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Cobi Hamilton Says He’s On Right Track

It’s not unusual for NFL players to work out at their former colleges in the offseason, but in Cobi Hamilton’s case, there’s a bit of a twist. When the wide receiver returned to Arkansas after his first year with the Bengals, he worked out with the Razorbacks’ track team, not the football team.

Hamilton vs Dallas (440x315)

“With the new football coaches at Arkansas, I guess I’m more comfortable with the track coaches because I ran track for two years and those coaches are still there,” said Hamilton. “I drop in on the football coaches every now and then, but there are a lot of new faces so it’s kind of weird. So I work out and lift weights with the track team because there’s a comfort level.

“Some of the same guys that I ran with my freshman and sophomore years are seniors now, or may be going into the pros. Two or three of those guys are really fast, so I work out with them and it benefits me a lot. It’s not the same as football conditioning, but it keeps your legs in shape.”

Hamilton was listed at 6’2”, 205 pounds last year and says that he’s probably dropped some weight as a result of the track workouts.

“I stay in contact with the fellas during the offseason, so I knew what his plan was,” said wide receivers coach James Urban. “We talked about how important this offseason was going to be for him.

“He had to get himself in a little better shape which he’s done. He looks great now and really embraced it in the offseason.”

The Bengals drafted Hamilton in the sixth round last year after a prolific senior season at Arkansas in which Cobi finished with 90 catches for 1,335 yards. After making seven receptions in the preseason last year including a 4-yard TD catch against Dallas (watch it here), Hamilton spent the regular season on Cincinnati’s practice squad

“Cobi made as big of strides from the beginning of training camp to the end of the season as anyone I’ve ever been around,” said Urban. “It was learning the system…learning how to practice…learning how to compete daily…just learning how to be a pro. There are some guys that come ready-made for it and some guys that take a little while. We’re excited about him.”

“It took a lot of reps, but things started coming a little bit easier for me towards the end of the season and I started to make more plays,” said Hamilton.

Hamilton in rain (440x297)

With the loss of Andrew Hawkins to Cleveland in free agency, Hamilton will be looking to break into the wide receiver rotation this season under new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.

“Hue pulled me aside last year when he was the running backs coach and encouraged me to get better,” said Hamilton. “He was always whispering in my ear, ‘Do you know how good you can be?’”

Cobi received similar encouragement from his position coach.

“He just wasn’t quite making the plays that I saw him make at Arkansas during training camp and the early part of the year,” said Urban. “So I kept saying, ‘What do we have to do to get you to make the plays that I know you can make. I know you can make them.’”

Now the former 200-meter runner at Arkansas says that he’s on the right track to contribute at wide receiver in Cincinnati.

“Now I know what it takes to be an NFL player,” Cobi told me. “I’m excited for this season and I’m ready to get going.”

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Gunner Comes Out Firing In Bearcats Spring Game

The Bearcats annual spring game began with an 8-yard pass from Gunner Kiel to Mekale McKay. Followed by a 7-yard strike to Max Morrison. Then a 47-yard bomb to Chris Moore. And then another 15-yard bullet to Moore.

Four plays, four passes, and four completions for 77 yards. Not a bad way for Gunner Kiel to make his unofficial Bearcats debut in front of roughly 5,400 fans at Paul Brown Stadium.

“A lot of people kind of bash me and hadn’t really seen me play,” said Kiel. “I haven’t played in three years. So to come out here and silence the critics is definitely one thing that I wanted to do.”

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The bashing resulted from Kiel’s struggle to choose a college as one of the nation’s most heavily-recruited high school quarterbacks. Gunner changed his mind after verbal commitments to Indiana and LSU and eventually enrolled at Notre Dame. After a redshirt season with the Fighting Irish, he transferred to Cincinnati last spring.

“I know what I did some people say was dumb – and I agree with them 100% — but that doesn’t change the person that I am,” said Kiel. “I’m a good person and I’m going to do what’s right. I’m going to be a good teammate and I’m going to come out here and work my hardest.”

His hard work appears to be paying off.

Kiel played only the first half of Saturday’s scrimmage and directed the first team offense to three touchdowns and one field goal on six drives against the first team defense. He finished 17-for-22 for 300 yards, with one touchdown run and one interception.

“That’s amazing and this probably wasn’t even his best practice,” said wide receiver Shaq Washington.

“Gunner’s got a quick release, he understands football, and he’s usually going to throw it to the right guy,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville. “The problem that he’s had this spring is that he’s had ‘happy feet’ because we have had three starting offensive lineman out.”

That was a factor last Sunday in a scrimmage that was dominated by the defense. Kiel was 9-for-20 for 44 yards and Tuberville did not pull any punches afterward.

“Offensively, we looked as bad as I’ve ever seen.” he told reporters.

“To hear your head coach make comments like that sets a fire under your butt,” said Kiel.

So the sophomore quarterback was determined to end spring practice on a positive note.

“I treated it just like a game,” said Kiel. “Last night I watched tape, I went over our plays, I went over the protections and coverages, and I treated it just like a regular game. I woke up early and had breakfast, and came out with a chip on my shoulder to get better and play hard.”

“There were a lot of questions marks at quarterback after last week,” said Tuberville. “The big thing about college is being consistent. We haven’t been very consistent this spring. The defense won most of the time during the spring, but today the defense didn’t win. The offense came out with a different frame of mind and played a lot better.

“I can sleep a little bit better now. Last week we were just awful on offense, but today we threw it and caught it well.”

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Tuberville will not name a starting quarterback until fall camp, saying that Jarred Evans will compete for the job and possibly Munchie Legaux as he continues to rehab from the gruesome knee injury he suffered last year vs. Illinois.

But Kiel appears to be the man to beat.

“Obviously Gunner looked really, really good today,” said Tuberville.

“I got the ‘ones’ reps, but I am not the number one quarterback right now,” said Kiel. “That doesn’t mean anything. You still have to come out each day and work hard and compete and do your best. At the end of the day, the coaches are going to make their decision and I understand that, but I’m going to do whatever I can to get the team’s respect, and learn as much as I possibly can because I know that I have to learn more and accomplish more. The sky is the limit and we’ll see what happens.”

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Bearcats Have One Of Nation’s Best Recruiters In Prunty

Cincinnati’s associate head coach Robert Prunty has been named the Recruiter of the Year in his conference in each of the last four seasons by Scout.com.

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“Robert Prunty is one of the best recruiters in the country,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville. “If you look at our (signing day) list this year, he probably had something to do with half of them. He has that gift.

“He’s outgoing – he’s never met a stranger. That’s what it’s all about. You have to be able to turn it on in any environment and he does a great job in the home and with parents. He understands the need for recruiting 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. There’s not a day that goes by where he doesn’t do something in recruiting.”

But the key to Prunty’s recruiting pitch isn’t his mouth, it’s his ears.

“Listening,” Robert answered when I asked what makes him a good recruiter. “I was reading an article about a month ago about psychiatrists and how much money they were making, and one of them said, ‘Basically I just sit there and listen to people’s problems.’ I think when you’re dealing with teenagers and young men; they just want somebody to listen to them. They’re so used to people telling them everything that I form a bond by simply listening to them.

“My mother had 10 kids and my father died when I was 10 years old. I’ll never forget when I was about 15, my mother said, ‘You know what? I’m just going to listen to what you have to say.’ So that came from my mother.”

Prunty’s ability to bond with young people was honed during his eight years as head coach at Hargrave Military Academy where many of his players originally signed with Division 1 schools before needing a year of prep school to improve their grades.

The job required Robert to be more than a football coach.

“Educator…father…preacher…mentor…psychiatrist,” said Prunty. “Remember, everybody that came there had a problem because they didn’t qualify. So they were all sad and depressed and we had to try to build them back up.”

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At Hargrave, Prunty coached 27 players that made it to the NFL including Pro Bowlers Ahmad Brooks, Brandon Flowers, and Jay Ratliff.

“At one point, they did an article where the players who had played at Hargrave were making close to $400 million dollars,” said Prunty.

Tuberville got to know Robert while recruiting players at Hargrave and offered him an opportunity at the college level when he became the head coach at Texas Tech in 2010.

“There were a lot of big-shot coaches that had a chance to hire him, but he was from a prep school and they didn’t give him a chance,” said Tuberville.

“For Coach Tuberville to give me a job when I was at Hargrave – I’m just thankful to God,” said Prunty. “My brother and sister go to factories 12 hours a day and I get to coach football. I grew up in an industrial area where people worked hard, so I’m driven by the fact that I get to coach football and I love it.”

Prunty’s loyalty to Tuberville is a key reason why he has turned down some lucrative opportunities.

“I just had an offer last week from an NFL team as a defensive assistant and I had about five offers before that, but Coach Tuberville gave me a shot when nobody else would and I like Cincinnati,” Robert told me. “I like the people here, my wife likes it here, my kids go to a great school, and that has a lot to do with it. I’m just thankful.”

“He’s been offered all over the country but he’s been loyal and he wants to stay,” said Tuberville.

In addition to his recruiting ability, Prunty is the Bearcats co-defensive coordinator and coaches the defensive line.

“Coach Prunty is a helluva guy,” said junior Silverberry Mouhon. “He demands so much of us because he brings energy every day at practice. You never see a day where he’s down or moping.”

“He’s tough on them,” said Tuberville. “He’s hard-nosed, he’s disciplined – he’s one of those guys that understands how to get it out of guys that maybe did not know how to give 100% effort.

“He was a good coach when we got him, but he’s a much better coach now because works at it like he does in recruiting. He wants to learn, he wants to get better, he doesn’t stay the same, he studies, he goes to other colleges, he goes to high schools, he spends a lot of time with the Bengals, and he’s as good of a coach as he is a recruiter. I’m just excited about him being on our staff and being a good friend.”

“Everybody has respect for him – from the defensive line to the offense,” said Mouhon. “He works hard for us and that makes you want to work that much harder for him because he gives us his all.”

“Growing up with no father and my momma raising 10 kids, all I know is hard work,” said Prunty. “That’s all I know. There’s no substitute.”

That work ethic helps explain his four year streak of being named Recruiter of the Year in the Big 12 (twice), Big East, and AAC.

What does that recognition mean to Prunty?

“It means that I have to try to win it again this year,” he said.

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Edwards Looks To Build On Excellent Start

Did you know that the UC football team had a freshman All-American last year?

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Safety Zach Edwards, who started the last 11 games at safety, received honorable mention recognition among the nation’s top freshman from CollegeFootballNews.com.

“He’s got a knack for finding the ball,” said cornerbacks coach Steve Clinkscale. “He made some freshman mistakes, but he was able to come up with some big plays when we needed it. For a true freshman to do that at safety and be in charge of the defense and make all of the alignments and the checks – I think that’s pretty impressive.”

“He played well – he didn’t play great because it was his first year and he was trying to figure out what to do,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville. “Each week it’s tough on an inexperienced kid because we change the game plan, we change techniques, and his head was swimming most of the year. He got better as the season went on, but this year he’ll be much better.”

Edwards was an all-conference wide receiver/defensive back at Middletown High School and came to Cincinnati as a “grayshirt,” meaning that he sat out the 2012 season before enrolling at UC in January of 2013.

“When you play football so much and then you have to sit out, it’s pretty depressing, but I kept faith in God and kept going knowing that everything would work out for the best,” Zach told me. “Eventually it did.”

Enrolling for the second semester allowed Zach to take part in spring football last year, but an injury limited his participation.

“I pulled my hamstring in about the third practice and had to sit out a lot,” said Edwards.

But that didn’t stop him from making a favorable impression.

“He had one practice at safety and I told the coaches, ‘Hey, this is our safety next year,’” said Clinkscale. “The one thing that he had at practice that was a little bit different from our other guys is that burst to the ball. His athleticism was the biggest difference that made him stand out.”

By the third game of the season, Edwards was in the starting lineup. He finished the season third on the team in tackles, tied for second with two interceptions, and earned AAC Defensive Player of the Week honors in early November after having 11 tackles and recovering a fumble in a win over Memphis.

“Being a safety, you have to be physical and that was my whole mindset,” Zach told me. “Be physical and try to beat whoever you’re going against. I knew if I could do that, I could prove myself to these coaches and to the players.”

After losing senior starters Deven Drane and Arryn Chenault, Edwards will be one of the Bearcats most experienced players in the secondary this year despite only being a sophomore.

“The big thing now is to keep it competitive for him,” said Clinkscale. “I tell these guys all that time that there are no starters anymore. You have to win that job again. We are going to recruit guys that might be better than you and we have guys here that are going to do a better job. He understands that he has to give us more every day, and we expect more of him now than we did as a freshman.”

“The guys around me are pushing me every day, and I’m pushing them to better than we were last year,” said Edwards. “My maturity level has to step up and I have to become a leader.”

There’s definitely room for improvement, but after earning freshman All-America recognition, Zach’s Cincinnati career is obviously off to a strong start.

“You can tell that he’s a lot more comfortable this spring,” said Tuberville. “This is his second spring. He started school in January of last year, so he’s been with us for a year and gotten better and got some accolades, but he can play a lot better than he did last year.”

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Gunner Kiel Looks To Make Name For Himself At Cincinnati

With a father, uncle, and two older brothers who played quarterback in college, it’s easy to imagine young Gunner Kiel spending countless hours tossing a football through a tire hanging from a tree in the backyard of his home in Columbus, Indiana.

“We did not have a tire, but we did actually have a full goal post,” said Kiel with a laugh.

In other words, football is a pretty big deal in the Kiel family.

“I was kind of born into a bunch of quarterbacks,” Gunner told me. “I always looked up to my older brothers, so whenever I saw them playing quarterback I wanted to do what they did. We have a big yard so we always threw the ball to each other. Between us, we had a quarterback and two wide receivers and then we would switch positions.”

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Gunner became the starting quarterback at Columbus (IN) East High School as a 10th grader and threw 36 TD passes and only 6 INT in his first season. That summer he attended a football camp at the University of Tennessee where UC quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw was on the staff at the time.

“He was one of the best I’ve seen in terms of raw tools to work with,” said Hinshaw. “His arm strength and his release – things that I look for – I was very excited to recruit this kid. He did very well in high school and earned the accolades and the high recruiting ranking because he continued to blossom all the way through his senior year. I saw a lot of good things at a young age and so did everybody else. It wasn’t hard to see.”

After throwing for 7,362 yards and 89 touchdowns in three high school seasons, Kiel was ranked as the top high school quarterback prospect in the country by several recruiting services and elected to attend Notre Dame where he redshirted for a team that played in the BCS Championship game two years ago. But faced with the prospect of serving as a backup to Everett Golson for three more seasons, Kiel elected to transfer and contacted Coach Hinshaw about the possibility of playing at Cincinnati.

“It was the relationship that we had built and knowing that I could trust him with anything,” said Kiel. “What was great about Coach Hinshaw is that we wouldn’t just talk about football. We would talk about class, or golfing, or other hobbies. Coach Hinshaw did a great job of just being a friend and a good role model to look up to.”

“We did everything that we could do to recruit him at Tennessee,” said Hinshaw. “When he made his decision to go elsewhere I told him, ‘Look. If you change your mind, you’ve always got a home.’ We had a really good relationship with Gunner and his family.”

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Kiel transferred to Cincinnati last April and practiced with the Bearcats last season. The 6’4, 210 pound sophomore has three years of eligibility remaining and is the early frontrunner to take over at quarterback this fall.

“He’s one of these driven kids,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville. “He wants to play, he wants to do well, and he’s going to do everything possible on and off the field – even when the lights are not on and the coach is not out here – to make himself better.

“He’s around a guy that he knew in Coach Hinshaw and I think the offense fits him real well. It’s working out pretty good for him, but he’s going to be pushed by the guys behind him. There’s going to be a lot of competition there.”

“I’m having fun and trying to learn as much as possible,” Gunner told me. “I’m working my butt off to get the guys’ respect and having fun in the process. So far things are going great. I know that I have a lot of work on, but at the same time, it’s a fun game.”

Bearcats fans can see Kiel in action for the first time on April 5th at noon in a scrimmage that is free and open to the public at Paul Brown Stadium.

“He’s got a lot of talent mentally and physically, but he’s got to work on both,” said Tuberville. “The good thing about it is that the good Lord gave him height, strength, and the ability to have a lot of football sense. Time will tell – probably in the next year – how far his football talents go. It only goes as far as what you have between your ears.”

Perhaps Kiel was destined to wind up in Cincinnati all along considering that his parents chose his first name after hearing that former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason named his son Gunnar.

Gunner says that he’s happy with his decision to transfer to UC.

“It’s a family environment here and we’re all super-close,” said Kiel. “There are no cliques and we all hang out and get along. We have great team chemistry. We have a lot to work on and get better at, but we’re all dedicated and we all want the same thing. To be around these guys and to be around people who want you to succeed in life is second to none. I’ve got that at Cincinnati and I’m glad to call it home.”

“Obviously because of his size and his arm strength, he was a high recruit, but I’ve seen a lot of those guys come in and they don’t have the football knowledge or the football sense to play quarterback,” said Coach Tuberville. “He’s got that. So I think the sky’s the limit for him.”

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Inability To Finish Ends Bearcats Season

At every NCAA Tournament game there’s a person who rapidly types out a description of the play-by-play.  It’s similar to how a court stenographer produces an official transcript of the proceedings.

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In Cincinnati’s season-ending loss to Harvard, that person typed the words “missed layup” 16 times for the Bearcats.

Call it the Sour Sixteen.

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Harvard didn’t need Ivy League smarts to design its game plan:  Do whatever necessary to prevent Sean Kilpatrick from dominating and take your chances with everybody else.

“Every time we tried to free (Sean) they doubled him,” explained head coach Mick Cronin.  “Any time he came off a pick on the ball they doubled him.  Any time he came off of a pick off the ball, they left the guy setting the screen and doubled him even off the ball.

“When we struggled to score inside the way we did today, when a team decides – any team decides – hey, we’re going to play them this way, we have got to score inside.  Because the only other option would be SK running around taking bad shot after bad shot because they’re just not going to leave him open.”

When Kilpatrick had the ball and drew a second defender, he frequently fed it inside to Justin Jackson.  But instead of powering toward the rim to try to score or get fouled, Justin flipped up off-balance shots with a high degree of difficulty.  He finished 5-for-15 including nine missed shots from within a few feet of the hoop.

“I missed a lot of opportunities around the rim,” said Jackson.  “I usually don’t do that – going one-handed flipping the ball.”

“We worked really hard on trying to make sure we finished with strength,” said Cronin.  “But, like Justin alluded to it, we had way too many one hand shots.  Way too many one hand shots.  We just were sloppy and didn’t get the ball in the basket.”

That problem is being addressed.  Next year’s roster additions include Jamaree Strickland (6’10, 270 lbs), Coreontae DeBerry (6’10, 270 lbs), Quadri Moore (6’8″, 230 lbs) and Gary Clark (6’7, 215 lbs).  They are not freakishly athletic shot blockers who are projects on the offensive end.  Strickland, DeBerry, and Moore are broad-shouldered post players who are comfortable in the paint, and Clark is a versatile big man who is capable of scoring inside.  It’s hard to imagine seeing 16 missed layups on a play-by-play sheet. 

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What will be harder to replace is the leadership provided by the senior trio of Kilpatrick, Jackson, and Titus Rubles.

“When you see our seniors and you look at Titus Rubles – he couldn’t play any harder than he does,” Coach Cronin told me.  “He’s maximizing his potential at this level.  The same thing with Justin Jackson.  He could not have had a better senior year.  Sean Kilpatrick is a first-team All-American, he’s scored over 2000 points, and you couldn’t ask any more from him.  That’s the biggest thing I learned from my father in coaching.  You try to demand a kid’s best effort and when he gives that to you, you appreciate it.  Don’t ask for more.”

Of course, we all wanted more in the NCAA Tournament:  More games, more bragging rights, more memories.  But when you honestly evaluate the season, 27 wins, a share of the AAC regular season title, and a 4th straight trip to March Madness was pretty remarkable.

“I think this team has given everything that they possibly could have given us as their coach and as their fan base,” said Cronin.  “Whenever that happens it’s very rewarding because that’s what you’re shooting for as a coach.”

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Kilpatrick Aims For Bigger Prize

In 1941, Ted Williams batted .406 with 37 HR, 120 RBI, and the 7th best OPS in MLB history (1.2875).  It’s been 73 years and no major league player has batted .400 since.

That year he was not the American League MVP.  Some guy named DiMaggio had a pretty good season too, including a 56-game hitting streak.  Furthermore, the Yankees finished 17 games ahead of the Red Sox in the American League standings.

When I attended the AAC awards event on Wednesday in Memphis, I never really considered the possibility that Sean Kilpatrick would not be named Player of the Year.

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Mick Cronin won Coach of the Year and Justin Jackson was named Defensive Player of the Year, but the mood at our table was subdued because Shabazz Napier of UConn received the league’s top individual honor instead of Kilpatrick.

“Shabazz is a great player and had a great year,” said Cronin.  “I just thought with us winning the conference it should have been a no-brainer.

“I’d trade Coach of the Year for him to win Player of the Year in a heartbeat.”

“Shabazz Napier is my guy so I’m not really mad, but I feel like SK should have won the award,” said Jackson.  “Before the season, we were picked to be the number four team in the league and now we’re the number one seed.  SK is the biggest reason.”

In fairness to Napier, his all-around stats are worthy of MVP.  While Kilpatrick averaged 20.9 points to Napier’s 17.8, Shabazz topped SK in rebounds and assists and had a slight edge in shooting percentage.

“The Player of the Year award is in great hands with him,” said Kilpatrick.  “He’s a great player.”

But like Coach Cronin, I thought that Cincinnati’s share of the American Conference title would be the difference in Kilpatrick’s favor when voting for MVP.

Kilpatrick did not hide his disappointment or his desire to use it for added fuel.

“It’s going to be 20 times harder for other teams now,” he told reporters.

“We’re very similar – we use any motivation we can get to drive ourselves,” said Cronin.  “I think the greatest competitor of all-time Michael Jordan did that.  So in a way, I hope he uses it to push himself even further here in March.”

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Ironically, one of Napier’s former teammates did that three years ago.  BYU’s Jimmer Fredette won the national Player of the Year awards, but UConn’s Kemba Walker earned a greater prize by carrying the Huskies to an NCAA title.

“My message to SK is:  With all due respect to these awards, I’d like to be standing on a podium in Dallas in April next to him,” said Cronin.  “And if he’s MVP of something, he wants it to be the NCAA Tournament.

“You become a legend by what you do in March.  That’s been my message to the guys all year.  We have a lot of former players that come around and I said, ‘Do you ever notice which guys come around the most?’  I make them name names and after they do I say, ‘You do notice that most of those guys played in the Final Four.’  If you want to be remembered for a lifetime, you play on a Final Four team.  A National Championship team would be even better.  That’s what it’s all about.”

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A Big Step On Road Back For Legaux

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Lao-Tzu

Far be it from me to paraphrase a famous quote from an ancient Chinese philosopher, but for Munchie Legaux, the long journey back began with a single throw.

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On Tuesday morning, six months and four days after the gruesome knee dislocation he suffered in the second game of last season against Illinois, Legaux took part in passing drills for the first time since the injury as he continues his efforts to return to action in 2014.

“This was a huge day for me,” Munchie told me.  “With the injury that I had, I didn’t know if I was ever going to play again.  For me to come out here and even practice with my teammates – I mean, I didn’t even put a helmet on for six or seven months so it felt kinda weird.  I’m just happy man.  I wouldn’t have cared if I got one or two reps, it was just great to be there with these guys.”

“Everybody was excited about him coming out here,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville.  “He’s been out here taking snaps but they wouldn’t let him throw in drills.  It was good to see him a little bit mobile – he’s probably about 50% of what he would have to be to be able to come out and practice and have somebody hit him, but he’s come a long way.in (six) months and I’m proud that he’s out here.  He’s working hard to get back on the field.”

“After witnessing what happened, it’s almost a miracle to see him out here smiling and throwing with us,” said wide receiver Chris Moore.

(See video of Legaux at practice here)

Legaux dislocated his left knee and tore parts of all four ligaments when he was hit while throwing a pass vs. the Illini.  Fortunately, there was no nerve damage and Munchie began the rehab process as soon as possible with the goal of getting back on the field. 

“He was never really down or sad,” said Moore.  “He just kept rehabbing and always had a smile on his face knowing that he would be back.”

“He’s doing whatever he needs to do to rehab,” said Tuberville.  “From six o’clock in the morning to about eight every day and then come back in the afternoon and do it again.  It’s hours and hours of painful rehab so I’m proud of him.  He’s stood up to the task and he wants to play his last year.  I’m gonna tell ya, he’s going to be hard to keep off the field if he keeps working like he’s working.”

“My next hurdle is to be able to run without a limp,” said Legaux.  “We’re still trying to get it stronger and there is still a lot of room for improvement.  But my next goal is to be able to run.”

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And while there are no guarantees that Legaux will make it back on the field in the fall, he has already been an inspiration to his teammates and coaches.

“Those guys see the amount of work that I’m putting in when they come in from practice to the training room and see me doing therapy or rehab,” said Legaux.  “A lot of times those guys will text me or even send videos they’ve taken of me working out.  You never know who is watching and you can brighten somebody’s day by the amount of effort you put in.”

“They’re all pulling for him and when you go in the training room he’s there,” said Tuberville.  “He’s Mr. Training Room.  He gets there early and stays late and when you’re in this business as a player or coach you see that every day.” 

“I think he’ll make it back,” said Moore.  “He’s making strides and I didn’t think he’d be this far along.  I’m no doctor, but he looks great and his arm is still there so I hope so.”

“Aw man, it felt great,” Munchie told me after practice.  “Just to be back out here with my teammates – competing, talking football, running around, throwing the ball – it felt great.”

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Titus = Toughness

I’m not about to suggest that he pours in jumpers like Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant, but with God as my witness, Titus Rubles makes a good percentage of his outside shots at UC basketball practices.  Unfortunately, that has rarely carried over to the games in his two years with the Bearcats.

“I don’t know why – I wish I had the answer,” said UC assistant coach Darren Savino.  “I know in the drills that he doesn’t hesitate and he makes a high percentage.  In the games it seems that he’s hesitant and that’s a tough thing to get over.” 

“When you’re missing shots you’re like, ‘Dang, I make these all day in practice,’” Rubles told me.  “But what I keep telling myself is that my day is going to come.  I’m just going to keep working.”

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Despite his shooting woes, Rubles has been a major reason why the Bearcats are 46-17 in his two seasons and headed to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year.

“Titus Rubles is our heart and soul,” said head coach Mick Cronin.  “He gives everybody on the team confidence because he’s afraid of nothing.  What he may lack in skill level in terms of shooting the basketball, he definitely makes up for it with fortitude, toughness, and in being a fearless competitor.”

“He’s one of those intangible guys,” said Sean Kilpatrick.  “He sets screens that allow me to get open, he rebounds, he dives on the floor – there are a lot of things that he does that don’t show up on the stat sheet.”

“Titus Rubles gives you everything that coaches talk about that fans really don’t understand sometimes,” said Cronin.  “They say, ‘Coach is always talking about toughness when they need to get some scorers.’  Let me tell you something.  Titus Rubles’ toughness is a big reason why we’re sitting here at 24-5.”

That trait caught Coach Savino’s eye from the very beginning.   

“The first time that I saw Titus play was at a JUCO jamboree,” said Savino.  “I was watching random games and trying to find guys that we didn’t know about and instantly he stood out with his toughness and aggressiveness. He had what I call, ‘The look of a Bearcat.’  I watched him the rest of the weekend and he did a lot of things that fit what we do and I thought Coach Cronin would like him and his style of play.”

“We will sorely, sorely miss him next year when he is gone because that is stuff that comes from within,” said Cronin.  “You can’t go into the gym and work on having a fearless attitude every day.  That means wins, although it doesn’t show in the box score.  I can’t imagine where we would be without him.”

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And while Rubles is only averaging 7.0 points a game, he probably scored Cincinnati’s most important basket of the year so far – the game-winning bucket with four seconds left to beat Pitt in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.

(Listen to the radio call here)

Rubles calls it the highlight of his UC career.

“It is, and the place that it happened made it a highlight too,” said Rubles.  “I still have the headband that I was wearing when I hit the shot.  I’ll probably never wash it.”

“The tougher the game, the bigger the moment, the tougher the environment; the more physical he plays and the more he gets done,” said Cronin.

On senior night vs. Memphis, the loudest cheers will undoubtedly be reserved for Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson, but Rubles deserves a lengthy ovation as well.   

“Titus has made as much of an impact as any two-year player here in a long, long time,” said Cronin.

“I feel like I made a really good decision coming here,” Rubles told me.  “I’ve been on two teams that have been in the Top 10 and that doesn’t happen for a lot of JUCO guys.  I really like the city of Cincinnati and this has been a really good experience for me.  It’s crazy that it’s coming to an end.  It seems like it’s gone by so fast.”

“To win a war you’ve got to have some soldiers, and he’s a soldier,” said Cronin.

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Luc Hopes To Be Man In Middle

The UC Bearcats will have a new starting quarterback in the fall.

On both sides of the ball.

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In addition to losing QB Brendon Kay, two-time all-conference middle linebacker Greg Blair – who helped call signals on defense – also exhausted his eligibility last season.

When spring football opened last week, the new man in the middle of the Bearcats defense was Jeff Luc who started at outside linebacker last year.

“Right now Jeff Luc is starting in the middle and we’ll see what he’s got,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville.  “He’s a senior, he knows how to play football, he understands it, and he just has to put it all together.”

“I adapted better than I thought I would for the first day,” Luc told me.  “It felt like it was my natural position.  I’m not just saying that.  The calls went well, I was getting the fronts right, and I feel comfortable.  I feel like everybody on the defense was working with me and when you have amazing athletes around you, everything is a lot easier.”

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“We’re looking at everybody right now and he’s a guy that has some physical tools,” said defensive coordinator Hank Hughes.  “We’ll see how everybody progresses in terms of learning their assignments and techniques.  He’s a guy that we’re looking forward to being a good player for us.”   

“I think we’ve got good speed at linebacker,” said Tuberville.  “I think the whole key for us is to get the right guys in the right spots in spring practice.” 

After starring at Treasure Coast HS in Florida, Luc was rated as the nation’s top middle linebacker prospect by multiple recruiting services and originally enrolled at Florida State.  Although he transferred to Cincinnati after two seasons, Jeff was excited when his former FSU teammates won the national championship last season.

“I’ve been keeping up with them since I left,” said Luc.  “I still have a lot of boys there and in my mind they’re still like my brothers.  That’s who I came out of high school with, I was there for two years, and I still speak to those guys like three days a week.  They’re still a big part of me and that friendship and brotherhood is not going to change.”

In a Sports Illustrated story about Florida State’s victory over Auburn in the BCS Championship, Luc is referred as the “Pied Piper of FSU’s turnaround,” as writer Andy Staples described how Luc’s commitment to Florida State helped head coach Jimbo Fisher build a contender:

Fisher, in one of his first acts as head coach, hosted a group of top recruits on official visits. One of them was Jeff Luc, a Bunyanesque linebacker from Port St. Lucie, Fla. Fellow recruits in the class of 2010 treated Luc like a rock star. They delighted in his slobberknocker-heavy highlight video and shared it on social media. They marveled at his 6’1″, 240-pound physique, which resembled that of a five-year NFL veteran’s. Fisher wanted a grown-ass man, and Luc fit the bill. When he committed to the Seminoles while in Tallahassee on Dec. 5, the other recruits noticed.

“I’m not going to say that it was just because of me,” said Luc.  “Lamarcus Joyner and I sat down and said that we should go to school together and see if we could bring some more boys in.  I guess he wanted me to make my move first, so when I committed to Florida State he committed and it started rolling.  It was a whole bunch of great athletes coming together and wanting to play on the same team.”

Luc was a leader of that highly-touted recruiting class and is expected to be one of Cincinnati’s primary team leaders in 2014.

“I just feel like I have a different role,” Luc told me.  “Usually people say that they lead by example, but I think it’s time for me to be more vocal and I’m working on that.”

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And in addition to his new role, Jeff has a new number switching from 48 to 1.

“I just wanted something different,” said Luc.  “It’s a new year, I’m at a new position, and it’s a new beginning. 

“It’s a whole different point of view for me because I’m in the middle of everything and that’s where I want to be.”

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