now that they’re in their second years or advancing in their careers. They’ll have the opportunities to step up and show us that they are first-level and big time players. We have some players, particularly at the wide receiver and tight end positions that will show us their versatility and what they can bring to the game. Running backs will be in that group as well. So that’s a big thing – how do we take our systems, really mesh them, and adapt them to the personnel we have?
“The other point is very similar to last year. Where are we going to find new help and new contributions? Those are the kids that aren’t household names that we can develop from the middle of the roster. There are a number of players that have demonstrated – either in the bowl practices or scout team situations or in the weight room – that they are ready to be taken seriously and compete for playing time. If we get that kind of contribution from the kids at the middle of the roster, it’s going to raise the level of this team. That was a major factor in us being able to do well last year in the kicking game. Those players who were blocking and making things happen were not household names. They found a way to get on the bus, raise the level of this team’s game, and now those players are ready to move into more prominent roles on offense and defense. We just need a new set of kids to do the same things this year. From a coaching standpoint, we found those players and developed those players. Those players had a terrific mindset getting themselves ready to go into the game. One of those players was Andrew Erker. He was a player that a year ago at this time wasn’t a household name. Not many people were thinking of Andrew Erker as a player that could come into a game and contribute for us. He ended up doing some really terrific things for us. Another one of those players was Chris Carney. We’re looking for those type of kids.
“I think that this spring is a good opportunity to develop our quarterback position. Our quarterbacks are going to have the opportunity to make another move and take another step towards maturity. They’ll have a little more responsibility and a little more latitude to exploit their skills. We want to take advantage of all the things that they have. Both were very young players a year ago – they were both just learning the system. With all the preparation and work they’re doing, this can be a very good step for our program. We can go ahead and take the level of our quarterback play up a little bit, and obviously the players around them can benefit from that also. Most notably, the offensive line will benefit. We are going to take a look at who are going to be the core group of offensive linemen will be for the fall. I think we will get some contribution from some players who will arrive in August. I think this will be terrific – I think a number of these freshmen players from a year ago who were thrown into action had another off-season. We really have high expectations for their development and how they are going to play in the future.
“From a couple of competition standpoints, we are going to try to see who is going to be the next player of significance in a couple of positions. We have a tremendous battle that will happen at the place-kicking job. I’m really interested to see the (Tim) Schwerdt-(Brooks) Rossman battle. (Jared) Parker is going to be a part of that. I think with the proposed legislation talking about moving the spot of the kickoff back five yards to the 30 yard-line like it is in the National Football League, it’s going to put added emphasis on Parker’s role and some of those guys to show that not only can they be accurate field goal kickers, but have the leg to get us touchbacks. That’s going to obviously play a huge role in games if that legislation goes through. It’s going to change the game as we know it from a standpoint that there’s going to be more break-out, open-field plays. We think that’s something that we’re actually really excited about if we can go defend those plays. Who’s going to take the spot in our return game? And who’s going to really step up and be the preeminent return man for us, and who can go out and dominate a game in that position. Leon Patton has had a really good start in that. Justin McKinney has had a good start in that. There are some other players that are vying for that type of role. We’re obviously in the business of finding a long-snapper. Jeff Mortimer was one of the best players on our team with his skills. The long-snapping position with (Sean) Kolich and (Michael) Pooshke will be interesting to see how that plays out.”
On the assistant coaches...
“One of the things that I truly believe is that the team has to be re-born every year. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have very positive things that occur that players had in their background that they carry forward. Experience counts, no question. One of the biggest things we’ve talked to the team about is that every year will stand on its own merits. That means that every year there will be players who graduate from their part of the roster and there will be coaches that will have the opportunities to advance their careers. There will be new players coming in and new coaches coming in. From that standpoint, we’re really excited about where we are.
“Obviously, having the opportunity to advance Tim Tibesar to defensive coordinator brings an experienced coordinator to the position. He’s someone that is familiar with the personnel at Kansas State and someone that I’m familiar with through our backgrounds. I don’t think anyone would have any doubt that Tim did a terrific job with the kicking game last year in his first year as the special teams coordinator. I know that Matt Wallerstedt will do an equally terrific job. Matt has experience in that role. He also has the background as a defensive coordinator, so there’s another very veteran coach who has the opportunity to help impact the game immediately.
“I’m really excited about the addition of Frank Leonard at the tight end spot. Frank spent the last couple years with the New England Patriots organization in a little bit of a different role. He really brings some strong idea to our evaluative process and also has a tremendous background with the offensive line, running backs and tight ends, but also on the defensive side of the ball. He’s a very veteran coach who has been associated with the game at the highest level. I know him personally and know what kind of coach and person he is.
“Dave Brock is a good recruiter and a strong coach. He’s one of the very best coaches I’ve been associated with from teaching and demand standpoint. He did a terrific job with those last two recruiting classes at the University of North Carolina. I think Coach (Butch) Davis will have the benefit of being able to coach and compete with. Dave’s a terrific evaluator and recruiter, so we’re really excited about that. We’re really excited about his experience with spread offenses that they did at Hofstra that kind of catapulted him onto the national scene in football circles. He brings some veteran experience as well.
“A coach who is really earned his stripes, and I’ve had a chance to see him in pressure-packed situations and did a terrific job for us is Ricky Rahne. Ricky was a running back coach before he arrived here. He came to be a GA and basically worked for free. When Tim Horton had the opportunity to be an offensive coordinator, it gave us a chance to move Ricky up. He’s a veteran coach at that position and knows our system.
“On the defensive side with Tim, Matt and, obviously Coach (Mo) Latimore continues in his role, but Greg Burns gives us another veteran coach. It’s not very often that you have a chance to add someone with national championship experience. Having spent four years at USC, two of those years he had the fortune, or misfortune, to play against Kansas State. That’s been very good, so he understands the kind of program we have here, along with the expectations. He knows how to do it right in college football and the proper balance between being a student and an athlete.
“I think one of the very best hires we had this off-season was our strength coach, Mike Kent. Obviously his time at Louisville and Pitt made him more known in the football world. But, those people who know him specifically know that he made a tremendous impact before that at other programs. His impact has been felt already this off-season.”
On Josh Freeman...
“I hear people talk about JaMarcus Russell from LSU and how big he is. If JaMarcus Russell and Josh Freeman stood next to each other right now, they would probably look very similar. Josh, along with the other kids, has really taken his weight training seriously. He’s really thrived under Mike Kent and what we’ve been doing here. One of the players I’m most impressed with is James Johnson, the amount of muscle he’s been able to put on and his approach to things, along with Leon Patton and some others. Those couple players have really jumped out as players who – it’s really rare to say – have changed their body. Greg Spexarth has really shed a bunch of pounds and looks great. Caleb Handy has also shed a bunch of pounds and looks great. If you didn’t these guys a year ago, you might not recognize them. There are some players who we are hoping to emerge so I can brag about them at that point in time.
“Josh has been a really good leader. He’s really concentrating on those things that are going to help him take his game. He’s going to be a sophomore next year. He’s excited to play like a senior. We want to make sure there’s a natural and normal progression in his game. He’s a very ambitious and proud young man. I’m confident that he will do very well.”